The different approaches in trying to grasp the tragic events in Norway have completely flooded the news and debate flows in the media this last week. I have participated with two short articles with the purpose of bringing the compassion and humanity, manifested through social media surrounding the events, to public knowledge. The recent post can be read here. The respons has been of a varied nature, including emails and comments that I shouldn’t get involved at all since I´m “just an academic”, as well as feedback of a more positive nature saying that the social media finally was recognized as an important dimension in the aftermath.
Leaving this aside, I believe that many questions remain unanswered (due to the horrific nature of the events) and they need time to be reflected upon. Nevertheless, I am convinced that it is everyones’ right to participate and contribute to an understanding of the different layers of human behaviour as well as ideological structures involved. Any type of analysis deriving from social sciences and humanities should have the purpose of achieving both understanding as well as a change, in order to progress towards a better future.
This morning I wrote a short text on the terrible events in Oslo, and it was just published on Newsmill.se. You can read it here
A core element in political philosophy and social sciences has been the concept of citizenship. Contemporary society offer new approches and challenges to former definitions of what constitute a citizenship. When recently working on a conference paper on media activism and civil disobediance, I stumbled over the point of defining citizenship as a way to understand individual and collective action. In the paper I suggest (and argue for) a necessary extension of former definitions. Let me explain.
Traditional, and still valid of course, dimensions of the concept are basically three. The first one can be seen from a national aspect in which citizens’ rights are granted within a territorally defined community. A state control is exercised by authorities to uphold formal admissions of the community.
Second, a legal-political aspect of citizenhip through a egalitarian notion of duties as well as rights, where for example equality before law and freedom of speech are fundamental in their extremities. Finally a cultural dimension of the concept, favouring some sort of moral community and common culture which can be seen as a tie of membership and participation in the political society.
But as any other concept, citizenship must be put in relation to several expanding features of contemporary society. In the earlier mentioned paper, I argue for a notion that media technology and information society have extracted a need for new definitions, or at least extensions of mainly the cultural dimension of the concept. In the forthcoming paper I write:
”When becoming producer of information as well as consumer and distributor, one can argue that a new form of citizenship is created; a citizenship which to some extent involves notions of civil disobedience and media activism making individuals more prepared for instruments of state control. Identities and definitions flow through media technology and form the basis of an altered definition of citizenship”.
As can be seen, the extension use former dimensions as necessary alignments for developing and embracing the new. In relation to media technology and use, I believe that the former three presented dimensions are more top-down-oriented and socialized throughout everyday life. The latter, however, is a part of citizenship being embraced from the individual and collective action and holds a responsibility to citizens themselves to meet. From a theoretical point of view one can easily explain this through any late modernity angle as one pleases, but that is a task being made in other forums.
As my research and writing process for a new book on media technology and socio-political change slowly progress, I stumble over subjects worth reflecting upon. For example, a reminder of how public talk on global media often lacks a critical reflection.
Voices on how society should develop, revitalize, transform and streamlined are continously spoken. The current forums for dialogue and debate hold a number of approaches to the subject and more than ever before, citizens have the opportunity to participate, create and define public and political discourses, much due to the use of media technology.
Of course, distributed infrastructure resources are unequal in a global perspective and participation rates are derived primarily from a Western definition of democracy and freedom, in which media technology as a condition for participation is taken for granted. The expansive technological revolution that has characterized most Western societies during the last decade in the media field has given rise to a “digital divide” in relation to developing countries. The picture below display the global density of internet servers.
The continents and nations that are not included in the development that the West embraced as building blocks for society to function, have still a long way to go in terms of infrastructure and network capacity. The digital divide illustrate this distance which gradually grows as the western economies still largely dominate the global world trade and define the information society as we know it.
In the footsteps of globalization processes, this type of re-aiming of spotlights is necessary when optimistic discourses on global networks and people’s participation in it emerges. A large part of the world’s population still lives offline and without access to the type of media technology, as so often portrayed as self-evident in our everyday lives. And this is an important factor to include in the conversations and discussions about the global media world.
The media is part of the society’s building blocks and they create opportunities for communication, information, the identity and community. But the indifference and lack of knowledge sometimes being perceived in debates on ”the amazing international media system”, should be more emphasized, hence also stimulate education on these conditions.