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The Internet: Enhancing Democracy Krista
Last week's blog post was about how the Internet has collapsed time and space, made instantaneous, global communication possible and enabled new, online environments where low production costs allow informal collaboration and peer production to thrive. In his book Accelerating Democracy; Transforming Government Through Technology John McGinnis writes, "Today, technology increasingly permits information to bubble up from below and filter through more dispersed and competitive sources." 

By providing a fast, accessible medium for global communication, the Internet has also impacted activist movements. In the book (Re)Inventing the Internet, Kate Milberry argues that, since the 1999’s Battle of Seattle "Cyberactivism – political activism on the Internet - [has become] a new mode of radical action, and novel practices such as virtual sit-ins, online petitions and email campaigns have enlarged the repertoire of contestation."

This constant flow of "information bubbling up from below" and online activist movements can pose a challenge or even a threat for government organizations that may be limited by budgets, time and resources. My experience as a municipal communicator has lead me to explore Maria Bakardjieva's research around the "capacity of the Internet to enhance democracy through the multiplication and enrichment of the everyday practices of citizenship." She frames her analysis around Mouffe's radical-democratic model of citizenship, a "form of political identity that consists of an identification with the political principals," considers topics such as diversity, inequality and dominance, yet retains the ideals of "active and equitable civic participation." Bakardjieva argues that the political landscape is expanding beyond the traditional, symbolic concept of political institutions into new, small-scale, individualized processes of citizenship called subactivism, that are "submerged in the flow of everyday life."

Bakardjieva's contends that subactivism is "an important dimension of democracy" and "a major reservoir of civic energy." She argues that the Internet is an important tool that blends new technology and citizenship in unexpected ways. For instance, the Internet facilitates connections with otherwise anonymous administrative offices; affords fast, uncomplicated access; connects dispersed people; disseminates information and empowers users. She argues that "new formats of interactive civic relations are necessary, designed to capture and channel the powers of the Internet to the benefit of a thoroughgoing democracy."

I agree with Bakardjieva that a democratic Internet can bridge small-world or individual realities with those of political institutions. In my experience, the Internet has provided a fast, accessible way for community groups to contact administrators at all levels of government and facilitate discourse. The news if full of examples of groups using the Internet to connect like-minded citizens and then emailing government offices with their concerns. In response, the municipality may hold public open houses (advertised through website, social media and printed media), meetings or engage citizens through an online forum.  In many cases, the Internet provides the initial connections that are augmented by face to face meetings and online dialogue. As Bakardjieva writes, the Internet has proved "to be a particularly versatile vehicle for navigating the structures of the social world."

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Avatar  Rebecca Fletcher 4 years ago

Interesting post. The idea of subactivism is new to me, but I like it. It gives meaning to any comments and tweets one makes on issues that are meaningful; it suggests that even the smallest attention one pays online to something could have broader effects.