In my article Digital and networked by default? Women’s organizations and
the social imaginary of networked feminism, which got published online at the end of September in the academic journal New Media & Society, I discuss some key findings from my doctoral research. The article is a taste of what will follow in the book, hopefully coming out in early 2016 by Palgrave/MacMillan, which is really exciting news!
The article analyses the social imaginary of ‘networked feminism’ as an ideological construct of legitimate political engagement, drawing on ethnographic study conducted with London- based women’s organisations.
For many women’s groups, the desire to connect echoes libertarian visions of Web 2.0 as an ‘open’ and ‘shared’ space, and it is encouraged by widely circulating governmental narratives of digital inclusion. In the context of public services becoming digital by default, and severe funding cuts to volunteer organisations in the United Kingdom, feminist organisations are invited to revise the allocation of resources, in order to best accommodate the setting up of digital platforms, and at the same time, to maintain their political and social aims. It is argued that there are tensions between the imaginaries of a ‘digital sisterhood’ and the material realities of women’s organisations: age, lack of resources and media literacy were found to be the three most important factors that modulate participation, and in many cases become new types of exclusions of access to publicity and recognition.
By interrogating the circulation of dominant liberal narratives of digital engagement and digital inclusion that motivate new communicative practices between many feminist organisations today, the article offers a fuller understanding of networked media and activism for social justice.
The last (I think) of the research Outputs from the Storycircle project (Goldsmiths, University of London) that ended in July 2013, just got published online in the academic journal Information, Communication and Society. The title ‘Telling the story of the stories: online content curation and digital engagement’, is partly a quote from one of the participants in the study, a community reporter.
In the article, with co-author Prof Nick Couldry (LSE), we explore tensions between the imaginaries and material hindrances that accompany the development of digital infrastructures for narrative exchange and public engagement. Digital infrastructures allow civil society organizations to become narrators of their community lives, and to express solidarity and recognition. Often full development and implementation of such infrastructures result in drastic changes to an organization’s mode of operation. Drawing from empirical material collected during an action research project with an organization of community reporters in the North of England, here we examine the visions of ‘telling the story of the stories’ that motivated such changes, the experiments in web analytics and content curation that in practice realized these visions and the socio-economic contexts that constrained them. We attend to the wider social imaginaries about the digital as they help us understand better how social actors construct the worlds they want to inhabit within information society through mundane everyday practices. Examining how perceptions of digital engagement translate into such concrete practices is necessary in order to gain insight into the ways in which material infrastructures, such as resources and technologies, intertwine with social and cultural expectations about how life should be with digital technologies.
Two articles based on our collaborative work in the Storycircle project (Goldsmiths, completed July 2013) have just been published in March, Digital citizenship? Narrative exchange and the changing terms of civic culture, in Citizenship Studies, and News in the community? Investigating emerging inter-local spaces of news production/consumption in Journalism Studies.
In Digital citizenship we explored the possibilities for new forms of ‘digital citizenship’ currently emerging through digitally supported processes of narrative exchange. Using Dahlgren’s (Dahlgren, P. 2003. “Reconfiguring Civic Culture in the New Media Milieu.” In Media and the Restyling of Politics, edited by J. Corner, and D. Pels, 151–170. London: Sage; Dahlgren, P. 2009. Media and Political Engagement. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.) circuit of ‘civic culture’ as a model for exploring the interlinking preconditions for new acts of citizenship, we discuss the contrasting outcomes of research at three fieldwork sites in the North of England – educational (a sixth form college), civil society (a community reporters’ network) and social (a local club). Each site provided clear evidence of the elements of Dahlgren’s circuit (some depending on the intensive use of digital infrastructure, others predating it), but there were also breaks in the circuit that constrained its effectiveness. A crucial factor in each case for building a lasting circuit of civic culture (and an effective base for new forms of digital citizenship) is the role that digital infrastructure can play in extending the scale of interactions beyond the purely local.
In News in the Community we examined the emergence of new, inter-local spaces of news production and consumption, drawing again on our extensive fieldwork and interviews with community reporters trained by a community reporter organisation based in the north of England. Practices of news production and content generation are focused on people’s own communities and they are underpinned by an ethos of production, which is grounded in a critical consumption of news and collective processes of skill acquisition. Through an analysis of motivations and practices, we account for the values that sustain community reporter communities and discuss how such practices, while emerging from the place of local community, also extend across wider communities of interest. It is suggested that an evolving practice of skill sharing and mutual recognition could potentially stimulate the regrowth of democratic values.