RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017

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57 Communities of Place versus Communities of Interest? exploring implications of digital media for civic and place-based actions (2)
Affiliation Digital Geographies Working Group
Convenor(s) Sebastian Weise (Newcastle University, UK)
Geoff Vigar (Newcastle University, UK)
Moozhan Shakeri (Newcastle University, UK)
Chair(s) Sebastian Weise (Newcastle University, UK)
Moozhan Shakeri (Newcastle University, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 30 August 2017, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Room Sherfield/SALC Building, Room 2
Session abstract In the context of new media platforms deployed and used to augment civic participation, this session brings together anybody with an interest in understanding the participation dynamics enabled and sustained through mediating technologies. Submissions may considerer how the digital is significant in, for example, the social- geographies of crowdsourcing for civic participation on local matters, new approaches for revisiting, representing, and enlightening the spatial dynamics of government online consultations, or the campaigning of civic groups on a shared matter of concern. This is pertinent in the growing body of work on ‘civic technologies’, online- based applications that seek to enable formation of interest-based
publics around common causes. In local matters, materialities of place often formulate the foundation for shared interest, the session considers how communities of place form and are sustained, especially in relation to urban/rural contexts and smaller geographic scales, and how information gained from processes is ignored or turned into knowledge for action by, e.g., planners, politicians to justify civic action. We encourage contributions based on different methodological approaches that may include data from live systems or techniques for study of participation dynamics from archival data (such as governmental publications and open data).
Linked Sessions Communities of Place versus Communities of Interest? exploring implications of digital media for civic and place-based actions (1)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Re-imagined communities: the role of digital technology in community narrative formation
Austin Toombs (Purdue University, USA)
Toby Lowe (Newcastle University, UK)
There are two aspects to this research. Firstly a theoretical aspect which proposes a narrative-based conceptual framework for understanding community, and secondly an empirical study exploring the role of digital technology in the construction of community- forming narratives. To be a meaningful analytical concept, community must be distinguished from other forms of social grouping. We propose that community is defined as a group of people who share identity-forming narratives. This captures the normative role played by community (as distinct from looser social groupings) and explains why membership of particular communities creates and maintains particular worldviews. Technology has always played a crucial role in creating and maintaining communities, especially in the context of large-scale, “imagined” communities in which participation or identification with the community in question is primarily propagated through communication (Anderson 1983). This paper builds on an empirical study of the role of an email list environment in the development, maintenance, and control of an online community of interest (hackerspaces.org), where the “interest” in question is itself the maintenance and imagined connection of particular communities of place (individual hackerspaces distributed around the world). We present how the explicit and implicit rules of this online email environment impact the development of identify-forming narratives that are shareable in such a way as to be exclusive of certain types of engagement. Specifically, we examine the role of tropes—common phrases and conversational shortcuts that refer to backgrounded community ideals—in the process of this type of exclusion even while community members attempt to be explicitly inclusive. The paper offers a theoretical contribution which unpicks the concept of community, and creates a framework for understanding the role of digital technology in community formation, illustrated with examples from different forms of community.
Participatory Media: Creating Spaces for Storytelling inNeighbourhood Planning
Jen Manuel (Newcastle University, UK)
Geoff Vigar (Newcastle University, UK)
Tom Bartindale (Newcastle University, UK)
Rob Comber (Newcastle University, UK)
There is considerable interest in devolving power to communities of place and to communities of interest from many different parts of the political spectrum. In the UK much governmental attention has been devoted to devolving power to communities of place to plan their own locales using several ‘localist’ tools. One such tool is the formal, statutory mechanism of Neighbourhood Planning. An emerging literature notes the many challenges to devolution, one of which is that traditional forms of participation are still heavily relied upon, and the weaknesses therein threaten the democratic legitimacy of such planning work. Here, we outline how two neighbourhood planning groups used participatory media technology, specifically film enabled through a bespoke mobile phone application, Bootlegger, to improve engagement though the art of storytelling. We focus on the configuration of participatory media as a way to widen participation and enable story creation and sharing amongst citizens. We highlight that storytelling using media technology can provide a model of and a model for the way we ‘do’ neighbourhood planning whilst emphasising the challenges of ensuring processes are linked to tangible actions and encouraging a multiplicity of stories.
Ambient participation? Social media as platform spaces for commentary, debate and anxieties around urban transformation
Scott Rodgers (Birkbeck, University of London, UK)
Susan Moore (University College London, UK)
Andrea Ballatore (Birkbeck, University of London, UK)
There is a growing academic literature on the potential of software automation, data dashboards, participatory platforms and the like for future urban governance and management. However, arguably less well understood are the ways in which existing – and relatively ordinary – media practices, and their associated platforms and data formations, are already informing processes of contemporary urban transformation, and specifically those related to the field of urban planning. In this paper, we offer a response to this apparent lacuna by drawing on a case study of a highly divisive transportation scheme in the London Borough of Waltham Forest (UK). This scheme – officially as well as popularly dubbed ‘Mini-Holland’ – involves a series of significant changes being made to the East London borough’s road infrastructure, in order to enhance the environment for cyclists and pedestrians. It has attracted considerable and often polarized public commentary via social media, which appear to evoke increasingly familiar divides, such as elite/ordinary and middle class/working class. The Council’s conduct on social media, meanwhile, has focused on publicity rather than seeking public input or generating dialogue. Using a cross- disciplinary methodology that combines big data analytics (natural language processing, social network analysis) with ‘small data’ qualitative methods (digital ethnography, in-depth interviewing), we explore how this case highlights the new modalities social media platforms afford around issues of urban transformation. These modalities might be characterized as new forms of ambient participation in urban planning and governance, which mix emotions, views and facts within the emergent, always-on, asynchronous discursive spaces of social media.
Round table and discussion
Reviewing insights from across the speakers’ contributions, we then develop a discussion around the questions framed this call for contributions:

• how the digital is significant in, for example, the social-geographies of crowdsourcing, peer production systems for civic participation on local matters.
• in turn, how collected (geographic) knowledge is or might be turned into insight by policy makers; or how it might be ignored
• approaches for revisiting and enlightening the spatial dynamics of participation in government online consultations,
• Insight on the spatial dynamics and relations among civic groups and their matters of concern.

We’ll invite all contributors to discuss and develop a shared future research agenda on the matters of communities of place vs communities of interest. As part of this session we aim to take note of priorities, open questions, and need for future work