RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2019

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341 Digital democracy: Geographies of trouble and geographies of hope (2)
Affiliation Digital Geographies Research Group
Convenor(s) Helen Pallett (University of East Anglia, UK)
Chair(s) Helen Pallett (University of East Anglia, UK)
Timetable Friday 30 August 2019, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Room Sherfield/SALC Building, Room 8
Session abstract Depending on who you believe the increasing incursion of digital technologies into our daily lives, our markets and systems of governance, is either the greatest threat democracy faces or its ultimate saviour. On one hand, emerging methods associated with digital democracy offer hope, including: new opportunities for openness and transparency; new tools for listening, mapping and responding to public voices; and a greater variety of possible ways for citizens to participate. On the other hand, these emerging methods raise new troubles and threats, such as: the potential to manipulate democratic processes; the de-facto privatisation of the administration of democracy; the masking of the subjectivity of decisions made during democratic processes through an overreliance on machines and algorithms; and the straight-forward exclusion of citizens who lack access to the internet and smart technologies.

This panel aims to explore the geographies of trouble and of hope which emerge from the accelerating adoption of digital methods of engagement by the state and in other democratic contexts, with contributions exploring the proliferation of digital data and its various (un)democratic uses in diverse domains and contrasting spaces and places.
Linked Sessions Digital democracy: Geographies of trouble and geographies of hope (1)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2019@rgs.org
Towards Digital Justice? More-than-real geographies and digital democratic processes
Jessica McLean (Macquarie University, Australia)
From critical perspectives on geographical information science to understanding and breaking ‘the code’, geographers are exploring what it means to do, and critique, digital geographies. In this paper, I turn to the question of what is made possible by digital geographies, drawing on narratives of social and environmental change with diverse examples of transformation from, and of, the digital. I argue that emotion, affect and politics intermingle in everyday digital spaces to produce sometimes unexpected transformations, including for digital justice. Democratic processes are being digitally remade in the Australian context – from the postal survey for legalising same-sex marriage to resistances of climate inaction by the Federal Government. I use the concept of more-than-real geographies to unpack some contradictions that appear when considering how affect and emotion work to produce changing digital geographies. I depict digital spaces as more-than-real, rather than unreal, recognising the affective and emotional forces that co-produce the digital. New digital democracies bring affective forces in to play with other decision-making processes to produce more-than-real geographies.
The Online Genetically Modified Food Debate: Who is an Expert?
Catherine Price (The University of Warwick, UK)
Using UK online news articles and below the line comments, this qualitative research assesses the construction of claims of scientific authority, credibility and trust, together with the contestation and disputation of these claims in connection with online news coverage and audience reception of the genetically modified (GM) food debate. Through the use of language comes the power of persuasion. Ideologies, rooted and disseminated through discourse, serve to potentially influence the audience of both the online news articles and below the line comments. Analysis of the articles reveals the contested place of scientific knowledge in the GM food debate within and between the state, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), citizens and consumers. Narratives in the articles surrounding the development of GM crops and use of science in decision making processes, illustrate the legitimacy of science. Below the line comments contest scientific expertise in respect of GM foods, and dispute its status as a scientific issue. Here, emphasis is on the different types of knowledges that are used rather than solely a scientific rubric. Commenters draw upon their knowledge gained from previous food scares, e.g. the BSE crisis and Horsemeat Scandal, notably how the state and food industry acknowledged and managed these incidents.
Digital Social Participation transforming urban governance. A scenario building exercise in Ghent
Chiara Certomà (Ghent University, Belgium)
Thomas Block (Ghent University, Belgium)
The paper explores how the adoption of digital social participation processes (can) impact on the traditional process of urban governance. Specifically, this interrogates the objectives, potentiatlities and consequences of the introduction of technology-mediated participatory processes in the city of Ghent, Belgium, by providing some alternative scenarios for future developments. It has been claimed that DSP processes can enable ordinary citizens to take part in knowledge-production and socio-political decision-making by also encouraging the expansion of public debate and questioning the socio-political underpinning of traditional governance processes, and the formation of political agenda. Crowdsourcing-kind processes (including participation platforms, citizens’ science, participatory sensing, social mapping, e-pulling and similar) have been demonstrated via pioneering experiments to contribute at fostering far-flung genius of social actors in shaping the city organisation and functioning, and at fuelling the emergence of a new governance model characterised by distributed technological agency.

On the base of the results of the EU MSCA project “CROWD_USG" we investigate how crowdsourcing affects traditional urban governance processes by prefiguring future governance scenarios that are likely to occur in consequence of the introduction of digital participation technologies in the city of Ghent. Building upon the critical perspective on "internet for society” studies, we evaluate how and whether digital social participation are actually transforming urban governance processes; what opportunities, problems and consequences it brings about; what actors are empowered or excluded; what kind of issues are prioritized and what tools and processes for addressing them are privileged; and in general what are the foreseeable social, environmental or economic consequences.
Towards dialogical geographies: reframing 'sensing' and geographic data generation for empowering relationships
João Porto de Albuquerque (University of Warwick, UK)
Recent research studies have made clear that citizen sensing projects are ridden with an ambivalent character. From one perspective, the production of geographic data by citizens is associated with empowerment: digital technologies can enable citizens to produce data that reflects alternative and counter-hegemonic views of the world, and thus lead to the opening up of more inclusive and polyvocal information spaces. From another perspective, the digital technologies and data collection processes may entail instrumentality: citizens are invited to act as mere “data providers”, as kinds of Ersatz-sensors, i.e. their role is confined to capturing environmental signals, which are then used in ways that are frequently opaque and outside their control and accountability. In our view, these contradictory perspectives can be attributed to the intrinsic ambivalence of citizen sensing. In this talk, I will argue that this ambivalence can only be properly understood by reframing the way we think about citizen science and digital participation so that it includes considerations about the process and mode in which citizens are engaged, particularly in data generation. By resorting to the critical pedagogy developed by the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire (Freire, 1987, 2000, 2001; Freire & Faundez, 1985), we seek here to provide a fresh perspective on the role of ‘sensing’ and data generation within citizen science. This perspective will be able to account for the ambivalences outlined above by shedding light on the critical importance of the way citizens take part in these processes by investigating empirical results of ongoing research projects that involve participatory mapping with marginalised and disadvantaged groups of people in Bangladesh, Brazil, Kenya, Pakistan and Nigeria. Based on these experiences, the talk will seek to outline a set of ethical-methodological criteria that are aimed at establishing dialogical and empowering relationships in digital participation projects.