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Citizen 2.0?

Posted by Radha Rao at Nov 27, 2009 10:15 AM |
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Exploring Research Questions, Frameworks, and Methods - A presentation was given by Minna Aslama, at CIS, on Nov 23rd @ 4.30pm , Bangalore. The Videos for the talk are given here.


The early and mid 1990s witnessed a surge of academic thinking and public debates around the democratizing power of the Internet. The most hopeful utopias of deliberative online communication and formation of active ‘subaltern counter-publics’ (Fraser 1992/1997) were countered with fears ranging from trivialization, fragmentation, even disappearance of widely and commonly shared issues, to viral distribution of non-democratic, ‘harmful’ content. Now the same debates are re-emerging once again in era that is witnessing the explosion of ‘social production’ in a multitude of digital platforms.

The recent examples of the elections in two very different societies, the United States and Iran, provide just two cases where information production by non-professional individuals and loose associations, distributed via informal networks including social networking sites and microblogging, has played a major role in democratic processes (e.g., Williams & Gulati 2007; Keim & Clark 2009).

A question remains: do social networks facilitate platforms for democratic debate and participation in our ‘post-broadcast’ democracies (Prior 2007) characterized by ‘a networked information economy’ (Benkler 2006)? And further, is or can there exist such a phenomenon as a ‘Citizen 2.0’ who actively participates in democratic processes (issue driven and/or local, regional, national, transnational) via digital media? So far academic scholarship has focused on theorization rather than empirical analyses (e.g., Gripsrud 2009), has tended to emphasize activities of social justice movements that are by default networked and proactive (Aslama & Erickson 2009), and thus have ‘romanticized’ the participatory and democratizing nature of the Internet, web 2.0 and mobile communications (while most quantitative indicators tend to point towards concentrated and elite communication, and while digital divide still clearly exists, Hindman 2009). Needless to say, much of the hopeful theorization is European / Anglo-American, and there seems to be relatively little cultural sensitivity in grand visions of global public spheres (c.f., Castells 2008).

The talk will not claim to provide answers to these paramount questions. Instead, Minna wished to raise more questions about (1) what should be researched about mediated democracy and citizenry in our time; what should we know? (2) How could we frame that research theoretically and conceptually? And (3) what kinds of methodological solutions might be useful in this context. Rather than presenting a comprehensive research agenda, Minna suggested some ideas that would broadly connect to macro, meso and micro-level view of media, power and citizenship (c.f. Clegg 1989), and would illustrate those ideas with some empirical examples of her current pilot work for a planned multi-country study on the theme.


  • Aslama M. & Erickson I. (2009). Public Spheres, Networked Publics, Networked Public Spheres? Tracking the Habermasian Public Sphere in Recent Discourse. Fordham University, McGannon Center Working Papers.Retrieved at:,%20networked%20publics,%20networked%20public%20spheres.pdf
  • Benkler, Y. (2006). The Wealth of Networks. How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.
  • Castells, M. (2008). The New Public Sphere: Global Civil Society, Communication Networks, and Global Governance. The Annals Of The American Academy Of Political And Social Science, vol. 616, no. 1, pp. 78-93.
  • Clegg, S. (1989). Frameworks of Power. London: Sage.
  • Fraser N. (1997(1992)). Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of an Actually Existing Democracy. In Calhoun C (ed.). Habermas and the Public Sphere. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Pp., 109-142.
  • Gripsrud, J. (2009, March). Digitising the Public Sphere: Two Key Issues. Javnost-The Public, 16(1), 5-16.
  • Hindman, M. (2009). The Myth of Digital Democracy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
  • Keim N & Clark J (2009) Public Media 2.0 Field Report: Building Social Media Infrastructure to Engage Publics. Twitter Vote Report and Inauguration Report ’09. American University, center for Social Media. (accessed 30 August 2009).
  • Prior, M. (2007) Post-Broadcast Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Williams, C. B., & Gulati, G. J. (2007). Social Networks in Political Campaigns: Facebook and the 2006 Midterm Elections. Paper presented at the 2007 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association.

Minna Aslama’s Bio:

Minna Aslama is a researcher and a lecturer at Fordham University, New York, and the University of Helsinki. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Helsinki and has taken part in several international research activities including The Media Between Culture and Commerce Project by the European Science Foundation, and the research-advocacy project on Global Media Monitoring of news media (GMMP, 1995, 2000, 2005, 2009). From 2008-2009, she served as the Program Officer for the Necessary Knowledge for a Democratic Public Sphere program at the Social Science Research Council.
Prior to her academic career, she worked at the Division of Advancement for Women of the UN Secretariat and at the Finnish Broadcasting Company in the research, training and development unit. She has also served as a consultant for various national and international organizations on research and training, especially with regard to issues of media and gender. 
Her recent/ongoing research work includes new conceptualizations of media audiences and the concept of ‘participation’, public service media and content diversity in the digital era, and media policy flows in the globalizing media environment. In addition, she is especially interested in new forms of collaboration emerging in relation to the media justice and reform movements. Together with Phil Napoli, she is currently editing a book “Communication Research in Action” that depicts scholar-practitioner collaborations in the field.
Contact: [email protected]










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Radha Rao