The Websphere where collective knowledge becomes material

On: April 1, 2011
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About Cristina Reyna
Cristina Reyna New Media Master Student 2010/2011 Cristina was born in Colombia, she moved to Belgium to study in the Catholic University of Louvain, since then she has been involved in women rights issues. She works in the field of development, migration and peace.


‘Ce que le web fait, c’est de matérialiser des éléments qu’on ne voyait pas et qu’on ne pouvait pas tracer auparavant, par le fait d’avoir un login, un écran, un clavier, des avatars[1] Latour

Internet applications offer opportunities for collaboration and for the generation and distribution of knowledge. The new technologies and software enable users to adopt new forms of interaction, coordination and cooperation, contributing, in this way, to the generation of on-line collective knowledge. The fast adoption of technologies by social movements, NGO’s and international activism seems to be the perfect match in order to address the ever-present difficulties of communication, isolation among members and especially to build up the capacity to create global knowledge around global issues . Even more the capacity to share information at low cost through social networks, has never been so accessible till now. At the empirical level, different uses are being experimented and organizations are learning from their experiences of implementing these kinds of projects.

During the Seminar of transformation of politics, I traced some projects where international organizations and NGO’s are implementing social networks on the web to facilitate communication among members. Observing these projects, one topic appeared for me relevant to discuss: Most of the organizations are approaching social media as a tool, using it for linking partners, promoting participation among them and facilitating the transition in the transformation process from centralized communities towards networked movements.

However, the digital era would demand a new approach in the conception of activism and network societies. M. Castells[1] in his book The Power of Communication develops the current network society as a new form of resistance in the political context. These networks are conformed around issues that concern each other and their cooperation would be based on the ability they have to communicate among each other. Two forms of networks can be distinguished here: the vertical/horizontal organizations and the horizontal networks.  Historically, explains the author, industrial society was mainly structured by vertical production and hierarchical state. Institutions and communication technologies were not powerful enough to allow autonomy in all their nodes. The present network society has their strength in their flexibility, adaptability, and capacity to self-reconfigure.

In the same way, approaching the concepts of participation and interactivity in the online world, implies the understanding of the Internet anatomy, authors such as A. Barry[2] presents a political anatomy of interactivity; he proposes to analyze the shift from Foucault’s notion of discipline and punishment where power is defined by the relation over the object itself, to the Interactive society where the relation to the object might be different. The interactive society will perceive things different; the expectation of activity is different in the interactive society and the disciplinary one. “Discipline implies normalization; the injunction is you must! Interactive is associated with the expectation of activity: you may!” (A. Barry 149). The interactive society is supposed to provide part of the solutions to the problem of the technological citizenship, based on the interactivity and experimental capacities.

Reading some articles about experiences and lessons learned from organizations implementing Internet strategies in their campaigns, authors such as V. Kneip[3] defines the Internet as a vehicle that allows transnational activism campaigns to take place outside traditional political forums, at low-cost. She argues that activists have adapted to the structural principals of online networks, focusing on interactivity, multimedia, and decentralized organization. ‘Digital activism decoded’ is another interesting book, where different experiences on using Internet and digital devices for activism are explained. In the conclusions Joyce raises some concerns on the strategies adopted by activists from the pre-digital era. She states “the infrastructure of activism has changed, yet our strategic knowledge has not”[4] and she calls for improvements in digital activism.

These reflections on different experiences could bring us to another issue, the Websphere. For most of those projects Internet was conceived as a tool, yet the digital era would demand a new approach, the Internet would not only be a tool for communication, it would become a new public sphere (Habermas approach), where individuals exchange information and create debate, the Internet would materialize the network of the sphere they belong to, the networks and their identities will be reflected on this space of discussion. Understanding the Internet as a websphere could help in the reflection on identity and character of the organizations the social media projects belong to. The web sphere becomes then an indicator of change, a thermometer of hot topics to discuss, a mirror of the community materializing thus the collective knowledge of networks.

References :

Barry, Andrew. Political Machines: Governing a Technological Society. London: The Athlone Press, 2001. 127-196.

Bennett, Lance. “Communicating Global Activism. Strengths and Vulnerabilities of Networked Politics.” Cyberprotest: New Media, Citizens and Social Movements. Eds. Wim van de Donk et al., New York: Routledge,

Castells, The Power of Communication. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Joyce, Mary. Digital Activism Decoded: the New Mechanics of Change. New York: International Debate Education Association, 2010. Print.

Kneip, Veronika. “Political Struggles within the Market Sphere. The Internet as a ‘Weapon’?” Political Campaigning on the Web. Eds. Sigrid Baringhorst, Veronika Kneip, Johanna Niesyto. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, 2009. 173-198.

[1] Castells, The Power of Communication. Chapter 1.

[2] Barry, Andrew. Political Machines: Governing a Technological Society. 2001

[3] Kneip, Veronika. “Political Struggles within the Market Sphere. The Internet as a ‘Weapon’?” Political Campaigning on the Web. pg, 2009. 173-198.

[4] Joyce, Mary. Digital Activism Decoded: the New Mechanics of Change. Pg. 212

[1] “ what the web does is to materialize some items that we could not see and we could not trace before, by having a login, a screen, keyboard, avatars

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