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Digital Participation

The stream supports, coordinates and disseminates research about how digital technologies are reshaping what participation means in social, political, cultural, organisational and economic contexts.

Researchers explore the impact of a variety of new media and communication technologies: servers, clouds, smart phones, tablets, cameras, self-tracking wearables and other devices in the expanding internet of connected things known as ‘the digital’. Despite its ubiquity the term ‘digital’ is poorly understood. It is often invoked as a more efficient way of solving complex social, organisational and individual problems. It seems to promise fast, mobile, immaterial processes and infrastructures. Yet digital processes and infrastructures requires materials and skills and the way they are distributed creates new patterns of inclusion and exclusion.

The idea of a ‘digital divide’ marks these new patterns and the existence of inequalities in access to new media and communication technologies and literacies. Inequalities follow, in part, from demographic and socio-economic characteristics including income, age, gender, race, education and geographic location. To address them national and local government and third sector organisations have adopted ‘widening digital participation’ as a policy goal.

Our research into patterns of use and participation demonstrates that there is more at stake here than access and skills. The deployment of mobile phone technologies by Syrian refugees navigating treacherous journeys, the extent of big data driven commercial surveillance and the trolling, doxing and cyber-bullying of women in the public eye all illustrate that the problem is not simply a deficit in digital participation. Thus rather than promoting greater digital participation as a straightforward good, researchers in the stream explore its forms and its consequences for individuals, organisation and societies.

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