Tag: Kersti Wissenbach

Kersti on political participation and data activism in a sub-Sahara African context (Bonn)

VHS Bonn (VolksHochSchule), Adult Education Centre
Monday, September 25, 2017, 18: 00-19: 30

Kersti Wissenbach will give a public lecture about political participation and data activism in a sub-Sahara African context. The talk is part of the ‘Afrikanische Aspekte’ lecture series, organizing every semester by the German African Center together with the adult education center with the aim to open up these issues to a wider audience. Other speakers this year are from the German Development Bank, The German Institute for Development (DIE), Uni Bonn, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Germanwatch e. V.

On the talk

New technological developments offer more and more opportunities for citizen participation. New civil society actors, such as Civic Tech, and Open Data activists are taking advantage of this opportunity. They demand greater transparency from governments, public authorities to take responsibility, and open doors for direct political participation.

But what does involvement of the citizens in the digital age really look like when the power dynamics and socio-political contexts determine which data are collected and used for political decision-making? How can new technologies and new actors positively influence such dynamics and relationships in the African context?

Find more information on the talk here (in German).

Kersti presents ‘Accounting for Power in a Datafied World’ at SNS

March 18th, Kersti Wissenbach will present her paper at COSMOS: The Centre on Social Movement Studies in Firenze, Italy.

Kersti announcing her presentation ‘Accounting for Power in a Datafied World’:

My current work aims to provide a social movement approach in order to study civic tech activism. I am asking How we can account for power dynamics in the strive to open up civil society space for governance engagement through data and technology infrastructure.

During the CosmoShare talk I will introduce my conceptual work aiming to emphasize the central role of communication for power dynamics in social and political change processes. Bringing into dialogue social movement studies and communication theory, I will build on contemporary conceptualisations within media practice theory (Kubitschko 2017; Couldry 2015) by contributing an enlarged framework that explicitly accounts for communication from a non-technical and a non-western perspective. To develop the framework, I turn to Freire and Pasquali’s theorization of communication as human relations.

Kersti Wissenbach on ‘civic tech as activism’ @Protest Media Ecologies

The 20th and 21st of April, Kersti will attend the Protest Media Ecologies: Communicative Affordances for Social Change in the Digital Era in Florence, Italy. She will give a presentation titled “Civic tech as activism: The role of transnational communities for data-driven governance”:

New modes of engagement with data and technology have emerged over the last half-decade, which go under the label of ‘civic technology’ (or ‘civic tech’). Individuals and groups take advantage of the availability of data and related software to directly engage and intervene in governance processes. An example is the community around the freedom of information request tool Alaveteli, which supports citizens willing to exert power over under-performing institutions in currently twenty-five countries.

At its core stands the potential of technologies and data at civil society’s disposal to better execute their civic role within the democratic realm. However, the civic tech scene spans from activist groups to international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) and the business start-up scene. Civic tech activism is characterised by the collective building, utilization, and localization of tools to enable direct and inclusive citizen engagement in the most diverse socio-political contexts. A community expanding through such collective engagement enables context-relevant tactics catering for local communication means and cultures that enable civic-driven calls for government accountability. This is particularly relevant in less democratic countries.

This presentation will discuss how the action repertoires and collective identity dynamics of civic tech activism can create significant different power dynamics for opening up civil society space than other actors utilizing data and technology for governance processes. It will compare the potentials of civic tech activism with INGOs using technology for short-term interventions and tech start-ups selling open data platform software to governments that might or might not use those platforms to share politically relevant information with their citizens.


About ‘Protest Media Ecologies’

Our investigation focused on activists media practices in the framework of anti­austerity movements
in three Southern European countries ­ Greece, Italy and Spain. With this workshop we aim at sharing the knowledge produced through our research with other scholars that focus on topics related to the use of media in the context of mobilizations. We want to engage with the research of people working in the same field, to learn about your projects and findings, and together create research synergies that will deepen our understanding and theoretical considerations of protest media ecologies in Europe and beyond.

This two­day workshop is organized in the framework of the research project Protest Media Ecologies: Communicative Affordances for Social Change in the Digital Era at Lakehead University (Canada) and Scuola Normale Superiore (Italy), funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant.

[blog] Communication and Activism – a research visit to the Center of Social Movement Studies

By Kersti R. Wissenbach, March 2017

This week I returned to the beautiful city of Florence to spend several months with the Centre on Social Movement Studies (COSMOS) located at the Institute of Humanities and Social Science at Scuola Normale Superiore. It is my second visit to the institute and whilst Tuscany is always worth a visit, I did not (just) return for the great weather. Spending time at COSMOS proved to be a very enriching experience given the stimulating environment of like-minded social scientists and particularly a great group of researchers working on the intersection of social movement studies and media sciences –as I do.

As a communication and political science scholar with a background in critical development studies, I am working on the intersection of social movements, democracy, and communication. I am particularly interested in the role of communication in relation to power. During my stay at COSMOS I will advance a part of my theoretical work and finalize an article aiming to (re)introduce the concept of communication, as distinct from media or technology, to the field of social movement studies. I am a huge communication advocate when it comes to social and political change processes, no matter how much attention is given to the potentials of data and new technologies. I will briefly explain why.

There is much blurriness when it comes to the terminology around communication, media, and technology. In the fields of social movement studies and Development Communication much reference is made to media and oftentimes we do not clearly distinct between the terms or we find authors speaking of the use of communication where in fact referring to media as institution or technological infrastructure. Lumping together everything under the media term, however, risks disproportional techno or data deterministic attention whilst underestimating dynamics between activists that might be crucial for how (seemingly) technological interventions play out.

Why is that problematic? Communication is essentially a social practice, based on human interaction and as such relations between people. Where we have human relations and societal interactions we have power dynamics. Those power dynamics ultimately shape activist as much as governance spaces.

My doctoral research deals with what I call civic tech activism -activist groups making use of the abundance of data and new technologies to open up civil society space for direct engagement in formal governance processes and to directly hold government institutions to account. An example would be the community around the freedom of information request tool Alaveteli, which supports citizens willing to exert power over under-performing institutions in currently twenty-five countries. At its core stands a belief in the potential of ICTs and data to support citizens in the exercise of their democratic agency. There has been much attention on the potential of data and technology for governance in recent years, usually looking at platforms and tools that enable governments to open up information or that enable citizens to claim information from governments. Little attention, however, is usually given to power dynamics that emerge and persist within activist communities and thus ultimately shape who is actively engaged in building and practicing mechanisms to hold governments to account or to voice demands to government institutions. So community dynamics – relations, interactions, hierarchies- ultimately affect whose voices are heard, how accessible and accessible to whom respective tools are built, etc.

In consequence, we could say that social practices and relations within activist communities shape social practices and engagement mechanisms between civil society and government institutions. This is why I will deep-dive into communication approaches, mainly those rooted in non-western scholarship, over the coming months. My intention is to provide a conceptual framework that supports a communication driven analysis to social movement dynamics within the governance activism field.

Stay tuned for more!

Kersti Wissenbach at Centre on Social Movement Studies, Florence

Between October and December Kersti stayed as a guest research fellow with the Centre on Social Movement Studies (COSMOS) of the Scuola Normale Superiore in Florence, Italy. She used the time at COSMOS to investigate ways forward to strengthen the relationship between Communication for Development and Social Movement research. Next to her focus on the intersection of communication and social movement studies she also visited various courses. Among others, she explored the potential of contemporary work on the intersection of democracy and social movements to inform her work on the open governance movement and civic tech activism in particular.

Kersti will return to Florence in Spring for her research and as a speaker in the workshop “Protest Media Ecologies: Communicative Affordances for Social Change in the Digital Era”.