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Towards an Expressive Rationality in Online Participation

The next speaker at EDEM 2010 is Jakob Svensson from Karlstad University, who notes that the Net is considered to be the new arena for digital citizenship, of course - citizenship is membership in a political community which confers particular rights and duties; but what does the political consist of? What should be considered to be political?

The political, Jakob suggests, concerns the organisation and structure of society, and power relations within it; it is discursive and relational. This also relates to questions of what we mean by community - and community is now more often a community of interest than a geographically or otherwise determined community. Overall, then, a political community is an ensemble of people who are concerned witb the organisation of society and make sense of these concerns in a similar way. When such political communities address these concerns, they engage in active citizenship.

Developments in this area in late modernity are connected with (though not simply driven by) technological developments: a dispersion of cultural frameworks, and a tendency towards individualisation, as well as a shift towards the networked and the digital. We move towards sub-politics or life politics in the process.

There is an instrumental view of rationality, seeing it as an instrument for reaching pre-defined purposes; e-administration is seen in much the same way, too. But there is a problem of participation if this view prevails - why participate in such citizen activities if they cannot influence political outcomes or effect change? The alternative is communicative rationality - where the Net, for example, is seen as making a freer, un-predetermined process of communication and deliberation possible -, but here, too, why do people not participate more actively?

Jakob suggests an expressive rationality as a further alternative, linked to processes of identification and reflexive self-realisation in digital late modernity; expressive preferences are not immediately connected to market preferences. There is a focus here on self-realisation and processes of identification which maintains and redefines discourses in order to make participation and deliberation meaninful. Participation, here, is understood as an act of identity expression, provides participants with meaning, and sustains community.

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