EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


New mediators: culture, policy and practice in electronic governance and government

Location Wills LT G25
Date and Start Time 21 Sep, 2006 at 11:30


Thomas Wormald email
Monika Rulfs (University of Bremen) email
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Short Abstract

Practice and policy in the apparently global culture of electronic government and governance differ widely at the ethnographic level and point to the vital role played by mediating personalities.

Long Abstract

Ethnographic research in the field of new media in Europe and beyond has shown that processes of the development of computer and Internet technologies have been rich and complex, especially when examined ethnographically in different contexts and places. While the global interchange has been the subject of several studies, the local creative practice and the link between the global and the local clearly demand further research. The research journey in the field of ICT development leads from policy to practice through e-government and e-governance and acknowledges the vital role played by different personalities in the processes of e-governing. Papers based on recent ethnographic research about the practice of electronic governance are invited, with special emphasis on the people mediating new media processes. Themes the papers could additionally cover include the contrast between the emancipatory potential of new media technologies and the increased potential for state control they offer; the nature of processes of appropriation that take place when different groups and different kinds of groups use computers and the Internet; and the question of how, through processes of computer and Internet appropriation, ethnic and cultural identities are created, managed and sustained. This is especially the case when thinking about the significance of Europe and the way it is often constituted by media practitioners as a particular part of the world with certain dominant technological and cultural characteristics. This panel would be a double session with six to eight papers, each based on a different ethnographic context with the further possibility of including a theoretically based paper as introduction or conclusion.

Chair: Monika Rulfs
Discussant: Tom Wormald


Moderators on Dutch Moroccan websites

Author: Lenie Brouwer (Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam)  email
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Long Abstract

Dutch Moroccan youths are very active users and producers of websites in the Netherlands. Compared with other immigrant groups they launched the most websites, providing information on topical issues and Islam but also by stimulating discussions on forums regarding their social identity as Dutch Moroccans living in a Western society. These forums have become a big success, judging by the thousands of messages that are posted daily. The majority of the visitors are young Dutch Moroccans who have discovered the endless possibilities of this new medium. In this anonymous context they raise all kinds of sensitive issues or problems that they would not dare to in public. However, the value of these forum discussions have been challenged by different parties. The National Secret Service follows discussions on the Internet, in particular those on Islam, in the context of the struggle against terrorism. According to some scholars these forums are a place for discrimination and intimidation, while others emphasize the emancipatory potential as it gives minorities a voice to express themselves. In this highly sensitive environment the moderators of these forums, who read the contributions users sent to the forum, acquire a vital role, as they are the persons who make the first selection of these messages. Not much is known about the background and intentions of these 'mediators' of new media and their daily practice of decision making. This paper will focus on the role of moderators and their significance for online discussions.

New mediators and e-governance in a Kuala Lumpur suburb, 1999-2005

Author: John Postill (RMIT University)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper takes a close look at the people who are mediating electronic governance processes in Subang Jaya-USJ, a Kuala Lumpur suburb regarded in Malaysia as that country's e-governance 'laboratory'. Drawing on the field theory of both Pierre Bourdieu and Victor Turner, the paper investigates the new mediators' backgrounds, motivations, trajectories and positionings within the emergent field of electronic governance in the suburb over a period of six years (1999-2005). The paper focuses on the new mediators' 'unusual combination of technical, political and cultural skills' (Coleman), a combination that can only be understood in relation to the specialist field in which they operate. This 'field of organised striving' (Martin) is a political commons in which activists, politicians and civil servants cooperate and compete over the hearts and minds of 'the community', in the process shaping local forms of residential sociality in unforeseeable ways. In turn, the field must be analytically placed within the specificities of the Malaysian polity at a time of swift socio-technological change coupled with political-administrative continuity.

'Digital Integration of Immigrants': localising and personalizing German ICT-policy

Author: Oliver Hinkelbein (University of Bremen)  email
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Long Abstract

My paper explores the results of a three years study on the making and bringing into action of German ICT-policy concerned with the so called digital integration of immigrants. The main focus is on personalities that are part of policymaking processes. The paper demonstrates how mediators like bureaucrats, politicians, social workers and NGO-representatives - cultural producers, to use G.E. Marcus words - are involved in the powerful process of policymaking. Based on ethnographic data from two German cities - Esslingen and Hannover - I show how local ICT-policy is planed, organised and brought into practice. The two cases are differing quiet remarkable. On the one hand policymaking in Esslingen is forced by the city and state authorities. In Hannover, on the other hand, the goal to integrate immigrants by the use of new media is driven by NGO's.

The first part of my paper shows the important role of so called think tanks for both localities. In practice think tanks are networks of personalities, which are mediators in different ways. Within networks (think tanks) mediators share their ideas, motivations, goals and ideologies. Their practices are characterized as interrelations and are shaped by processes of communication, discussion and representation. Through different practices and influenced by power relations between personalities, "digital integration of immigrants" is created as part of local ICT-policy. For that reason I work out positions, views and standpoints of personalities that are part of local policymaking as mediators. Furthermore the local (egovernance-) configurations will be shown as result of policy practices and the impact of power relations. With respect to that my paper shows how and in which ways the process of local policymaking is to be seen as a result of various personalities, their (inter)relations and power relations. To conclude that part I regard think tanks (networks of personalities) as driving force in local policymaking. The second part of my paper demonstrates through ethnographic examples how the policy of digital integration is brought into action in Esslingen and Hannover. The main focus here is to compare state- and NGO-approaches. Although this paper is concerned with the local level of ICT policymaking, the final part will show its embeddednes in national as well as in European contexts. As a concluding note, the paper shows the impact of national and European processes on local practices. Concerning that, the important role of mediators on the European level and their relations to the local level will be worked out. This shows processes of ICT policymaking in the light of local, national and European interrelations of personalities, institutions and organisations.