Thought piece by Nishant Shah
This thought piece is an attempt to reflect critically on existing practices of “making change” and its implications for the future of citizen action in information and network societies. It observes that change is constantly and explicitly invoked at different stages in research, practice, and policy in relation to digital technologies, citizen action, and network societies. However, we do not have adequate frameworks to address the idea of change. What constitutes change? What are the intentions that make change possible? Who are the actors involved? Whose change is it, anyway?
Drawing on the Hivos Knowledge Programme and on knowledge frameworks around youth, technology, and change from the last four years, this thought piece introduces new ways of defining, locating, and figuring change. In the process, it also helps understand the role that digital technologies play in shaping and amplifying our processes and practices of change, and to understand actors of change who are not necessarily confined to the category of “citizen”, which seems to be understood as the de facto agent of change in contemporary social upheavals, political uprisings, and cultural innovations.
Methodologically, this thought piece attempts to make three discursive interventions: It locates digital activism in historical trajectories, positing that digital activism has deep ties to traditional activism, when it comes to the core political cause. Simultaneously, it recognises that new modes of political engagement are demanding and producing novel practices and introducing new actors and stakeholders. It looks at contemporary digital and network theories, but also draws on older philosophical lineages to discuss the crises that we seek to address. It tries to interject these abstractions and theoretical frameworks back into the field by producing two case studies that show how engagement with these questions might help us reflect critically on our past practices and knowledge as well as on visions for and speculations about the future, and how these shape contemporary network societies. It builds a theoretical framework based on knowledge gleaned from conversations, interviews, and on-the-ground action with different groups and communities in emerging information societies, and integrates with new critical theory to build an interdisciplinary and accessible framework that seeks to inform research, development-based interventions, and policy structures at the intersection of digital technologies, citizen action, and change by introducing questions around change into existing discourse.