Steven Clift in Amsterdam

Steven Clift, initiator of the political activation & internet project E-Democracy.org was in Amsterdam yesterday at the IPP (Institute for Public and Politics). About 15 people – amongst them researchers from Radbout University Nijmegen and the Amsterdam School of Social Research – were present to hear about the project and the way it has recently switched to an open source mail/web-politics system.

I had met Clift before, a year or two ago, in Amsterdam, when I was still involved with ‘Digitale Trapvelden’ (digital playgrounds). These are a kind of community neighbourhood centres that give easy acces to new information technologies to people who are normally not able to work with them.

Clift gave us a presentation of his work with E-Democracy and IssueWeb. Some aims and strong points of IssueWeb / E-Democracy are:

  • One can rapidly create a coalition about some issue online
  • It helps strengthen the cnocept of civil society as opposed to a view about politics as the act of raising money around an issue or electorate
  • It helps getting people with different backgrounds to join space in a “public sphere”

Some critique:

  • Some people post way more than others
  • White middle class male is overrepresented
  • Scalability of the project: how to get more cities involved?
  • Very much text-based: not appealing for everybody

It was an informative meeting. Interesting aspects for me were questions like whether these kind of initiatives are only helpful for creating coalitions amongst people that are against something (the NIMBY-effect) or also pro-something? In other words: to what extent can a resistance identity be transformed into a project identity (Castells 1996)? According to Steven Clift, certainly the majority of issues are opposing something. Nevertheless, there are also some very constructive initiatives taken on the web.
Another topic I find interesting is self-presentation of politicians on the web. What is their motivation? Why do some succeed in getting across their image/message and why do other fail?

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