Archive for October 14th, 2012

E-democracy: what political scientists and computer scientists can do   no comments

Posted at 10:25 pm in Uncategorized

The increasing presence of the Web in society has put forward the possibility of new models of democracy that can overcome certain pitfalls of the existing ones. These imperfections range from a lack of engagement of the population to a lack of popular power of decision. Using ICTs for an electronic voting system could become an inexpensive and effective way of enacting a more representative democracy in which a wider range of the population can take part in the political life of a state. Therefore, a thorough analysis of the feasibility of this alternative should be conducted from both socio-political and technological perspectives.

Some limitations of this alternative such as cyber-security issues that could facilitate electoral fraud or issues of competence of the population in certain ‘sensitive’ decisions have been put forward in several debates on this topic.

This essay will attempt to explain how the collaboration of two different academic disciplines, namely Political Sciences and Electronic and Computer Sciences can address two issues on which the essay will be focused. One is an alleged ‘digital divide’ that could leave apart certain sectors of the population that cannot access a connected computer or do not have the skills to vote electronically. The other one has to do with the above-mentioned technical problems related with security that can arise from the use of this voting system.

To do this, I will start looking at how political scientists analyse public participation in democratic systems by reading a textbook on democracy and a report for an independent enquiry institution.

The book is titled Models of Democracy, written by David Held (2006). It is a suggested reading for a unit in the Politics and International Relations degree in this university, called Democracy and the Modern State. I expect find there what methods of enquiry are the most commonly used in this discipline.

I am also reading a report for the Power Enquiry by Graham Smith, the title of which is Beyond the Ballot: 57 Democratic Innovations from Around the World (2005), where I also expect to find out how this discipline analyses current political phenomena and tackles the questions raised in the assignment.

The ‘technological side’ of the issue will be looked at a few weeks later.

The intention in the assignment is not to ‘answer the questions’, but to show how these two disciplines can work together towards it. Therefore, special emphasis will be put on the research methods that both of them use in order to find solutions to the problems they encounter.

Written by Manuel Leon Urrutia on October 14th, 2012

The digital divide through an anthropological and management lens   no comments

Posted at 7:01 pm in Uncategorized

With a background in international relations, I came to Web Science with an initial interest in communication and communication technologies, and how those impact on post-conflict reconstruction and development efforts. At the time I came to identify this interest I was working for a Social Brand consultancy, helping organisations to recognise the transformational effect of social media on businesses and how to adapt to it. My first project there was to develop a ranking of Social Brands, the Social Brands 100. So while everyone around me seemed to be raving about the power of the Web and social media, I started thinking of those who don’t have access to it.

Eg of FB updateOn 11 March 2011, coincidentally the launch day of the Social Brands 100, an earthquake struck Japan with devastating consequences. During the earthquake and in its aftermath, my Japanese friend was stuck in her office building for a few days, regularly posting Facebook updates to reassure friends and family that she was alright.

The possibilities for using social media in times of crisis seemed great. There were already forays into the idea with platforms like Ushahidi  which enables crowdsourcing of information during crises via various channels (another 2011 Social Brands 100 nominee!)… But all this got me thinking that those whom such platforms or ideas could help the most were often those without access to the Internet of the Web.

Now the purpose of this assignment is to focus on particular disciplines and the approach each would take to evaluate the issue rather than on the issue itself, but we still need to define what we will look at through the disciplinary lenses. I have chosen to examine the disciplines of management and anthropology, and over the course of the next few weeks will attempt to get an idea of their epistemologies and ontologies, the basic theories that underpin them and see whether it is helpful or beneficial to combine them to understand some of the issues around the digital divide. For Chen and Wellman (2004, p. 40) ‘the digital divide involves the gap between individuals (and societies) that have the resources to participate in the information era and those that do not’. It is a complex problem characterised by wide ranging aspects – socioeconomic, technological, linguistic factors, social status, gender, life stage and geography (Chen and Wellman 2004, pp. 39-42). Going into too much detail at this stage is not necessary, as the relevant issues to be examined will be framed through each discipline, but it provides a useful starting point.

So next week I will start with Thomas Hylland Eriksen’s Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology (3rd Edition) Pluto Press, for Anthropology and for management, David Boddy’s (2008) Management: An Introduction, 4th ed., Prentice Hall.


Chen, W. and Wellman, B. (2004) ‘The Global Digital Divide – Within and Between countries’ in IT & Society Vol.1(7), pp. 39-42.

Written by Jennifer Welch on October 14th, 2012

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Happy web science Christmas   no comments

Posted at 4:55 pm in Uncategorized

Shop shelves loaded with specially packaged items signal the advent of Christmas in mid October. What do we become involved in at Christmas? What is the meaning of our engagement? What are we doing in group behavioral terms? How is giving at the heart of what we do? The academic discipline which can give us significant answers is not Philosophy or Theology or consumer research within the study of Marketing

What helps us understand our gift-giving tradition is Anthropology. It studies group behaviours in communities and has an extensive body of theory derived from ranging fieldwork across the globe in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. An important base of theory is focused on systems of exchange and their significance. The sociologist-anthropologist Marcel Mauss analyses gift-giving systems in his work An essay on the gift: the form and reason of exchange in archaic societies1. He demonstrates that early exchange systems are based on reciprocity in order to build social connections between groups. A classic example of reciprocity is the exchange of sisters in marriage that took place in e.g. the Bambuti society in the Congo. Or another, the Kula ceremonial exchange system in the Trobiand Islands which created social cohesion and was distinctly different from their commodity exchange approach.

Now the web science question which is begged is can we apply these theories to online user behaviors outside of the Christmas context? What is happening in the online communities within and around internet services deploying the Free business models coined and analysed by Chris Addison2? Is there evidence of the classic anthropological gift-giving system between users and entrepreneurs?

Find out more in my next instalment!

1 In L’Année Sociologique, 1925.

2 Free: how today’s smartest businesses profit by giving something for nothing, Chris Addison, 2010.

Written by Caroline Halcrow on October 14th, 2012