PROJECT TITLE : Community Web2.0: creative control through hacking
RATIONALE & RESEARCH CONTEXT
The present study seeks to explore whether concepts and vocabularies emerging in relation to the Internet could usefully be applied to understandings of off-line contemporary relations and practices. The significance of the Internet in transforming community relations has been widely recognized, with there being considerable debate as to the degree to which it has fostered the development of virtual communities which have displaced territorial, face to face, communities. Such claims have been contested, it being claimed that on-line communications often supplement rather than replace off-line practices, although there has also been considerable attention paid to the emergence of a range of on-line practices, with a range of new terms being coined to express them (e.g., hacking, spamming, file-sharing, up-loading, down-loading), as well as older terms give new internet inflections (e.g., pirating, commons, navigating). In the current proposal we will seek to explore whether some of these newly emerging phrases might have relevance not only for understanding the operation of virtual communities but, might also point to some emergent off-line community practices, identities and relations.
For example, much of the vocabulary that is being used by the new coalition government to describe community and their roles within a so-called ‘Big Society’ would seem, to share many of the characteristics of contemporary forms of the Internet. Commonly described as Web2.0, users of the Internet embrace a new read/write relationship with much of the content of the Web and have provided vital dimensions to a previously highly top down environment. Adopting metaphors from the print industry, the early internet (Web 1.0) was populated by content that was written by vendors aimed at the public. Large companies provided the gateway to the web and in some cases controlled the content that was primarily accessible (AOL, British Telecom). Subsequently information felt as though it was ‘read’ only. As social computing technologies were developed, companies such as Google and Yahoo capitalised upon the potential for publicly generated content, opinion and statistical data. Our experience of the internet is now one in which contributing is very easy and taking responsibility for what and who we join, take part in and produce is central to how we benefit.
RESEARCH AIMS & OBJECTIVES
The aim of this research is twofold: firstly, to undertake a literature review and conceptual path clearing (analysis) of ‘hacking’ and secondly, to explore and develop understanding about the relations, processes and discourses involving citizens (and non-citizens), ‘hacking’ and the ‘Big Society’ agenda. We are interested in understanding the kind of ‘hacking’ that individuals undertake as a social and political process, its discourses, the factors that underpinned these and the ramifications for community participation in the ‘Big Society’ agenda of the current UK coalition government.
Its research objectives are:
- Considering the ways in which the vernacular of the Internet can usefully be applied to understandings of social relations and practices.
- Understanding and investigating local residents’ beliefs, practices and actions of ‘hacking’.
- Investigating how ‘hacking’ in communities is organized and implemented.
- Considering the ways ‘hacking’ can contribute to (or subvert) and shape the participation of communities’ in the ‘Big Society’ agenda.
RESEARCH PROPOSITION & QUESTIONS
The above conceptual and theoretical perspectives as well as research aims posit the following set of research propositions and research questions to guide the study.
- ‘Hacking’ is perceived by individuals/communities as a ‘survival strategy’ and resilience in circumventing prohibitive welfare policies or their social exclusion.
- Individuals involved in ‘hacking’ as a social process are in a reciprocal relationship with each other. Or ‘Hacking’ as a social process is based/thrives on reciprocity among individuals involved in it.
- ‘Hacking’ is a dynamic/organic social process that evolves/changes in terms of resilience, scale, visibility and impact over time and in response to social, economic and political exigencies.
- The policies of government serves as a trigger or disincentive for creative social processes like ‘hacking’ and the attendant self-reliance, belonging and identity formations and connectedness or disconnectedness among individuals.
- The vernacular (discourses and vocabularies) of the Internet have resonances with social relations and processes at the inter-human/community level and that of the ‘Big Society’.
- ‘Hacking’ have implications for the ‘Big Society’ agenda?
The main research question is:
Is there a relationship (instrumental or discursive) between hacking, government policy and individual’s involvement in the ‘Big Society’ agenda?
The subsidiary questions are:
- What are local residents’ ‘hacking’ discourses, practices and actions?
- How do people perceive, organise and undertake ‘community hacking’ (practices and actions)?
- What are the motivations, benefits and shortcomings of ‘community hacking’ (practices and actions)?
- Is there a linkage between ‘community hacking’ (discourses, practices and actions) and the ‘Big Society’? OR What are the relations between ‘community hacking’ and the ‘Big society’?
The core underlying intention behind the above questions is to understand the general patterns and individuals’ perceptions of and vernacular (discourses and vocabs) of ‘community hacking’ as a social process. The assumption is that exploring these questions will offer empirical insights about local residents’ beliefs, practices and actions of ‘hacking’, among others, which will enable the extrapolating/speculating from these the ramifications for the ‘Big Society’ agenda. In addition, the reasons for not wanting to involve in ‘hacking’, where this is the case, will be teased out.
The success of the project relies upon close engagement with communities who are already demonstrating examples of ‘community hacking’, the team have the support of current partners that are connected to presently funded research projects:
- Communities in Lincolnshire, Berkshire and Leicestershire that are already part of a Rural Economy Land Use project led by Dr. Phillips.
- The Shettleston community in East Glasgow that are involved in the TOTeM Digital Economy project led by Dr. Speed.
- Wester Hailes in the west of Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland.
Reserach locales have been chosen because they have been neighbourhood theartres of re-development, community empowerment, resources and service provision. Investigating ‘community hacking’ and its linkage with the ‘Big society’ in these locales is therefore expected to yield interesting insights. This is because the social problems, challenges and opportunities residents face subverts their feelings of belonging to and identification with their neighbours and likely to subvert good community relations and social/community cohesion.
1. A compilation of examples of radical processes within communities that demonstrate a continuum between benign and more problematic community hacking strategies. This compilation will initially be available through a website, but would also form the basis of a book.
2. The analysis of the social processes will offer a complimentary text that identifies practical methods to support positive community hacking within the context of the Big Society.
3. Theoretical perspectives in the form of academic papers will provide insight into the implications of using an extended metaphor derived from the contemporary internet to inform new models of governance and social responsibility.
4. An insight into the types of information records and data that would be useful to digitize and make widely available, as well as insight into the most appropriate kind of platform or portal. This could feed into the activities of the Horizon DE Hub relating to Archives in the Digital Age.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE CONNECTED COMMUNITIES PROGRAMME
The applicants believe that the metaphor of a Web 2.0 approach to new forms of governance offers a contemporary understanding of community processes and one that anticipates how people are likely to turn to ‘creative’ processes to sustain their lifestyles. The nature of the investigation will offer radical insights into how the network society will develop any means possible to overcome the financial cuts that are likely to impact upon them. Of the many problematic strategies that we are likely to record, there will be an equal number of completely new processes that will challenge traditional models of community support. These new constructive processes will offer new methodologies with which to facilitate aspects of the Big Society. We can anticipate that by definition, these methods will be best understood through the use of cross-disciplinary research: social science, arts and humanities and industrial models of co-design.