Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash
This long-term political crisis emerged after the economic and financial crisis of 2008, and is directly related to it. Thus, millions of people mobilized against this crisis have not only demanded real democracy, they are actually experiencing and building it. The key step in this process is the 15M network movement. It is in a context of technological hypermediation that ICTs, used in the 1980s and 1990s to accelerate financial flows and globalization (Castells, 1996), have become crucial spaces and tools for a multipolar reappropriation of politics and democratic experimentation (Martinet Ros et al., 2015).
After four years of many successes and failures, new political citizen initiatives succeeded in May 2015 in taking power in the main Spanish cities, including Barcelona. In fact, they followed in the footsteps of countries such as Iceland, where the economic crisis has led to a period of citizen reappropriation of institutions and fertile democratic innovation, based on an intensive and creative use of ICTs.
Since 15M, most of the experiments aimed at introducing new forms of participatory and deliberative democracy (Barber, 1984; Habermas, 1994, 1996; Della Porta 2013) have used technology as an intermediary. As can be seen from the Icelandic case (and others, such as the Finnish example), democratization processes such as citizen mobilization and empowerment require techno-political coordination (Rodotà 1997; Martinet Ros et al., 2015) to achieve maximum depth and diversity. Technopolitics emerges from the politicization of technologies and the technological re-assembly of politics as well as from the co-development and co-production of technologies.
These techno-political deliberations and participation take different forms; digital and face-to-face practices, spaces and processes connect and mutually nourish each other on several levels. These participatory devices aim to increase the number, variety and parity of individuals taking part in the common government of the city, thereby expanding and enriching the areas, forms and periods in which they occur and helping to improve collective intelligence (Levy, 1997), capable of dealing with the complexity of contemporary urban life. Technopolitics must overcome the many limitations of what has been called "digital democracy" (Hindman, 2008) by first freeing itself from the "techno-centric" and "techno-optimist" narratives around digitally-assisted participation.
New participatory mechanisms are being built in a context full of opportunities, albeit perilous. The Government Programme for 2015 and the Municipal Action Plan (MAP) 2016-2019 established for the city of Barcelona give pride of place to participation and, more specifically, to innovation and the development of new models of participation. The MAP, whose construction has brought together thousands of people, corresponds to an equivocal social demand calling for a profound questioning of the democratic system and participation mechanisms.
However, this dynamic occurs in a context defined by : a) the social, political and economic exclusion of large parts of the population; b) increasing difficulties of access to participation resulting from the economic crisis situation; c) the crisis of legitimacy and effectiveness of the representative democracy regime and public authorities; d) the immense technological dependence on private infrastructures and services; e) a political and legislative context of opposition to direct democracy, social independence and territorial sovereignty; f) an abysmal institutional disadvantage in understanding social complexities using behavioural data analysis techniques and models that large technology companies and digital services possess.
Data monitoring and digital infrastructure for democracy and citizen participation
In the context of new configurations of information capitalism (Castells, 1996), often referred to as "data capitalism" (Lohr, 2015; Morozov, 2015) or "surveillance capitalism" (Zuboff, 2015), the new digital infrastructures of democracy run the risk of contributing to dynamics that are contrary to the principles of privacy and technological sovereignty.