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Emerging political narratives on Malawian digital spaces

CommunicatioBruce Mutsvairo and Massimo Ragnedda (2017) Emerging political narratives on Malawian digital spaces, Communicatio, South African Journal for Communication Theory and Research, Volume 43, Issue 2, page 147-167.

Social media platforms are being considered new podiums for political transformation as political dictatorships supposedly convert to overnight democracies, and many more people are not only able to gain access to information, but also gather and disseminate news from their own perspective. When looking at the situation in several sub-Saharan African countries, it becomes clear there are various challenges restricting social media and its palpable yet considerably constrained ability to influence political and social changes. Access to the internet, or lack thereof, is a recognised social stratification causing a “digital divide” thanks to existing inequalities within African and several other societies throughout the world. This article reports on a study that analysed a popular Facebook page in Malawi using a discursive online ethnographic examination of interactions among social media participants seeking to determine the level of activism and democratic participation taking shape on the Malawian digital space. The study also examined potential bottlenecks restraining effective digital participation in Malawi. The article argues that while social media’s potential to transform societies is palpable, keeping up with the pace of transformation is no easy task for both digital and non-digital citizens. The study demonstrated social media’s potential but also highlighted the problems facing online activists in Malawi, including chief among them digital illiteracy. Therefore, the digital sphere is not a political podium for everyone in Malawi as shown by the analysis of digital narratives emerging from the country’s online environment, which opens its doors to only a tiny fraction of the population.

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Posted in article, digital divide

The Quadruple Helix Model of Libraries: The Role of Public Libraries in Newcastle upon Tyne

wplq20.v036.i01.coverMaria Laura Ruiu & Massimo Ragnedda (2017): The Quadruple Helix Model of Libraries: The Role of Public Libraries in Newcastle upon Tyne, Public Library Quarterly, DOI: 10.1080/01616846.2017.1318642

Abstract

This article is based on semistructured interviews with library staff members in order to explore both how they perceive the role of libraries in most deprived areas in Newcastle upon Tyne and how they relate with their patrons. We show that public libraries play a primary role in activating a virtuous cycle, in which infrastructures, skills, and increased ability of users to achieve their goals simultaneously result from and feed social inclusion strategies. However, some limits might be related to the availability of public economic resources that tends to affect the smaller libraries by reducing opening times and services provided.

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UK General Election 2015: dealing with austerity

Banner_issue_1Massimo Ragnedda and Maria Laura Ruiu (2017), UK General Election 2015: dealing with austerity SACS-o Working Papers, Newcastle University.

Abstract: This article investigates the nature of the conversation around austerity on Twitter during the 2015 general election in the UK. Specifically, it explores the kinds of messages referring to austerity, as well as the kinds of accounts involved (whether they referred to a private or public role on Twitter and in society) and their affiliation to politically or non-politically oriented organizations/bodies. The search on Twitter concerning the austerity topic (for the 39-day time period from 3 March to 8 May 2015) resulted in 16,015 tweets, which generally referred to austerity, and 11,146 tweets, which contained at least one relevant hashtag. While austerity was rarely mentioned by mainstream media accounts in the Twittersphere, this topic was widely discussed during the election campaign by private users. This could be seen as a limitation of agenda setting, since there is no correlation between the agenda set by the media on Twitter and the public discussion about it. However, we found a relationship between the offline mainstream media agenda and the discussion led by private users on Twitter, thus confirming, to some extent, the validity of intra-agenda setting. In fact, offline media events (talk shows, news articles and question times) seemed to trigger peaks in tweet-based discussions or mentions about austerity, showing that the agenda set by the offline media influenced the discussion in the Twittersphere. Finally, we found that, while austerity has clear implications for citizens’ daily life, it seems to be more of an “elitist” topic, mainly addressed by those who are already politically oriented and well informed on the topic.

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Posted in article, digital divide

Digital Engagement and Life Chances

Digital Engagament and Life ChancesMassimo Ragnedda (2017), The third digital divide. A weberian approach to digital inequalities, Routledge. pp 80-82.

The individual and social characteristics of the subjects determine the resources available to them. In turn, resources affect access and act as the ground on which new digital inequalities can develop. The unequal distribution of resources produces unequal access to digital technologies and then produces the first form of exclusion (first level of digital divide). Inequality in access also depends on the characteristics of the technologies and different pathways of technological appropriation, which result in differences in skills, and, therefore, new forms of exclusion (second level of digital divide). The sum of the inequalities considered prevents full participation and social inclusion. The appropriation of technology tends to influence the level of social participation. The variables that illustrate the positioning of the individual in society may be ‘individual variables’ (age, gender, ethnic group) or ‘social variables’ (income, position in the labour market, status group). These variables influence how we access and use the resources which are at the base of the process of inclusion or exclusion from society. The phenomena of social inclusion and exclusion are increasingly part of the European political and discursive agenda.

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Exclusão digital: como é estar do lado errado da divisão digital. (Digital exclusion: be on the wrong side of the digital divide)

cover_issue_9410_pt_brMassimo Ragnedda and Maria Laura Ruiu (2016), Exclusão digital: como é estar do lado errado da divisão digital (Digital exclusion: be on the wrong side of the digital divide), Revista Online de Comunicação, Linguagem e Mídias, 10(20): 90-113.

Abstract: The development of the information society has highlighted the existence of obstacles preventing
certain social groups from accessing and properly using technologies, leading to new forms of exclusion from the job market, governmental institutions, leisure and academic activities. However, reducing the gap between those who connect and those who do not by offering cheaper and faster physical access does not automatically translate into closing the gap in terms of digital inequalities. The technological determinist position, which sees access to technology as being able to solve social problems, including problems of social inequality, democracy, freedom, social relationships and sense of community, is misleading. In fact, several dimensions and patterns can generate and reinforce inequalities, further increasing the distances between citizens/users. The term “digital divide”, often used as a binary expression, is confusing, because it suggests a one- dimensional gap, mainly based on the economic factor – possession of technologies –, while there are gaps in multiple dimensions that go beyond the simple access to or possession of resources. These dimensions create digital inequalities that, if not mirrored, can produce and reinforce social inequalities. The concepts of social and digital stratification are intimately intertwined

Posted in article, sociology

Empowering local communities through collective grassroots actions: The case of “No Al Progetto Eleonora” in the Arborea District (OR, Sardinia)

Maria Lgcrvaura Ruiu & Massimo Ragnedda (2017) Empowering local communities
Abstract. This article explores both how local social committees may contribute toward generating collective actions, leading local communities to empower their environment, and how new information communication technologies (ICTs) may alter the collective action. It focuses on a case study, represented by the “No al Progetto Eleonora” local committee that operates in the Arborea district of Oristano, in Sardinia, Italy. Here, the community has become progressively cohesive in the face of an external environmental threat represented by the proposal for a drilling project. In this context, the role played by the Internet has been marginal in promoting community cohesion, even if it has indirectly enhanced it. In other words, the Internet played a marginal role in promoting the protest and reinforcing community cohesion, but it played a primary role in attracting external solidarity and support, thus indirectly reinforcing the sense of community against an external threat.

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Between digital inclusion and social equality: the role of public libraries in Newcastle upon Tyne

library-and-information-researchMaria Laura Ruiu, Massimo Ragnedda, Between digital inclusion and social equality: the role of public libraries in Newcastle upon TyneLibrary and Information Research Volume 40 Number 123 2016

Abstract This paper is based on findings obtained from qualitative research on the role of the public library service in reducing digital inequalities in disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Newcastle upon Tyne. Semi-structured interviews with four libraries’ staff members, and direct observations during ordinary activities and events organised by libraries aimed to explore both the role played by public libraries in reducing digital inequalities and the current challenges that these actors face to promote digital and social equality. It identifies positive impacts produced by the public libraries through digital education and digital infrastructures on disadvantaged neighbourhoods, while also identifying some barriers experienced by public library authorities in providing such services. Continue reading “Between digital inclusion and social equality: the role of public libraries in Newcastle upon Tyne”