“Do Digital Technologies Have Politics?”

My chapter, written together with Fabio Iapaolo and Paolo Giaccaria, on “Do Digital Technologies Have Politics? Imaginaries, Practices and Socio-political Implications of Civic Blockchain” is out (May 2023). This is part of an intriguing book titled A Research Agenda for Digital Geographies, edited by Tess Osborne, Philip Jones Digital Geographies Research Agenda Book, published by Edward Elgar.

Our chapter revolves around the following theme (see the abstract below):

“In the present chapter, we question the purported technical neutrality and the aura of political impartiality surrounding digital technologies, by drawing on the work of political theorist Langdon Winner. At variance with the commonly held belief that technologies are just tools to achieve desired ends, we make the case that technical neutrality rarely, if ever, exists. In pursuing this argument, we conduct a theoretical analysis of the blockchain –– a distributed digital ledger used for storing, validating, and transferring valuable assets. To limit our scope, we focus on CommonsHood, an ongoing civic blockchain project developed and tested by the Computer Science Department of the University of Turin. Although profit-oriented uses of the blockchain are still dominant, proliferating are novel applications which adopt a civic-oriented perspective in delivering non-commercial, user-centred, and more participatory alternatives. We argue, however, that socially emancipatory and democratising applications of the blockchain require more than just identifying new users and contexts. For a people-driven, socially orientated civic blockchain to truly work, we need to be vigilant about how we design technological features as these embody contending socio-political visions of our collective futures. We conclude by proposing a research agenda for critically investigating how digital technologies (and blockchain in particular) affect socio-geographical space and ask who should be responsible for imbuing public values in digital technologies; and guaranteeing conditions of fairness, accessibility, democratic control, and accountability.”

Our chapter is inspired by the project CommonsHood, realised by the Computer Science Department of the University of Turin.

The edited book builds on the evidence that over the past decade, digital geographies has emerged as a dynamic area of scholarly enquiry, critically examining how the digital has reshaped the geography of our world. Bringing together authors working at the cutting-edge of the field, and grounding abstract ideas in case studies, this Research Agenda looks at the ways in which technology has altered all aspects of society, culture and the environment.

Full list of contents:

Chapters explore four key themes: the role of technology infrastructures; the ways that winners and losers are created at the digital margins; the power of the digital to create new spaces; and the ways that the digital is changing research methods. Critically outlining the state of play around these topics, each chapter unpacks a case study related to pioneering research, suggesting possible avenues for research that digital geographers might pursue. The Research Agenda concludes with an identification of three priority areas for future work: the intimate nature of our relations with technology; approaches to resisting the power of technology companies; and finally, the need for more interdisciplinary approaches to examining digital geographies.

Rooted in the subject areas of technology, geography, sociology and political science, A Research Agenda for Digital Geographies will be greatly valuable to human and socio-cultural geographers, and digital social scientists with an interest in how the digital affects society and space.

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