Smart Technologies, E-Participation, and the ‘Right to the Territory'

Smart Technologies, E-Participation, and the ‘Right to the Territory'

Teresa Graziano (Department of Agriculture, Food and Environment, University of Catania, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4018-3.ch008


The chapter is finalized to scrutinize the capacity of netizens' e-participation and/or online activism to effectively influence territorial governance, by analyzing the role and the relevance of the Web in shaping new and variegated forms of “social movements” both in urban and in rural/marginal contexts trough a comparative analysis of four case studies in Italy. The main aim is to critically rethink - conceptually and politically - the intersection among sustainability, smart technologies, local communities, and the “right to the territory”, to provide new theoretical insights about bottom-up and “participative” concepts of smartness.
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1. Introduction

Over the last decades, both interdisciplinary research and global policies have been regarding cities as the most appropriate spaces for testing innovative tools and strategies to improve sustainability, social well-being and community empowerment, particularly in the aftermath of the 2007-2009 world economic crisis (Breheny, 1992; Hawken et al., 1999; Flint, Raco, 2012; Certomà et al., 2015; UN-Habitat, 2016). Cities are usually regarded as the best contexts where researchers and policy-makers can critically scrutinize the social, cultural, environmental, economic dimensions of (in)sustainability at the point to make it possible to explore new theoretical and methodological approaches to be replicated at the different scales.

At the same time, the growing circulation of information and data through ICTs and the Web is empowering a larger number of people to shape new sustainability-oriented networks (Certomà et al., 2015) as well as claiming for different “rights to the city”. The Web - particularly the Web 2.0 and 3.0, based on collaborative co-creation - has spread the sense of an increasing participation in the production and consumption of online contents, even the sustainability-oriented ones, in addition to modifying collective narratives, public discourses and citizens’ strategies aimed to improve bottom-up participation.

As a matter of fact, the extensive use of technology-mediated communication in urban governance has encompassed a wide repertoire of tools and practices, ranging from Volunteered Geographic Information to citizens’ participatory e-planning. Incorporated in the paradigm of e-participation, in its broader meaning of e-democracy or digital democracy (Macintosh & Whyte, 2006), these patterns and tools imply citizens’ increasing self-engagement in policy making processes.

Thus, on one hand, new technologies have been transforming citizens into key players of civic development and social innovation, particularly for issues related to urban sustainability (Castells, 2007).

On the other hand, contemporary urban environments have been recently converted into veritable infoscapes, molded by the increasing amount of big data provided both by institutional actors and (un)aware citizens continuously leaving digital traces (Kitchin, 2014).

Nonetheless, although cities are mostly regarded as the most appropriate “living workshops” to analyze the increasing interaction among ICTS, local development and bottom-up participation, in recent years a growing emphasis is put on the role of territories, rather than just cities, whatever urban or rural they can be. Roberts et al. (2017) underline how rural/marginal territories are often described as passive, regarded as the antithetical pole of a dialectic where urban areas are, on the contrary, considered as active and fully inserted in global networks. Although some forms of digital divide are still present, using the term “territory” instead of cities conveys the idea that in every geographical space some processes of local community’s empowerment can be enhanced by the Digital Revolution. Paraphrasing the famous “right to the city”, we can speak of a “right to the territory”, it does not matter if urban or rural, which is increasingly claimed through the Web.

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