Professor Stephen Coleman has written widely on e-democracy, and has looked a lot of young people and e-democracy.
In his opening keynote, Stephen proposed dealing with the anxiety both manfest and latent in our fears about politics being in decline and crisis, and just not working right – by opening up spaces online for young people to engage not just in talking to young people and being heard – but in gaining power and influence.
Stephen's focus appeared to be on encouraging government to lead in creating spaces for young people to participate in real, relatively unconstrained and politically effective discussions, disagreements and deliberations. His vision sounded, on some levels, a radical one – calling on government to allow space for young people to question the very foundations of citizensip – and for government to accept that a legitimate outcome of the discussions that take place could be civil disobedience and a rejection of legal frameworks – and thus discussions leading in these directions should not be supressed and the space should be maintained. However, it seems to me that this is driving not at the creation of government owned spaces – but a recreation of the commons and a creation of a digital dialogical commons – space 'owned' by civil society and not government. Governments role is not to supress this – but as a bureaucracy and with its bureaucratic logic – government is surely not best placed to provide it?
A couple of other reflections jotted in the margins of my notes:
>Drawing on a recent dialogue on Big Brother, Stephen identified that young people might be turned off by the 'symbolic practise of politics' – the grey suited Question Time debates – but that young people are not a-political or apathetic because of that. There seems to be an interesting question in this about why other groups are not turned off by the 'symbolic practise' – and that is perhaps because other groups see that participation in those symbolic practises in a means of accessing power – but for young people, either they cannot see that this would be the case – or the power is not available to be accessed.
>In questions, the issue of how to ensure the already engaged, or those with an axe to grind do not dominate the discussion. Stephen's reply seemed to suggest that we should take this as a separate issue from opening up the spaces. Opening up the spaces is one issue. Making them emancipatory for the excluded is another. This seems a very Schumpetarian understanding of democracy – and not one I'm overly comfortable with. I would argue we cannot disagregate opening spaces up from considering their emancipatory aspects. We may find we have to sequence to create spaces before we make them emancipatory -but this must be a decison reflectivly arrived at with considerations of building a free and fair democracy in mind.
I hope I've not misinterpretted Stephen anywhere. As mentioned, I'm almost-live blogging – so I'll return and fill in links / tidy up posts later this week.