Scalable Democracy is a two-year academic research project funded by the European Commission under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions 2015 (proposal #701513). Conducted by Marco Deseriis at the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences of the Scuola Normale Superiore, under the supervision of Prof. Donatella Della Porta, the project has two primary objectives:
First the projects examines how different “political values” or conceptions of democracy are embedded in the design and affordances of decision-making platforms and applications such as LiquidFeedback, AdHocracy, Rousseau, Loomio, Appgree, Agora Voting, and the like, and their use within European “technopolitical” formations such as the Five Star Movement, Podemos, and the Pirate Parties.
Second, the research asks whether participatory democracy can be scaled (via online deliberation and decisionmaking) so as to have an impact on the institutions of liberal democracy. In this sense, the study aims at grasping the broad constitutional implications that the networked parties’ push to empower ordinary citizens may have on the relationship between the represented and the representatives.
Whereas these two research problems (different notions of democracy in decision-making software and scalability of direct democracy) are related to one another they are also clearly distinct. The fact that some of this software is designed to widen participation does not mean that party members are always able to participate and affect decisions at the higher level. Thus, taking a non-deterministic approach to technological innovation, this study considers how different political needs and political cultures drive the differential adoption and use of decision-making software.
Methodologically, the research is divided in two primary components:1) A set of in-depth interviews with software developers; and 2) A series of group interviews (or focus groups) with software users, including members of the Pirate Parties, Podemos, and the Five Star Movement. While the interviews with the software developers are aimed at exploring the question of the political values embedded in the software, the group interviews with the activists address software usability within the larger context of the power attributed to information technologies by each party.
In this way, networked participation is explored not only as a technological problem but also as a political, organisational, and cultural problem.
Marco Deseriis is an Assistant Professor in the Program in Media and Screen Studies at Northeastern University (currently on leave). Dr. Deseriis’ research explores cultural and political dimensions of Internet-based activism, the production of new forms of subjectivity in the network society, and genealogies of experimental forms of authorship. His book Improper Names: Collective Pseudonyms from the Luddites to Anonymous (University of Minnesota Press, 2015) brings together some of these threads by examining the contentious politics and the struggles for control of a shared alias from the early nineteenth century to the age of networks. Deseriis’ writings have also appeared in the Journal of Communication Inquiry, Theory & Event, Radical History Review, Critical Communication/Cultural Studies, Culture Machine, Subjectivity, and are forthcoming in Theory, Culture & Society.