Using Technology, Building Democracy: Digital Campaigning and the Construction of Citizenship

Using Technology, Building Democracy: Digital Campaigning and the Construction of Citizenship

Using Technology, Building Democracy: Digital Campaigning and the Construction of Citizenship

Using Technology, Building Democracy: Digital Campaigning and the Construction of Citizenship

Synopsis

The days of "revolutionary" campaign strategies are gone. The extraordinary has become ordinary, and campaigns at all levels, from the federal to the municipal, have realized the necessity of incorporating digital media technologies into their communications strategies. Still, little is understood about how these practices have been taken up and routinized on a wide scale, or the ways in which the use of these technologies is tied to new norms and understandings of political participation and citizenship in the digital age. The vocabulary that we do possess for speaking about what counts as citizenship in a digital age is limited. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in a federal-level election, interviews with communications and digital media consultants, and textual analysis of campaign materials, this book traces the emergence and solidification of campaign strategies that reflect what it means to be a citizen in the digital era. It identifies shifting norms and emerging trends to build new theories of citizenship in contemporary democracy. Baldwin-Philippi argues that these campaign practices foster engaged and skeptical citizens. But, rather than assess the quality or level of participation and citizenship due to the use of technologies, this book delves into the way that digital strategies depict what "good" citizenship ought to be and the goals and values behind the tactics.

Excerpt

How Electoral Campaigns’ Uses of Digital Media
Articulate Norms for Citizenship

By October, I had spent hundreds of hours in the campaign’s communication office, and all I could think was “Where is the bigger picture?” In the frenzy that subsumed July to November and led up to the 2010 midterm elections, no one was having idealistic discussions about people coming together to voice their views and support their vision for their community and their country. There was no talk about the virtues or philosophies behind their approaches to reaching and persuading voters. No one was even saying what they wanted out of potential voters. Dollars, volunteers, and votes are the unarticulated and unparalleled goals of all campaigns, but discussions of desired or impressive forms of participation were notably absent. Beyond any immediate need to fill cash-strapped coffers, what did campaign staffers think about the role of donating and the many channels through which supporters could do so? In addition to getting to the polls, what do campaigns want potential voters to do with the numerous messages the communications departments produce? In short, what forms of action are both strategically valuable, and meaningful representations of what citizens ought to do?

Campaigns are not reflexive, but reactive. Observing and sometimes assisting in a communications department of a federal-level election in the 2010 cycle, I learned this within a week. Senior staff do not explain their goals or reasons for action; they tell people to do things. And those people, in turn, try to carry out those actions as quickly and as well as they can.

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