Citizenship, Connected Multitudes and Networked Territories

Citizenship, Connected Multitudes and Networked Territories

Last month Reyes Gallegos (@rellitas) from La Ciudad Viva (@laciudadviva
have sent me some questions about Citizenship, Participation and
Technology. I would like share with you my answers translated to
english. You can read the original version in spanish here.

I hope you will appreciate the interview: I will be grateful if you want to leave a comment.

Below the Interview:

Hello Domenico. What is your idea about citizenship? Does this concept have to be broadened in our digital times?

When we talk about citizenship, it is very difficult to find a
definition we all agree with. We often refer to a group of people who
belong to a particular society which is organised according to legal and
political attributes. This definition proves that a citizen needs to
participate in order to belong to the society; however, in western
societies we have seen how citizens are gradually moving away from this
“political” space.

Certainly, part of the responsibility falls on the
capitalist/consumer model, which has separated productive/economic
processes from local communities and its territories; on
the other hand, the governance infrastructures of democratic
inspiration have ended transforming the idea of citizenship in an
instrumental and “automatic” fact, a type of inheritance or legacy

This is why I would like to suggest a definition which can strongly
and better reflect the historical moment we are living and the new forms
of social and political organization to come.

In my opinion, citizenship refers to a multitude which is connected and inhabits a glocal and networked territory.

In order to be clearer, I need to explain what I understand by a
connected multitude, the sense in which I use the verb “inhabit” and
what do I mean when I talk about glocal and networked territory.

In Spinoza’s opinion, multitude
represents a large number which remains as such in the public scene, in
joint action, in the management of common issues, without converging in
a single issue, without evaporating in a centripetal movement
I believe a connected multitude is a large number which recognises
itself and is capable of self-legitimization in order to act according
to processes of collective intelligence which transform and improve the
territory it inhabits.

Territory is not a resource but an ecosystem of elements and agents
in continuous evolution, where technology plays a basic role by
promoting interaction and expanding people’s movement and information
among different territories. By networked territories I mean the deep
influences and relations held by different territories among themselves,
just as it happens in a network structure. Furthermore, each
micro-territory is connected today with a more global dimension, its own
dynamics -like its own inhabitants- move and interrelate constantly
with everything that surrounds them, with territories that are closer
but also with those which are distant; this makes us talk about glocal
territories where the local (or micro) scale establishes continuous
dialogue with the macro (or global) scale and vice versa. (we are
working on it with Asier Gallastegui and Zaramari in Tweets & Walks workshops)

Finally, by “inhabiting a territory” I do not mean the action of
“being” in it, but the ability to create activities, processes and
relations which repeat, reinforce or transform a territory beyond the
simple use or presence.

To go more deeply into this subject, I recommend reading a small book which I have written together with Igor Calzada (@icalzada) and Adolfo Chautón (@adolfochauton). The title of the book is “Macro. Meso. Micro. Systemic Framework of Territory from Social Innovation” available for free download on website.

What is participation for you? How should citizens exercise it?

The same as with the concept of citizenship, I cannot think of the
concept of participation without contextualizing and looking towards the
future at the same time. Traditionally, we have associated this word
with processes which allow citizens to be directly involved in
decision-making; a way of going beyond processes of representation and

Even though I am aware that this has been accomplished in very few
occasions, in this historical times we are living we need to move in a
more “daring” direction.

Today participation should not be focused on managing but on
experimenting new ways of constructing what is common. The aim is not to
involve citizens in managing what is public but to create the necessary
space of freedom for new models of citizens to arise.

We need to imagine a new model of governance and therefore new public
and common infrastructures. This is the issue we are working on from
the 15muebles platform, formed by @basurama @zuloark @acorsin @adolfoestalella and me, with the special participation of @skotperez.

Today, infrastructures based on democratic principles are not able to go along with and accept the processes of new connected and positioned multitudes which organise themselves to create new spaces of collaboration and opportunities.
This is why exercising participation nowadays means necessarily to
constantly move the line of what is imaginable, obviously without
disregarding common sense.

As my friend Maria Laura Del Tento says, reality needs to be imagined first.

In other words, I think citizens can understand participation not
only as the necessary involvement in decision-making which affects their
own habitat but also as a process of collective thought and action
capable of generating structures which are valuable for everybody
(commons) and good practice that can be developed by public

In this sense, it is clear that we cannot think of recipes but each
territory needs to find out its own way. As Igor Calzada rightly says,
place does matter, like never before.

What instruments of participation should public administrations provide/use?

First of all, I think a change of attitude is necessary.
Administrators (people) should honestly accept that public
administration is very distant from citizens and does not find within
its own processes the ability to reduce this distance. Strange as it may
seem, I find it clear that we undergo a new transition. Processes of
representation do not work as they used to and we, together, need to
experiment and imagine new models.

Many citizens are already starting to move and take responsibility
for their environment. These are citizens who do not only choose but who
create their own reality. Their way of working is far from the partisan
logic and, therefore, does not find political or institutional support.
Unfortunately, this type of self-organization is often seen by public
administrations as a faction with no official representation in
institutions and, thus, lacking any interest or even as illegitimate.

From my point of view, the first step is to observe and better
understand these phenomena in order to ascertain in which way can local
administrations better interact with citizens and develop solutions
which reflect proper common sense. An example of this is the Astra
building in Gernika, a self-managed cultural centre which is the result
of a dialogue between citizens and council: citizens manage the centre
independently while the council takes charge of maintenance expenses.

The best forms of interaction between citizens and public
institutions can only be established through real trials following the
proposals made by citizens themselves. Since this form of innovation can
hardly originate in the administration itself, it is better that
citizens are allowed to do, without being left alone.

Citizens now have a great capacity to imagine and create new
urban infrastructures in a collaborative and inclusive way. Citizens are
already moving the line of the imaginable. Now, politicians, local
administrations and all institutions belonging to an inherited and
declining ecosystem can either strongly oppose or, otherwise, allow this

In Campo de Cebada,
in Madrid, we seem to find the second alternative: the council has
allowed a group of citizens (a connected multitude) to manage an
available space right in the centre of the town. This space has turned
out to be a real laboratory where opportunities and good and bad
practices can be experimented to create a new model of participation.
Campo de Cebada is a public space in continuous transformation where a
driving group generates the necessary structure for the project to be
open. Administrations, from whatever town they may be, should be able to
find out about this exceptional case, so that they can discuss it with
those who develop similar projects and acquire the basic knowledge
required in order to understand where to start and what practices have
worked better or worse.

How can new technologies influence these forms of participation?

New technologies are already playing a very important role by
increasing communication effectiveness, which is essential for
collective intelligence and adhocratic processes. They allow us to
distribute huge amounts of information in an independent, fast,
transparent and horizontal way.

The same concept of connected multitude refers precisely to our
ability to exchange information in a horizontal way, something which is
much easier thanks to Internet.

We are situated right at the beginning of an important process of
digitalization of tacit knowledge or, in other words, of the cultural
landscape that surrounds us. Therefore, we need to experiment and fully
understand the potential of the tools operating in this digital

Social networks have undoubtedly made us feel an increasing interest
in our own image but, at the same time, we have started to pay less
attention to the sole flow of information of mass communication media,
which surrounds us all equally everyday.

We are undergoing the beginning, the first stage, of a process which
can go a long way and change many things. Now that almost all of us
appear in some social networks, we start realizing what digital identity
really is and how important it is. We start to be aware of and to use
it in order to develop as citizens.We can consider this a relatively
fast process if take into account that social networks are barely 10
years old.

A very illustrative case is that of Social Street,
initiated in Italy by a neighbour from “Via Fondazza” in Bologna, who
started using Facebook to connect with all his neighbours from the same
street and ended up creating an ecosystem of local communication which
has enabled residents who did not know each other to exchange and
participate in collaborative projects. Another example is that of Cercamia (project
I am involved in) which allows residents to connect with their
neighbours according to their interests and uses a complementary digital
coin that helps to increase the capacity of exchange.

We are witnessing an intensification of the interaction existing
between the digital and physical dimensions. We are increasingly using
digital communication to connect and do something useful or interesting
with the people surrounding us.

Going back to projects of urban innovation, or simply to the needs of
processes of participation, new technologies offer us the opportunity
to communicate in real time what is happening in any type of process. It
is an essential element to add transparency and for any person who
cannot be present at a certain event to participate digitally and in a
public form.

We are just at the beginning of a great change in our entire form of
communicating and establishing relationships with our neighbours, and
the public administration, just as it has provided us with physical
infrastructures, should start offering digital infrastructures for

I relieve the next fundamental steps are those which will eventually
connect the triangle of universities, local administrations and
citizens. We need more transparency, more communication and more
interaction within this triangle, and new technologies can greatly help
us to achieve it.

We need to know what is being taught at universities just as we need
absolute transparency and easy access to all information related to the
public administration. Studies, research and all processes of governance
need a direct interaction with citizens. And, why not, we also need
universities and councils to be fully aware of the activities carried
out by the new connected multitudes, we need them to analyse, observe
and criticise these activities, the same as they do with any political
decision, because this is the only way we can move closer to the new
reality we imagine and we deserve.

Today, that intangible part of the town has a new ally, the digital
dimension, a new public space where everybody can store information so
that it can be freely accessed. This way, information relating to
residents, streets, history and businesses in a specific neighbourhood
does not remain stagnant but starts to be accessible for much more
people than before.

Why do you think participation and direct communication of citizens with the public administration does not work?

The problem is to see citizens as a group of people who communicates
with the public administration individually or organised in groups of
interest. In this sense, the public administration moves in a legal
framework which is rarely flexible and according to the capability of
representation of that person or group of interest. The result is a
failed participation, which eventually depends on a delicate balance of
electoral consensus. This is something which may have been reasonable a
few years ago but completely inadequate in the present situation.

To make myself clearer, I need to introduce a concept which I have
found revealing and which I have started to reflect on thanks to a very
interesting session of Think Commons with Mayo Fuster: the multiple

The democratic system is organised according to the idea of exclusive
belonging, which is why we have designed laws and infrastructures that
understood citizens organised in homogenous large groups who need to
discuss and organise themselves in order to live together. The result is
a society which is organised according large packages, being these
professional, economic, social or political.

For the last few years we have been experimenting with processes and
technologies that help us remove intermediaries and allow us to organise
according to a different logic, where each citizen belongs to different
groups with different ideas depending on the particular issue.

The connected multitude, who does not organise itself according to an
organic group of interest but according to their wish to directly
transform something in their own habitat, is actually structured in an
adhocratic way, i.e. it is not based on the interaction between existing
groups of interest (or political groups) but it is structured as it
goes along building their protocols in a horizontal way which is
completely independent from every other process. In this sense, we
experiment multiple belonging precisely because anyone can collaborate
with people who, in other contexts or issues, may have a totally
different opinion.

As the connected multitude is not structured according to
pre-existing groups, it moves away from the burden or influence which
other processes may have inherited. An homogeneous group organised
according to a stable structure ends up being much more determined by
its own history and internal balance.

Now, if the administration still views this multitude from the
perspective of their capacity of representation, our discussions will
continue falling on deaf ears. Obviously, we still do not know how to
organise ourselves according to this much more spread logic, but it is
clear that the representative democratic system is no more the finishing
line but the starting point.

Administrations need to communicate with citizens in the legitimate
way provided by the democratic infrastructures but open to new models
which are closer to the adhocratic logic this connected multitude tends
to follow.

. . .