Social movements and digital media

Date: 
24.01.2018

In the framework of the "Aula Mediterránea" Conference Series, a proposal of the Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree Crossing the Mediterranean: towards Investment and Integration (MIM), organized by the European Institute of the Mediterranean in the 2017-2018 edition, Professor Thomas Tufte has presented his new book.

The conference has addressed the topic of communication for social change from the analysis of social movements and the role of digital media in them. In this activity have participated the students of the Master MIM, guests and all the people attending the event. Thomas Tufte is nowadays, a titular professor from Leicester University, researcher and associate professor with different universities in the world. His main research topics are communication for development and social change, social movements and citizen participation. He is author of different books and articles on these topics. To mention his latest book published the year 2017 entitled "Communication and social change: a citizen perspective". He has worked as a partner and consultant for different international organizations such as UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank, The Rockefeller Foundation, among others. But, above all academic curriculum, he stand out for his simplicity, closeness and human warmness.

INTERVIEW: THOMAS TUFTE.

Digital media in communication for development perspective.

Thomas Tufte is currently a full professor at Leicester University. Researcher and associate professor with different universities in the world. His main research topics are communication for development and social change, social movements and citizen participation. He is the author of different books and articles on these topics. To mention his latest book published this year 2017 entitled "Communication and social change: a citizen perspective". He has worked as an advisor and consultant for different international organizations such as UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank, The Rockefeller Foundation, among others. But, above all, its academic curriculum highlights its simplicity, closeness and human warmth.

Within the framework of his visit to Barcelona to participate in the Cicle de Conferències "Aula Mediterránea", at the proposal of the Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree Crossing the Mediterranean: towards Investment and Integration (MIM), organized by the Institut Europeu de la Mediterrania at the 2017-2018 edition, Professor Thomas Tufte has presented his new book and a conference on the subject of communication for social change from the analysis of social movements and the role of digital media in them. We present below the interview granted after its presentation:

Interview held on December 14, 2017. Barcelona-Spain.

Thomas Tufte (TT) Interviewer (E)

E: Why and how have digital media helped social change and development?

TT: The short answer is if they have helped. There was an optimism and a very great fascination in the time after the Arab spring, where many researchers focused on the role of social networks in the process of social change. And from the protests of 15M to what happened in Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, among others, is called the first phase from the academic point of view and research. This fascination and optimism leads to naming this stage as the revolutions of Facebook and Twitter. But the researchers knew very well that this was not the whole process. This perspective, in my opinion, was quite technocentric. But thanks to the data and the current empirical analysis, we know that social networks have a role, but are an element between a composition of media and non-media elements that, as a whole, lead to social change and articulate processes of change.

But it is not technology that generates change, but rather its use that, of course, determines a process of change and creates communicative practices.

E: For the next question, we start from the assumption that social networks have generated a communicative change in the present and these media have helped to empower people. What is your opinion about this process?

TT: Empowerment is a social process. It is a process that starts from the social dynamics of people and their experiences. And in this, media and the use of media are located. So, referring to my previous answer, the media in themselves create opportunities and are tools to articulate social processes. It is not the means but its use that helps us to empower ourselves. For example, imagine a person who has never had the experience of speaking with a microphone. And she takes a microphone for the first time in her life and speaks in front of an audience. This example can be an experience that empowers and creates a strong sensation that leads the person to feel empowered. But, empowering means taking power from someone or taking power. It is not the microphone that empowers. People do it, not technologies.

E: Within the issue of development, we see that social networks have been commodified by conveying a perspective based on an economic logic. Primary vision of development, which has been sought to be overcome, where all its aims are absolutized to market improvement. What is your comment about this phenomenon?

TT: Sure, it's a pretty big economic force. The commercialization of social networks we have seen in all social networks: Facebook, Google, Instagram, WhatsApp, among others. But I would say, it's an ambivalence. Because, at the same time, it is these platforms that are used to generate criticism, communication, dialogues and the formulation of new visions. On the one hand, Facebook takes advantage and markets. But on the other, it offers space for discussion and dialogue. Clearly, it is a strong commercial force and part of the media configuration of today. But it offers opportunities and limits at the same time.

E: To conclude, share three criteria for the use of social networks from a communication perspective for development.

TT: First, use them with caution and critical reflection. Second, take advantage of them for dialogues and discussions with social purposes. And third, for the researches and academics, analyze them very well, with a critical perspective, due to their complexity. They are nowadays an integral element in our daily lives in a complete way and we have to try to understand them well.

Interview by: Pedro Nicolás Aldana A. / @fraternico

Special thanks to: Dr. Teresa Velázquez

Campus d'excel·lència internacional U A B