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Digital democracy practices are subject of study

Dissertation discusses possibilities created by Internet use in contemporary democracies
Digital democracy practices are subject of study

Study showed that, in terms of political participation, there has been an exodus to the virtual world on the part of the same social actors – Picture by Ramon Moser/UFRGS-Archive

Article by Gabrielle Paula

Before starting his doctoratein Sociology at UFRGS,  Gilson Pianta, Ph.D. had already decided to work with politics. Under the supervision of Professor Luciano Fedozzi, he carried out the study Digital democracy: an analysis of the perception of virtual democratic practices in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul. Pianta discusses the introduction and the possibilities of using information and communications technologies, especially the Internet.

“Interested in researching the democracy-participation binomial in virtual environments, Doctor Fedozzi and I decided that doing research within this scope was more than justifiable,” Pianta points out. Brian Barry’s theory of Justice as Impartiality helped them better understand what is currently thought of justice and democracy, concepts heavily grounded in utilitarianism and intuitionism: “In methodological terms, difficulties only increased: approaching such an abstract subject by empirical means isn’t the easiest of tasks,” he asserts.

After solving questions of sample validation, it was decided to divide Porto Alegre into sections so that each zone could be equally addressed – similarly to polling institutes. For data tabulation, the software Statistical Package for the Social Sciences was used. The questionnaires applied revealed a wide range of profiles, “From teenage students to elders, regardless of gender, race, age, and education,” Pianta says.

The study demonstrates that any interaction between citizens and political power, whether it be public demands or services provided, is, in fact, a virtual democratic practice, “If, on one hand, going to an Internet forum to write about road problems in your neighborhood is a virtual democratic practice on a deep level, going online to print out, for example, an electricity bill is also, on the other hand, a virtual democratic practice, but on a more basic level,” Pianta argues. According to the researcher, digital media allow those who participate in the physical world to take this participation to the virtual one, “A teenager fighting for a cause in his/her neighborhood also does so on the Internet by participating in forum discussions about this topic.”

It has been observed that there is only an exodus to the virtual world by the same social actors. But, in terms of digital democratic engagement, there has been increased participation, since the concept of digital democracy is much broader and even encompasses services provided by government. In 2005, 14 million people used e-gov services; while in 2009, this increased to 30 million. “This virtual participation still takes place mainly on a discourse level, which means that deliberation in virtual environments usually has no effect on the analog world”, Pianta comments. According to him, digital exclusion would be another limitation, as not only does it cover lack of access to the Internet, but also lack of skills by users.

Even though there are still many unanswered questions, virtual practices can contribute to democracy, from implementation of e-gov services to use of new media by social movements. Asked whether the virtual world can take in more people, Pianta says, “Those who don’t fit in in the real world will hardly do so in the virtual one, and vice-versa; in the end, what moves people is political culture, which is usually underlined by lack of participation and political and civic duty.”

 

 

Dissertation

Title: Democracia digital: uma análise da percepção sobre a digitalização das práticas democráticas em Porto Alegre (RS).

Author: Gilson Pianta

Advisor: Luciano Joel Fedozzi

Program: Programa de Pós-Graduação em Sociologia

Text in Portuguese available at: http://www.ufrgs.br/secom/ciencia/praticas-de-democracia-digital-sao-tema-de-estudo/

Tradução de Gabriel Iochpe Wainstein, sob orientação e revisão da Profa. Dra. Márcia Moura da Silva (UFRGS)

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