Pauliina Lehtonen
Department of Journalism and mass communication,
University of Tampere, Finland

Learning Communities – Experiences of Civic Innovations and the Internet

In recent years citizen activism has gone through changes. New citizen movements, radical activity and the awareness of people have increased along the effects of globalisation. The information and communication technology as well as the changing roles of nation states and media have also had influence on the emergence of the new forms of citizen activism.

My research addresses the potential of the new information and communication technology, especially the Internet as an arena for civic innovativeness and citizen-oriented publicness.
I plan to analyse the effects of citizen action and participation from the perspective of empowerment as social capital and empowerment as learning; how civic action can empower people and shape their citizenship for instance by developing citizen skills, such as media skills. How civic action encourages the growth of social capital in local communities?

In the paper I pay attention to the different roles and agencies that are connected to the citizen activism. What kind of roles or positions people recognise when they perform public? What kind of roles they have in relation to the society and its members? I try to find out when people see themselves as citizens and if (and how) media is involved in these situations. How the use of the Internet is connected to the public roles people have?

Citizen-oriented web publicness can serve as an alternative forum where local people can raise issues they feel essential to public discussion. Citizen-oriented web sites provide a channel for minor views, which usually get neglected in local media scene. On alternative websites people have more freedom in communicating their views than when they are for instance interviewed in traditional media.

My approach is based on case studies from Finland. I will investigate few examples where alternative media were created and experimented with local residents in Finnish towns. In the first case two groups of voluntary people formed citizen juries and participated in the development work of their neighbourhoods. In the second case I introduce a web portal of Manse Square that acts as a virtual meeting place for local people.

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Peace Institute Slovenian Communication Association Dep't of Media Studies