Urban Struggles, Digital Obstruction – University of Copenhagen

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ADI Conference 2017 > Panels > Urban Struggles

Copenhagen ADI Conference 2017
9th annual international ADI conference
Asian Dynamics Initiative
University of Copenhagen 26-28 June 2017 

Urban Struggles, Digital Obstruction

Urban activism’s problems with the “bouncer” effect of social media algorithms and new “smart city” measures of control in the Asia-Pacific region

Convener: Mark Philip Stadler, Dept. of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen

This panel is concerned with how urban activism struggles with the obstructive effects of social media and smart city applications in the realization of transformative change. Worldwide, urban activism is gaining relevance in the wake of the fact that by 2050 more than half of the world’s population will reside in cities. At the same time, urban activism’s use of the social media is very extensive, especially in the Asia-Pacific Region.

Over time, the internet has hugely contributed to social gatherings and has helped to organize public uprisings, already during the 1998 anti-Suharto movement in Indonesia. With social media, a new dynamic has arrived that has contributed to the recent developments in the so-called Arab Spring and anti-austerity movements in the West. However, most of the movements have not had a long-duree effect and have not contributed to a permanent change of political regime or systemic hegemony. The internet and social media helped to make a significant disruption, but it has not contributed to the implementation of demands: on the “day after” the uprisings a state of vacuum, a void in content was apparent. In most cases, old regimes are still in place and are thriving well. Disruption has been absorbed quickly and co-opted for the staying in place of political and financial elites. The “echo effect” in the social media limiting the reach of demands to a small circle of people has a disrupting effect.

Moreover, digital smart city programs have been implemented by various city governments to help run the city with programs to enhance security, stability and control. The Jakarta City Government for example introduced the app “lapor” (“report” in English) whereby citizens can report fellow citizens’ “misbehavior” and send photos of people, locations and happenings in the sometimes very inaccessible urban villages/settlements. Everybody with a smart phone can contribute to the city’s digital control center, but at the same time everybody can easily be blamed and shamed for allegedly disobedient behavior. It is, however, not specified what kind of behavior is regarded as disobedient. In this case, the availability and accessibility through mobile internet has the potential to endanger activist undertaking from its very start.

The panel’s main question is: what are the measures from urban activists to adapt to and overcome forms of digital obstruction from social media and smart city applications? The two leading questions related to the two topics addressed are: 1. What are concrete examples of how activists use social media algorithms and counter the echo effect in order to struggle for transformative change? 2. What are activist efforts to go against the obstructive effects of smart city apps and re-introduce forms of control alternative to them?

This panel shall bring together scholars from a variety of backgrounds discussing the use, problems and counter action against social media and smart-city apps by urban activists. Narratives from the activist perspective are the preferred angle. The emphasis shall be on cities in the Asia-Pacific region but scholars researching other parts of the world are encouraged to contribute relevant presentations if both conceptual questions (or either of them) are addressed.

For information about the panel please contact Mark Philip Stadler.

Programme (subject to change):
PANEL: Urban Struggles, Digital Obstruction

Tuesday 27 June 2017

Panel session 1
Room: 7.0.08





Introduction, Mark Philip Stadler, University of Copenhagen

Robert Li Zipeng
, University of Edinburgh
Would the “online public voice” influence the urban environmental policy in China? – Explore the online news discussion’s impact on urban environmental policy in China during Tianjin explosion case

Limyda Tetra Octora Rynta
, HAW Hamburg
Implications of Online Business Digital Media Use
Case Study: GOJEK

Sheba Saeed
, Institution of Business Administration (IBA)
Delhi, the quest for a smart city: debating the concept of biopower as an expression of soft power through biometric data?

David Stodolsky, 
Institute for Social Informatics, Copenhagen
Social Media for Social Movements



Plenary Session – Auditorium 35.01.06




Keynote lecture
Professor Sumathi Ramaswamy, Professor of History, Duke University 
A Mahatma on the March: Towards an Aesthetics of the Ambulatory



Panel session 2 - World Cafe 

Room: 7.0.18


Academic World Café: Struggling with the “Urban” and the “Digital”


Robert Li Zipeng

Limyda Tetra Octora

Sheba Saeed

David Stodolsky
Mark Philip Stadler

Convener: Mark Philip Stadler

Session guidelines
Presentations should be no longer than 15 minutes. The last presentation will be followed by 45 minutes Q&A and discussion.


Robert Li Zipeng, PhD candidate, Chinese Studies Edinburgh University
Would the “online public voice” influence the urban environmental policy in China? – Explore the online news discussion’s impact on urban environmental policy in China during Tianjin explosion case
It may be too early to judge the Internet’s impact on the political democratization of China. However, some functions of the Internet, like online forums and blogs, have drawn scholars’ attention for its policy implications. This paper contributes to the urban policy study by testing the potential environmental policy impact from online news discussions. We choose the disaster case Tianjin explosion as it attracted many environmental policy discussions and the government had 14 press conferences to response and issued some environment related documents. The theoretical framework is based on theories of agenda setting and policy entrepreneur. We ask: what is the relationship between the policy agenda and the online news discussion agenda? Is there evidence to show that the government would refer to online public opinion for urban environmental policy making? By using Nvivo, we design content and discourse analysis to both online news discussion and relevant public policy. Specifically, I aim to explore the theme correlation, sentiment similarity and resonate period between the online news discussion and relevant environmental policy. The study may generate some implications for the impact of online public opinion on urban environmental policy making in Asian countries, particularly China.

Limyda Tetra Octora, International Business, Faculty of Social and Economics, HAW Hamburg, Germany 
Implications of Online Business Digital Media Use
Case Study: GOJEK
Digital media use as a part of new technologies, instead of creating good impacts, simultaneously causing some issues and problems. Recognizing the implications and consequences of the increasing digital media use that has disrupted online consumer patterns and is affecting human behaviour and society is quite important as well as understanding the benefits of using the digital media itself.

Gojek online in Indonesia started initially in Jakarta, is basically a very top application in ordering services provided by motorcycle drivers called ‘Ojek’; currently reaches more than 10 million downloads. The services provided such as bringing their passengers/guests everywhere they want (Transport), providing an instant courier/delivery service (Instant Courier), food delivery service (Go-Food), cleaning service (Go-Clean) and shopping delivery service (Shopping). Gojek has changed the pattern of conventional economics society, establishing a company’s technology and creating productivities from passive sectors of transportation, service even culinary had made them obtained many awards in the field of business and social. This business applications that being developed has created hundreds of employments.

However, despite its benefits, Gojek online business simultaneously creates some negative impacts that cause the Indonesian Ministry of Transportation suddenly prohibited all online based businesses. Gojek Online causing several issues and problems to society. For instance, the conventional Ojek motorcycle drivers without online application based will lose their customers that obviously prefer to use Gojek online services and thus will create lots of unemployments to conventional Ojek drivers who are not join this company. Another conflict is that, conventional Ojek drivers have and apply their own territories while Gojek online does not apply this system. Thus by these territory conflicts, lack of orders and unemployements causing problematic situations to social and economics.

Gojek online is not only causing some issues and problems outside their company, it also creates some issues and problems to the Gojek drivers themselves. By the system operation that the drivers have to provide and maintain their own motorcycles with respectively medium to low salaries that somehow irrationally affordable, creates another issue. By this situation, this business will bring prosperity as well as poverty at the same time to Gojek drivers.

Sheba Saeed, Institution of Business Administration (IBA)
Delhi, the quest for a smart city: debating the concept of biopower as an expression of soft power through biometric data?
“The gathering of information to control people they rule is fundamental to any ruling power... to digitize a country with such a large population of the illegitimate and ‘illegible’— people who are for the most part slum dwellers, hawkers, adivasis without land records—will criminalize them, turning them from illegitimate to illegal. The idea is to pull off a digital version of the Enclosure of the Commons and put huge powers into the hands of an increasingly hardening police state.” (Roy, 2012, p8-9). 

Delhi, one of the most populous cities in the world comprises of a population where there are stark disparities providing a space where beggars and billionaires can co-exist. Having researched begging for a number of years, what is becoming apparent is that the methods of controlling this urban phenomenon are also becoming more sophisticated as technology advances. This paper will explore the case study of the urban phenomenon of begging in Delhi which is beginning to be controlled through means of biometric data. I will use the concept of ‘governmentality’ and Foucauldian biopower to analyse whether the urban struggle is being assisted or being further repressed? 

The Delhi Prevention of Begging Rules (1960) provide as the name suggests rules to control begging however before the Common Wealth Games in 2008, the administration implemented the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act (BPBA) which prohibits begging within a wide remit. According to the act, the definition of a beggar could range from anyone who is explicitly asking for alms to somebody who is looking disheveled. Wardhaugh (2008) mentions the use of biometric measures and how this has been used to supervise undesirable suspicious elements of the itinerant population who it was believed could or would feed into terrorist intelligence networks, comparing this to the panoptic idea of camera surveillance and the notion of Big Brother watching you. 

It seems therefore that legislation against the professions of the poorest strata is not enough to criminalise them; the UID is further required to label and regulate already marginalised people more effectively. The State through this digital obstruction seems to be pushing these people further into the urban struggle of poverty instead of helping them to progress.

David Stodolsky, Institute for Social Informatics, Copenhagen
Social Media for Social Movements
A well known problem with social media is the “echo chamber” effect. This tendency is typically associated with an overload of information. This overload can come from just the massive number of users or from those that have been recruited by external influencers to generate “flak.” Flak can be critical responses to statements or just irrelevant material that swaps the targeted statements at crucial moments. While users can filter information via “likes,” this tends to create isolation from the broad public, thereby counteracting social movement growth and the possibilities of success.

The filtering typically available on social media is designed to promote exposure and thereby opportunities for presentations of advertising, which funds these media. Social movements, however, require accurate criticism that focuses attention on strategies likely to succeed while minimizing exposure. Reputational structures that allow a proper focus of attention and that shield social movement participants from information overload are crucial. Cryptography can prevent authorities from identifying influential participants, while at the same time making it possible for these participants to develop their reputations as reliable sources of information. Reputational development requires critical treatment of potential strategies suggested. The elimination of faulty strategies, before they use up resources or fail because they are poorly thought through is crucial. Therefore, social movement success requires coordination methods that prioritize criticism. We briefly review the progress in online platforms that can deliver the needed protection and coordination.