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Digital Activism

AIMS: SHAPE Digital Activism refers to two related experimental research projects and a series of activities focused on the activist and grassroot potentials of computation and web infrastructures. The overall project aims are: 

  1. To develop new theoretical and analytical understandings of what democratic civic engagement and participation is, in light of digital infrastructural changes. 

  1. To practically and experimentally investigate how grassroot technological infrastructures potentially create new visions and practices for civic engagement and participation. 

  1. To communicate grassroot technological practices and reflections on their values to a wider public.


Although 'democracy' is perceived by many as a universal ideal, the overall assumption of the project is that the notion of democratic civic participation is intricately linked to a spatial and temporal organization – i.e., an infrastructure – which varies in context and over time. In a contemporary ‘digital’ context, we are witnessing how the web is changing from a ‘web of documents’ to a ‘web of data’: a large, shared database, or a so-called ‘semantic web’, that can be organized, connected, and processed using e.g., artificial intelligence, but where the mechanisms of what data is linked, by whom, how, for how long, for what purposes, etc. become increasingly opaque. The project stipulates that this infrastructural change affects the notion of democratic civic engagement and participation – that is, what it means to participate, be engaged, and ‘have a voice’. And, conversely, it also stipulates that these new understandings affect the practices of contemporary web infrastructures.   


Therefore, instead of asking how technology (the computer, the Internet, massive datafication, artificial intelligence, etc.) supports, challenges, or opposes democratic participation, one should ask how the notions and ideals of democratic civic engagement and participation change with the current developments in technological infrastructures, and what alternative visions this creates fertile ground for? In other words, what visions for organizational and technical infrastructures does it produce, and what novel understandings of civic participation do they potentially imply?


Within grassroot media and internet activism (i.e., interventionist, tactical, activist, artistic, media and network practices) there is a long tradition for critically experimenting with participation and engagement. These include for instance, the development of new understandings of how technological infrastructures mirror social and cultural ideals, and the production of digital objects that are attuned to these ideals. The project's theoretical and analytical foundation therefore relies on analyses of current cultural infrastructural practices rooted in grassroot media and internet activism, relating them more broadly to cultural studies of software and networks. In a wider perspective, the intention is furthermore to study and practically experiment with how grassroot media and internet activism can generate fertile ground for alternative infrastructures.

The investigation follows two trajectories: 

  • Infrastructures of Searching. ‘Searching’ is specifically relevant as it both constitutes one of the most common user activities and is an important element in the development of the web and artificial intelligence. The research addresses the ‘future of search’ by investigating chatbots and mis/dis information through explorative (auto)ethnographies and alternative search engines. The project follows novel developments within internet search and new protocols for these in the EU-funded forthcoming Open Web Index as well as elucidating internet users’ agentic capabilities when searching online through a series of public workshops in Aarhus and abroad. 

  • Infrastructures of Publishing. The project takes part in and follows the development of a novel platform, ServPub, for hybrid publishing, i.e., publishing across digital and print. Publishing is specifically relevant to SHAPE, in that the field historically ties to democratic developments. In this case we are working with grassroot communities exploring wiki-to-print research and knowledge publication. The study questions perceptions of use, maintenance, hosting and service, and how autonomous networks produce visions and practices that (as an opposite of ‘outsourcing’) counter those of the big tech cloud. See: https://darc.au.dk/projects/servpub-infrastructures-of-publishing 


Christian Ulrik Andersen

Associate Professor School of Communication and Culture - Department of Digital Design and Information Studies


Winnie Soon

Associate Professor School of Communication and Culture - Department of Digital Design and Information Studies

Pablo Velasco

Associate Professor School of Communication and Culture - Department of Digital Design and Information Studies


Renée Ridgway

Postdoc School of Communication and Culture - SHAPE - Shaping Digital Citizenship