In the recent years we experience a spread of sociopolitical interventions by (digital) activists, artists, and citizens as an attempt to mobilize a movement for community-led political and social change across Europe and beyond. For example Occupy, Teatro Valle occupato, Los indignados, Gezi Park, The Yes Men, Democracy.earth, Wikileaks, community gardens, the Standing Man, among hundreds of other local and global activities.
The term sociopolitical may link to politics for many, but we use it within the context of the political, of governance rather than government, on ways communities can respond to needs, and organise themselves to create a better future outside government directives. In that sense, we are talking about many more actions and initiatives that are not linked to politics but to the political. Example of these are work that urban developers do with communities in the periphery of cities, initiatives about encouraging women to choose tech/science routes or responses to refugee crisis. By people for people. All these examples are very successful efforts, of different scale, to bring change into pressing issues. Yet, knowledge about the existence of these projects, the sharing of methods used, their values and outcomes is fragmented.
Tools for exchange and connections
There are many tools out there, mainly social media, for creating networks and communities, and advertising a project or a cause. They work pretty well in gathering large numbers of people to participate in interventions. But they do not provide any support to those who research, initiate or participate in these projects for understanding the bigger picture and have an easy to use tool to connect with different initiatives to exchange knowledge, discuss common issues and solutions, and strengthen ties between projects and communities of interest. If we also think about issues of surveillance and corporate control of commonly used social media, there is still need for private-by-design tools that can urge us to think about more resilient ways to cause real change, which can effectively be done only through a continuous process of collaboration. A review of existing tools in this area identified a lack of tools that:
1. are private by design, and non-noisy like the generic social media platforms
2. are simple to use and have intuitive interaction mechanisms that respond directly to the diverse needs of those who initiate and those who participate in socio-political acts
3. are the result of artistically-led concept design projects that are continuously informed by a tight collaboration between those in the field and those who document and research
Erehwon, in parallel with other initiatives that have come out in the last couple of years, seeks to address this gap. The project brings together two main research areas, Performance Studies/Aesthetics and Human-Computer Interaction Design. Using the lenses of Aesthetics and Performance studies allows us to critically address the ontological/aesthetic and political implications of the sociopolitical interventions in society, and inform the platform’s conceptual design. Human Computer Interaction research and methods informs the creation of the visual and interactive elements. We develop new concepts in both fields in parallel with the development of the platform..
From the Aesthetics perspective we introduce and explore the concept of ‘moving cartography’ as a performative gesture of ‘mapping’ different territories of action and thought, considered within a relationship of intimacy that is indiscernible and in constant movement. The field of critical cartography has direct relevance to our work as it is concerned with the politics of representation and has strong historical roots in creating maps for enabling social change. Visualising information and providing interactive ways to search through the visualised content is a powerful way of researching, revealing, making sense, and discovering. Also, as networked communities can be represented through different kinds of connections, an important role of contemporary cartography is that of revealing new networks that would have otherwise remain uncovered.
We are developing a visual map for the web platform which will visualise the socio-political projects on the platform in different ways. The visualisation will also be searchable in many ways and one of the research strands of the project is to identify interesting and useful search parameters. A cartography that aims at mapping action innately embodies the possibility of movement. In contrast to the view of cartography representing a geographical fixed territory, the mapping of action in relation to though is always in flux. This creates a real time composition, a visual score that is capable of translating movement as a process of thought. The final modelling of the visual cartography data and its search functions, and its interactive collaborative construction of data by its users, will ideally give us the possibility to understand and register one of the aspects that we consider to be crucial and that Erehwon adds to similar projects:
a.The recollection of data for the creation of an abstract visualization of the movement and duration of these interventions
b.The recording of the transformations and contaminations of both their content and format across time and space
From the perspective of Human-Computer Interaction Design we explore the User Experience and Interface (UX/UI) design of the platform’s two digital spaces: the searchable data visualisation (map), and a toolset to help the community exchange knowledge, strengthen connections and create new collaborations. There are many aspects of the platform’s design and development that are fruitful R&D areas such as the visual data search parameters, privacy-by-design, distributed networks and network moderation.
We envisage the platform to be a tool for connection, collaboration and engagement, a visual research tool, and a digital commons. It is being designed to be updated, used and re-appropriated by anyone involved in socio-political acts as well as accessible to the public. During its development we have come across many issues that we document in the R&D Journal. Trying to address and hopefully solve them we are actively searching for collaborators. If your work is on privacy, distributed architecture (e.g. blockchain), or community development and you are interested in collaborating with us we are looking forward to hearing from you. Equally, we welcome anyone who has done similar work and wants to share insights and solutions. Our email is email@example.com.