The illusion of citizenship and a less asymmetrical relationship with power

I gladly share with the SGI Community an article published a few months ago on Cantieri PA.

As always… without “reading times”

The concept of "citizenship" is, as is known, a complex concept which boasts an extremely articulated scientific literature not only in the juridical area (1). A concept or, better to say, a category of political and social thought which, like numerous other categories of Modernity and of the knowledge produced by it, urgently requires a redefinition and a rethinking (I was already talking about it at the end of the 90s) and not – as often emerges also from the public debate – a simple functional extension/adaptation to technological practice.

From the vast semantic field, it is a complex concept, attributable in some way to a WE that is opposed to a YOU, which calls into question the equally fundamental ones of identity, recognition, subjectivity, community (politics), territory, social rights , culture, inclusion vs. exclusion etc. and which repeatedly confirms its historically determined and problematic nature. Consequently, the rights of citizenship themselves need to be rethought if only because we are now all members of a society which, despite the dramatic conflicts and evident asymmetries/inequalities, is global and cosmopolitan. Themes and questions which, precisely in the era of globalization and the new ecosystem, the political economy of insecurity and large migratory flows, assume an even more strategic centrality, even if they risk being defined and returned in a trivial and/or less simplistic. At the center of every discourse there are/must be Persons and Subjectivities but as belonging to a political community and this reaffirms the complexity of an analysis, which is evidently linked to a multiplicity of indicators and variables. Having said that, as I have been repeating for years, we still do not consider with the necessary attention who actually are the citizens/recipients of services, policies (?), strategies which, beyond technologies, platforms and public declarations of intent, they continue to be substantially "fell from above"; "who they are" and what characteristics they have, with reference not only to the so-called structural variables, but also, and above all, to variables and indicators that are no longer negligible such as those linked to functional illiteracy, educational poverty, education and training in complexity and critical thinking.

The risk is that of a citizenship without citizens. The risk is that of promoting participation by social subjects/actors who, in fact, do not have the "tools" (obviously, I am not referring to the technical and technological ones) to participate concretely. I spoke about it several years ago, proposing a definition that many have since taken up again (often without mentioning the Author): the weak link.

A necessary clarification. We understand communication as a "social process of sharing knowledge (power)" (2), in which social "actors" are involved, people of flesh and blood who, by virtue of their skills, psychological profile, system of relationships and characteristics of the environment, can define more or less symmetrical relationships between them (power – information and knowledge asymmetries). Considering the equation knowledge = power founded, it follows that all processes, dynamics and tools aimed at sharing knowledge can only determine a sharing of power or, in any case, a reconfiguration of power systems and hierarchies within organizations (in the long run). From this perspective, as reiterated several times, the new social and communicative ecosystem opens up interesting prospects for processes of democratization of knowledge and is destined to increase the possibilities of accessing information and processing knowledge; but, for this to happen, it is necessary to deal seriously not so much with the "digital divide" (which, in all probability, will be resolved over time) - an obviously important issue - but with the "cultural divide”: this is a matter of vital importance – and not only for the governance of the Internet and the new ecosystem. If we analyze the main corrective actions and the defined strategies, we immediately realize that these are "labels" or keywords that must be inserted in the documents and used for other reasons. More and more frequently, young people who move from school to university, in addition to not even being curious in many cases, very often have difficulties related to the lack of (fundamental) logic and a method of analysis, reasoning, even study that puts them in a position to make connections between the levels of analysis and discourse, to identify possible explanations for problems, to be critical in facing/interpreting an absolutely complex reality (logic and philosophy must be practiced from the very first years of school). While, on the contrary, they prove to be extremely skilled in the use of new connection technologies, in surfing and in the use (in certain uses) of social networks.

But the redefinition of citizenship (and the quality of democracy) urgently requires aware and responsible citizens, able to evaluate and monitor, not to passively accept media narratives and/or representations or, even worse, things "by hearsay ”. "Connected citizens" are not enough, we need critically trained and informed citizens, educated to citizenship and not to subjection... out of cultural habit (here I remember a text that I have always loved and re-read, and not only with students... Étienne De La Boétie Discourse on voluntary servitude); citizens possessing not only technical and/or digital skills, educated and trained in "critical thinking" and complexity. In this regard, now even some techno-enthusiasts - a label to indicate the modern "integrated" - are finally starting to state that the problem is cultural, not so much infrastructure. In this sense, a "true" citizenship, active and participating in the common good and, more generally, profound cultural change are always the complex "product", on the one hand, of social processes and mechanisms that must start "from below". on the other hand, the action of that civil society and that public sphere, currently absorbed and engulfed by politics, which has deprived them of their autonomy (a few years ago I spoke of the "public sphere handmaid of the system of power"). We need (long-term) policies designed and implemented with a systemic perspective (absent dimension). Otherwise, inclusive processes, platforms and dynamics activated and (concretely) built in the logic of participation, activated by a Public Administration - this is the hope and hope - which has become, in the meantime, increasingly transparent and efficient will also be of little use. The risk is to build a citizenship/democracy without citizens that is able to include only those who have the tools and are capable of producing/processing/sharing knowledge. In conclusion, I reaffirm the central concept: in the fundamental perspective of overcoming (who knows when…) the sterile – but always functional to certain logics of power – dichotomy/separation between humanistic training and scientific training (the two cultures), it is of vital importance to educate critical thinking and complexity. The knowledge, necessary to face and metabolise the hypercomplexity and the change in progress, is necessarily based on a multidisciplinary approach and is made up not only of numbers, data, or of what is mathematically measurable (a speech which also concerns our culture of evaluation, at all levels). Without (at least) the attempt to pursue these objectives, there is/will not be a "good school" or "good university" that holds and, above all, there cannot be "true" citizenship (inclusion). But only, precisely, the illusion of citizenship and a less asymmetrical relationship with power which, on the contrary, will prove increasingly exclusive (inclusivity vs. exclusivity). A dramatic illusion fueled and made socially acceptable by the narratives of the media and of the Net. And even talking about collective and/or connective intelligence will always be fascinating, stimulating but misleading and even surreal: conformity and homologation will be the increasingly dominant social forces. A new "spiral of silence" (Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann) with global extension, and a few areas and networks independent of the dominant systems (to use a modern figure, the provinces of the empire), capable of producing innovation and (small) changes. The utopias of the interconnected and asymmetrical society (5).

In conclusion: “connected citizens” are not enough, we need critically trained and informed citizens, educated in critical thinking and complexity, educated in citizenship – which is made up of rights, which must be known, but also of duties – and not subjection: and, for to do this - mind you - it is necessary to act and intervene where the structural conditions of this unequal society are defined (school and university), which presents an increasingly rigid and clear-cut social stratification. With the centrality placed on educational and training processes. Being free comes with significant responsibilities that we need not fear. Education and education must train people and citizens in possession of not only technical and/or digital skills, because the problem is cultural, and not so much infrastructure. Remembering Montaigne, we have a desperate need for "well-formed heads", who know how to be protagonists of the most difficult and necessary change, the cultural one.

(1) Above all, I remember the classic by THMarshall, Citizenship and Social Class from 1950 and the work by D.Zolo, 1994)

(2) Dominici, 1996 et seq.

(3) Dominici 1998 and following.

(4) A serious discourse on technocracy, increasingly hegemonic, should be addressed (J.Habermas, in this regard, spoke of a "technocratic spiral", 2013).

(5) The definition has been proposed and developed by the author in some of his studies.


NB Please share and reuse the published contents but, kindly, always cite the Authors and Sources even when using conceptual categories and related operational definitions. We share knowledge and information, but we try to interrupt the non-virtuous and incorrect "copy and paste" circuit, fed by those who only know how to "use" the work of others.

I always say: the value of sharing outweighs the bitterness of the misconduct received. In the contributions that I propose there are the concepts, the studies, the research topics that I have been conducting for many years: the value of sharing also becomes a risk, but one must be consistent with the values one believes in. Enjoy the reading!

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