Monitorial Citizen: the ordinary witness

Selecting in the new planetary humanity those characteristics that allow for its survival, removing the thin diaphragm that separates bad mediated advertising from the perfect exteriority that communicates only itself – this is the political task of our generation. (Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, University of Minnesota Press, 1993, p63)

Agamben’s statement implies a sense of urgency, a call to humanity to form a completely new engagement with politics, a shared uniting form of representation, the perfect exteriority. This may be seen as an unachievable ideal, even for informed citizens, especially in context to the current condition of uncertain notions of citizenship, disuniting nationalisms, refugees and internal displacement caused by incessant wars, migration caused by climate change and bots generating fake news. Corporate and government media’s insistence on defending a collapsing political, economic and social system has created reverberations of disillusionment and mistrust leading to a decline in conventional forms of political involvement. Nonetheless, we are witnessing an alternative form of participatory democracy and a higher level of engagement on the web by citizen bloggers, described by Michael Schudson as “monitorial citizens.” (Michael Schudson, Good Citizens and Bad History: Today’s Political Ideals in Historical Perspective, Communication Review 1, no. 4, 2000). This ubiquitous presence of citizen journalism is in itself not without issues. Stuart Allan addresses these concerns and conceptualises social media outreach from ordinary citizens as “citizen witnessing.” (Stuart Allan, Citizen Witnessing: Revisioning Journalism in Times of Crisis, Polity Press, 2013) It is from both these scholars we take the title for this conference.

The importance of social media activism was already well established by bloggers in Tunisia and Algeria then spreading to other countries in the MENA region with the case of several bloggers in Egypt receiving substantial international exposure due to their effective use of media activism. This outreach via the so called egalitarianism of cyberspace is not without problems. Apart from the obvious political crackdown of arrest and temporarily removing internet access, citizen blogging is more often established through ‘weak links’ without secure tools and platforms such as self-data privacy management. Jonathan A Obar questions what type of interface in this increasingly technocratic world would allow very large groups of monitorial citizens to raise issues for debate to the point where change is possible. Obar addresses Walter Lippmann’s (1927) concern on whether citizens can be self-governing in a participatory democracy, “What I term the fallacy of data privacy self-management, or the mis-conception that digital citizens can be self- governing in a digital universe defined by Big Data, is perpetuated by governments the world over, refusing to move beyond flawed notice and choice policy.” (Jonathan A Obar, Big Data and The Phantom Public: Walter Lippmann and the fallacy of data privacy self-management, 2015 , p2 Retrieved from SAGE Open Access). Of course, most users do not read the fine print of the convoluted terms of service and privacy policies and thus inertly sanctioning Big Data’s monopoly of personal data and this is another area of concern regarding the issue of transparency.

The growing demand for political and corporate clarity is a manifold topic of discussion on social media. The speed with which data-processing is conducted provides the citizen blogger with almost instant access to information but it also ensures that crucial issues may 
become evanescent. The acuity with which we address these issues requires serious attention in order to secure increased citizen participation, to expand and reinforce the demand for greater individual security, privacy and transparency of governance. Accomplishing these would provide tangible credibility for technology’s claim of democratising the world.

We would like you to watch these NeMe produced videos uploaded on Vimeo, presenting talks by Corina Demetriou, Stuart Allan, Joke Hermes, Cynthia Carter, Nico Carpentier, Nicos Trimikliniotis, and James Bridle.
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Stuart Allan (UK): Citizen Video Witnessing of Human Rights: The Case of WITNESS

Stuart Allan is Professor and Head of the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies (JOMEC) at Cardiff University, UK. Stuart has published widely in journalism, media and cultural studies. He has authored seven books, the most recent of which is Citizen Witnessing: Revisioning Journalism in Times of Crisis (Polity Press, 2013), and edited eleven others, including The Routledge Companion to News and Journalism (Routledge, 2012; revised edition) and Photojournalism and Citizen Journalism: Co-operation, Collaboration and Connectivity (Routledge, 2017). His research has also appeared in numerous peer-reviewed journal articles and contributions to edited collections, and has been translated into several languages. He serves on the editorial boards of fifteen international journals, including Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism; Digital Journalism; New Media & Society; Media, War & Conflict; Communication, Culture & Critique; Text & Talk; Environmental Communication; Time & Society; Journalism & Communication Monographs; and Global Media and China.

James Bridle (UK): The Electromagnetic Border Zone

James Bridle is a British writer, artist, publisher and technologist currently based in Athens, Greece. His work covers the intersection of literature, culture and the network. As a journalist and essayist he has written for the Guardian, the White Review, Frieze, WIRED, ICON, Domus, Cabinet, the Atlantic, the New Stateman and many other publications, and between 2011 and 2015 wrote a regular column for the Observer newspaper on publishing and technology.

Nico Carpentier (BE): The dark sides of online participation

Nico Carpentier is Professor in Media and Communication Studies at the Department of Informatics and Media of Uppsala University. In addition, he holds two part-time positions, those of Associate Professor at the Communication Studies Department of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB – Free University of Brussels) and Docent at Charles University in Prague. Moreover, he is a Research Fellow at the Cyprus University of Technology and Loughborough University. His latest book is The Discursive-Material Knot: Cyprus in Conflict and Community Media Participation (2017, Peter Lang, New York). He is also the curator of Respublika! A Cypriot Community Media Arts festival 2017 – 2018.

Cynthia Carter (UK): Citizen Journalism and Children: Investigating Rights of Access, Opportunity and Voice

Cynthia Carter UK is a Reader in the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, Cardiff University, with research interests and expertise in news, journalism and gender; children, news and citizenship; and media violence. Her recent books include the Routledge Companion to Media and Gender (2014) and Current Perspectives in Feminist Media Studies (2013) and is currently working on a co-edited book for Routledge, Journalism, Gender and Power (with Linda Steiner and Stuart Allan). She is founding Co-Editor of Feminist Media Studies (Routledge) and serves on the editorial boards of numerous academic journals.

Joke Hermes (NL): On reconnecting with disengaged sceptics

Joke Hermes is a professor of applied research in Media, Culture and Citizenship at Inholland University, she teaches television studies at the University of Amsterdam. She has published widely on gender, media, popular culture, research methodology and the creative industries. Recent work includes a study of independent workers in the creative industries; the hatred of Breaking Bad’s Skyler White in online audience discussion and white reluctance to give up on racist stereotype in the Dutch Black Pete controversy. She is currently developing participant design methods both for creative industries research more generally and intercultural media literacy research specifically, as well as a new book on watching ‘post’ television. She is founder and co-editor of the European journal of Cultural Studies.

Nicos Trimikliniotis (CY): Peace journalism, partitions and potential for overcoming austerity-and-chauvinist citizenship in divided Cyprus: Drawing on Cyprus and South Africa

Nicos Trimikliniotis is Professor of Sociology and Social Sciences, at the School of Social Sciences, University of Nicosia. He heads the team of expert of Cyprus team for the Fundamental Rights Agency of the EU. He is also a practicing Barrister. He has researched on integration, citizenship, education, migration, racism, free movement of workers, EU law, discrimination and Labour Law. He is the National Expert for Cyprus for the European Labour Law Network. He is part of the international team on world deviance, which produced Gauging and Engaging Deviance 1600-2000, Tulika press (2014) and its’ sequel Scripts of Defiance (2017). Selection of Publications: Mobile Commons, Migrant Digitalities and the Right to the City, Pivot, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015; Beyond a Divided Cyprus: A State and Society in Transformation, Palgrave MacMillan, 2012; The Nation-State Dialectic and the State of Exception, Savalas, Athens, 2010; Rethinking the Free Movement of Workers: The European Challenges Ahead, Wolf Legal Publishers, Nijmegen, 2009.


Video and photography: Sakari Laurila
Coordination: NeMe and the Department of Communication and Internet Studies, Cyprus University of Technology (Helene Black, Angeliki Gazi, Yiannis Christidis, Yiannis Colakides).
Moderator: Corina Demetriou

State Machines: Art, Work and Identity in an Age of Planetary-Scale Computation

Focusing on how such technologies impact identity and citizenship, digital labour and finance, the project joins five experienced partners Aksioma (SI), Drugo More (HR), Furtherfield (UK), Institute of Network Cultures (NL), and NeMe (CY) together with a range of artists, curators, theorists and audiences. State Machines insists on the need for new forms of expression and new artistic practices to address the most urgent questions of our time, and seeks to educate and empower the digital subjects of today to become active, engaged, and effective digital citizens of tomorrow.


creative europe

This project has been funded with the support from the European Commission. This communication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.



Medochemie, Sheila Pinkel, Institute of Network Cultures, Aksioma, Furtherfield