Citizens, Technologies & Power – A Unique Participatory Design Challenge

Jennifer Schubert, Bianca Herlo


This paper discusses power relations (Arendt 1970) between citizens and technologies induced by new communication structures for self-organization within a participatory design project: the “Mit- Mach-Stadt Brandis” (“Participatory City”). It questions how citizens use and adapt new digital means that have the potential to strengthen local and social structures. Referring to Latour’s actor network theory (ANT) and the equation of power between human and non-human actors, the current inquiry addresses the impact of digital technologies on citizens. According to Latour, citizens, categorized as human actors, lose power in a digitized and connected urban environment. To counter this tendency, we develop socio-material infrastructures (Star, Ruhleder 1996; Ehn 2008) with and for citizens. Thereby, an empowered position for dealing with increasing digitization should come within the citizens’ reach. We analyze the relation between citizens and technologies before, during, and after the project duration (cf. Ehn 2009: 55). This paper is aimed at supporting design researchers in tackling the challenges of increased digitization and the possibilities of civic empowerment in participatory design work.

Full Text: