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Distributed and prepared. A new theory of citizens` public connection networks in the age of datafication

A threatened democracy

In the last decade, societies across the world have been challenged by fragmenting public debate, fuelled by algorithmically steered social media and new threats of propaganda and misinformation. The dual tendencies of political apathy and polarization pose grave problems for a well-functioning democracy. As the social sciences appear unable to respond to the challenges of a seemingly ignorant and passive citizenry, PREPARE proposes a radically new approach to understand citizens’ role in democracy.

From informed to prepared

PREPARE fills a research gap on the impact of algorithmic media and datafied everyday life on citizens’ potential for political engagement. Current research on people’s connection to the public is predominately interested in measuring the political knowledge of so-called “informed citizens”, or studying the everyday micro-aspects of news media use. The leap proposed by PREPARE changes the focus from each citizen’s “informedness” to develop and test a ground-breaking theory of distributed preparedness, building a cohesive
theory for a fragmented field.

A new theory of public connection

PREPARE will stake out a new path for research on citizens’ role in democracies. The project will develop a feasible, normative theory of citizens’ orientations to the sphere of politics in datafied societies: their networks for public connection. PREPARE’s research questions concern 1) how people stay prepared to engage with public issues, and 2) what resources they need to move from stand-by to engage.
PREPARE substantiates the new theory through thickening of big data, with qualitative ethnographies integrated with digital methods, of groups of so-called disconnected citizens. The path cleared by PREPARE allows research to constructively engage with improving democratic societies and civic awareness.

The groups of citizens to be studied in PREPARE are:

  1. Immigrants
  2. People in rural communities
  3. Women in precarious jobs
  4. A possible fourth group, to be decided.


Are you or someone you know participating in the PREPARE project?

What does it mean to participate

All people participating as subjects in the project will be informed in detail of the project's purposes, data collection, routines for data processing and security, etc. They will be asked for consent after they have received all relevant information. They have the right to withdraw from the study at any time. Personal information is treated confidentially, and pseudonymized to protect subjects' identities.

What kind of information will we collect

All subjects will be interviewed, and asked about public issues they are interested in, media habits, resources, and similar. Some subjects will write media diaries, some will be observed in their everyday life, and some will provide digital tracking data showing their use of news media or social media.

The data collection will be guided by the data minimization principle; we will only collect data which is relevant to the project, and no more than neccessary.

Data about third parties

Sometimes, subjects will mention other people during data collection. Digital trace data from social media could also contain information about third parties.

The PREPARE project is dedicated to protecting the privacy of third parties. We will not collect data about third parties unless it is relevant to the project, and the data will be treated confidentiality. Third parties are given pseudonyms, and they are never quoted in academic papers or otherwise highlighted in the project's results. Data about third parties is only used to contextualize findings.