Digital Emancipation

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Gilson Schwartz

The opposition between local and global as well as the relative decline of space and region in the face of ubiquity, mobility, portability and connectability provided by numerous digital networks have become major tenets of "globalization" and virtualization of life. However, there is a well known remark concerning universality: describe your backyard and you will reach humanity. On the other hand, the very features of our growingly digital and connected world also support the descentralized, tele-working and intangible re-valuation of the local, of space, of actually "being there" or at least making a connection to a specific spot (a "hot spot") for the sake of material and imaterial exchanges. Thus a new space-time dimension, on a "glocal" level (global in its reach but ultimately local in its value producing comepetencies), creates new human development challenges. This new space-time requires new skills and generates its own styles of employment and ownership, control and freedom.


According to Glocalisation (or glocalization), a portmanteau of globalisation and localisation, entails one or both of the following:

* The creation or distribution of products or services intended for a global or transregional market, but customized to suit local laws or culture.
* Using electronic communications technologies, such as the Internet, to provide local services on a global or transregional basis. Craigslist, Meetup are examples of web applications that have a glocalized approach.

The global and the local may be regarded as two sides of the same coin. A place may be better understood by recognising the dual nature of glocalization. Very often localization is a neglected process because globalization presents an omnipresent veneer. Yet, in many cases, local forces constantly strive to attenuate the impact of global processes. These forces are recognizable in efforts to prevent or modify the plans for the local construction of buildings for global corporate enterprises, such as for Wal-mart.

Glocalisation as a term, though originating in the 1980s from within Japanese business practices, was first popularized in the English-speaking world by the British sociologist Roland Robertson in the 1990s.


The "glocal" dimension also relates to specific areas of economic development models, such as the "local productive arrangements" (LPAs), industrial and sectoral clusters (from the "electronics district" in Tokyo to software and IT-related hubs in Bangalore).

It is clear that the combination of local and global, concrete and universal, remote and present, material and imaterial, tangible and intangible are not clearly demarcated in the glocal development model. Other "classic" distinctions also become blurred, such as among private, public, "third sector" (or philantropic) and academic or techno-scientific. Telecenters, public spaces in Third World countries that offer free access to the web as well as other social and educational services are such a new glocal development tool.

These ICT-enabled hubs of social and economic engineering are also prone to the creation and design of new social artifacts, thus opening opportunities for self-knowing, lifelong learning and employability;

Mediatic capitalism is a new regime of capital accumulation regulated by the value aggregation of knowledge creating activities and the development of intangible assets (brands, consumer habits, technological standards and service-based value chains). This new form of capital accumulation has also led, for policy purposes, to the increasingly relevant clustering of “creative industries”. Telecenters can also play a role in the production of image (and self-representations) in "peripheric" regions of the world, given the appropriate regulatory and techno-economic incentives and subsidies.

The term “mediatic” stresses not only the growing role of media (ICTs or information and communication technologies) but also the key function of intermediaries in the organization of productive and distributional networks.

Infomediaries, regulators and knowledge-based business consortia and local informational clusters are examples of economic agents and institutions defined by their skills in the production and management of information, communication, knowledge and cultural networks in value chains, power dynamics and organizational structures.

This perspective requires new approaches to governance in the context of rapid globalization and emerging organizational semiotics and new forms of finance that value social, cultural and intellectual capitals.

For the peripheric nation-states of the world system, a new threat emerges: there is a growing concern not only with technological and knowledge gaps, but also with the emergence of a “digital divide” within developing societies. On the other hand, neo-illuminists preach on the creation of development opportunities led by new technologies (such as the infamous US$100 computer proposed by MIT´s Nicholas Negroponte).


Digital emancipation has been proposed as a conceptual horizon for policy-making related to glocal development in December, 2005, at the first international conference on digital emancipation, held in Brazil by the City of Knowledge at the University of São Paulo. Human development as emancipation definitely places the weight of the action in the local dimension - stressing traditional and informal knowledge whenever possible, so that human development under mediatic capitalism can lead to sustainability, identity and civic intelligence. These characteristics have often been highlighted by development funding agencies, that are growingly conscious of the rising importance of glocal economics for the appropriate design and implementation of development policies. Micro and nanoeconomics may in this context be more relevante than calssic macro and microeconomics. New forms of exchange, gift, collaboration and collective action involve not only technical choices but a fundamental regard towards the emancipatory potential of each policy and technological option. Empowerment in the creation of representations may be as important as job creation for the youth and actually may be a condition for the latter to emerge. The critique of local, regional and global as well as other (gender, faith, language) representations of the world in the media becomes as crucial as access to software codes and network engineering. Emancipation is also defined as an antidote to the "digital divide" mindmap, so that a philosophical and political turn moves technological advances into human development tools at both local and global dimensions.

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