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Infrastructural politics on Facebook: The case of the Copenhagen ’payment ring’ controversy

Sat, August 23, 2:00 to 4:00pm, Intercontinental Hotel, Picasso

Abstract

If Twitter started as a device for reporting one’s everyday comings and goings, it has in recent years come to be seen also as a resource for understanding and problematizing things like revolutions, disasters and politics (Rogers 2013). In this paper, I raise the question of whether a similar broadening of the avenues of possible inquiry could be timely in relation to Facebook. What can we learn from Facebook as a venue for organizing in emergencies or around public issues? In order start answering this question I examine a recent controversy over plans to build a new road-pricing infrastructure to curb congestion in Copenhagen. The so-called payment ring project has now been officially dropped, but only after becoming one of the most heated topics in Danish politics in recent years. Thousands of people mobilized on Facebook pages for and against the actualization of the payment ring. I suggest that such issue-oriented pages represent an interesting reappropriation of the Facebook platform, whose ’pages’ feature is mainly targeted at commercial brands and other institutions. The majority of the pages founded in reaction to the payment ring were marked by sharp protests, something that generates considerable friction against Facebook’s engagement economy where all participation is assumed ’like-able’. Moreover, this reappropriation is worth examining because Facebook comes with a blurring of the public/private divide that disturbs the top-down/bottom up dichotomy found in many discourses around public participation in city planning, e.g. about ’smart cities’. The use of Facebook pages in the payment ring controversy appears as an experimental form of infrastructural politics in which experts and lay people, politicians and grassroots, commercial interests and public issues are deployed in a device that does not discriminate in the way institutionalized politics does. The result is not’democratization’ in any straightforward way, but a recasting of the repertoires of action usually associated with these different roles.

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