Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Citizenship in a Digital Age

This Research project is funded by the 7th European Community Framework Programme, with additional funds from NWO Aspasia grant, and in collaboration with University of California, Berkeley.

2014 - 2018
Marianne Maeckelbergh


The Citizenship in a Digital Age research project explores if and how digital technology impacts the way people experience citizenship. The project is based on in-depth ethnographic research (long-term participation and analysis) of citizen projects in the San Francisco Bay Area and internationally. By working closely with citizens who are trying to transform key aspects of the political structures that they encounter in their daily lives, the project assesses how important the role of digital technology is, and if and how these technologies might impact the way people understand and experience citizenship. The research is organized around four main research sub-questions: 1) Which mobile internet and/or networked forms of digital technology are being used by citizens? 2) How often and for what purposes do they use these technologies? 3) Which claims of ‘substantive’ citizenship – rights, equality and participation – are emerging within these citizen projects? And 4) How do citizens use digital technology to pursue these claims? The main methodology of this research has been to take on an active role within the citizen projects by participating in the groups’ activities and to analyse information from the social networking and online platforms used by the selected citizen projects.


This research is interested in whether digital technology could mediate in the ways that citizenship is differentiated (made unequal along lines of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, income, etc). Do internally diverse groups of people use and experience technology in different ways? Do people use technology differently when they are appealing to a local audience instead of a global one? How do groups trying to impact their immediate community draw on transnationally circulating discourses to assert their citizenship rights? The research is interested in how digital technologies are used by citizens to assert their own definitions and notions of citizenship in a way that expands the audience created through the use of physical space. Additionally, the research traces the way citizens develop political strategies and media infrastructures that transform the power and meaning of the digital tools they use. And finally, the research explores how the different political aims and organizational structures of each group impact both the selection of technologies as well as how and for which purposes the chosen technologies are mobilized.


A key theme that runs through all of Maeckelbergh's research is the question: how sustainable are contemporary forms of democratic governance? A key finding of this research project is the realisation that an unexpected 'value' is more central to the research participants' notion of citizenship than the researcher had originally proposed – this central value is that of 'property' and the role that property plays as a building block of democratic governance. Property is a central theme in the literature on citizenship and democracy, but the literature tends to view property as a positive and essential component of citizenship rights while the citizens at the heart of this research project view it as an obstacle to the attainment of 'full' citizenship. Placing the notion of property central in the analysis of how citizenship is established through daily democratic practice, and exploring the contrast between how the literature views property relations and how citizens themselves view property, will significantly further our understanding of how citizenship functions, how and why differentiated citizenship persists, and what these developments mean for the sustainability of democratic politics. The theme of “Property and Democratic Citizenship” has therefore become the main focus of future research project(s) by Marianne Maeckelbergh.

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