After the Charlie Hebdo newspaper offices were attacked in January 2015, debate and discussion flourished about freedom of expression, in France and abroad. This debate intensified after the Paris attacks of November 13th. At the epicenter is the role of the Internet and free speech. An enormous wave of worldwide indignation expressed itself after both events, including a deluge of hashtag solidarity. But this social media storm eventually revealed cultural, political and social divides inside France, as well as globally. Much like after the 9/11 attacks, France passed laws allowing state surveillance of online communication. At the same time, social media censored posts about the attacks that were considered to be provocative or shocking.
The variety of reactions, including indifference or, on the contrary, the expression of very different points of view – sometimes even surveilled or censored – showed that one hashtag is neither unifying nor a universal view shared by everyone. This event magnified the notion that the digital public sphere is a conflicting arena of not just what is being said (or kept quiet) online but also what the limits are. Undoubtedly, the Internet is the main means of massive public expression for millions. Yet it is still the result of a complex set of power relations established between professional media, amateur content producing communities, which sometimes defend particular interests, as well as corporate intermediaries. The resulting online content embodies rival editorial, political and industrial strategies. Recently, scholars have begun to question the idea of digital participatory democracy in terms of a level playing field.
This workshop aims to progress this debate by addressing the following central question:
Who controls freedom of expression and online content in the digital era, and how?
Embedded in this question are the challenges and constraints of expression, such as the tension between a bottom-up or top-down digital public sphere or who is left out as a digital player. Also central to this question are the role of three broad actors: the state, market and civil society. Possible topics for submissions include the following
State – What is the government’s role - from subsidizing digital participation to censorship and surveillance? What is the role of political ideology, broadly defined, in freedom of expression? What is the relationship between media institutions and the state when it comes to online free speech?
Market - What is the interplay of market dominance, algorithms, censorship and Big Data? How are transformations in news production and consumption, especially in terms of platforms like Facebook, shaping freedom of expression? How do different types of capitalist economic systems shape freedom of expression? How do market constraints upon corporate media, and mainstream journalism shape freedom of expression?
Civil society – Who is creating content, and if so, who is listening, watching and clicking? How does race, class, ethnicity and gender factor in? Who is marginalized? How effective is Internet use as an extension or part of activist and social movement practices vis-à-vis political expression. What is the role of alternative, independent and citizen media in this digital era of online expression?
Target Audience and Scholars: This is an interdisciplinary workshop but geared toward sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists, economists and communication scholars. Scholars at all levels are encouraged to participate. A small number of travel grants may be available to permit outstanding junior scholars (under 35 years at the date of the conference) to attend. Please state in your paper submission whether you wish to apply for such a travel grant.
Dates: October 13 & 14, 2016
Format: The workshop will feature speakers, panels and paper presentations.
Submissions: Full paper submissions based on empirical research of conference topics (maximum 25 pages including references and tables/figures) due by Sunday, May 1. Theoretical papers will also be considered. We will also consider extended abstracts and preliminary results of no less than 2 pages (approximately 1000 words). Papers/ abstracts can be in French or English, but conference talks will be in English.
You will have to create an account in Easychair in order to submit.
Registration: Register for the conference by September 30. Space is limited. ONLINE REGISTRATION CLOSED
Location: Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, Toulouse School of Economics, Toulouse, France.
Organizers: Jen Schradie (IAST), Sandra Vera Zambrano (Sciences Po Toulouse - LASSP), Nikos Smyrnaios (University of Toulouse – LERASS).
Freedom and Control of Digital Expression, Manufacture des Tabacs, Toulouse, France, October 13–14, 2016.