Intro to Civic Media | MIT Center for Civic Media

Building Change, One Map at a Time*


As I mentioned in an earlier post, we not only have immeasurable amounts of information available about the human experience in the planet, but are generating much more than we can possibly digest. The suggestive term “digital exhaust” is a common description of that phenomenon in today’s academic literature.

Theories of Social Change and Media

What is social change? In simplest terms, in signals an alteration to some pre-existing social order, not necessarily for a progressive cause. Last week, the students of Introduction to Civic Media were instructed to break into groups and develop their own model that would outline some theory of social change. This exercise was largely informed by our assigned readings that covered ideas of political economy and marxist interpretations of media industries. In short, our readings underscored how media systems serve a central role in maintaining the status quo in societies.

If overwhelming power rests in the hands of small groups, then how can social change take place? In groups of 3-4 people, the students of our course were able to develop models for understanding how social change takes place, especially considering the role of media. In my own group, our theory of social change had two basic models: a formal and informal path towards social change.

Modular theory of change

In coming up with theories for change in Intro to Civic Media last week, many of us started or ended with the goal of policy change at the highest levels of government. My final project for the class, collecting and interpreting marketplace stories of origin, does not have a specific built-in policy goal, but rather attempts to analyze and participate in an existing cultural phenomenon. So I started thinking about the relationship between policy change and changes in modes of cultural production -- for example, which policies (or, the absence of which policies that exist elsewhere) contributed to the emergence of persuasive storytelling on American product labels? will the work of my final project, analyzing and interpreting stories of origin, reveal policies that could be updated or reversed in the name of honest exchange between companies and consumers? More generally, how does a researcher identify relationships between policy and cultural production?

The Magic School Bus Goes Link Spamming

At the end of our last Intro to Civic Media class, we split up into groups to develop models of theory of change. And for the second time doing this type of activity in this class, I was in the group that came up with a reference to nature — this time, we modeled change with... the water cycle.

And since water cycles remind me of one of my favorite childhood books — The Magic School Bus At the Waterworks —, I’m going to describe a method of change and how it relates to my semester-long project through The Magic School Bus (by Joanna Cole — oh wait, I mean Joanna Kao).

[Imagine Magic School Bus intro music]

Ms. Frizzle seemed a little different the other day. She’s normally a little different, but that day, she was even more different. When she walked into the classroom, she didn’t say her normal “Good morning, class!” and “Are you ready to learn about...” Instead, she just walked to her desk and stared off into space.

The Whistleblowing Cycle of Change

How does change happen? What factors cause and influence it? To understand how change occurs, we must first determine what specifically we want to change. In general, I think there are two major desired outcomes of change, policy changes and attitude shifts. These two goals of change are not distinct nor are they end goals as change is an endless cycle where one factor affects everything else.

The first type of change alters established policies or creates new policies. Here, policy refers to laws of a country or state, rules of a company, set procedures for a task, or generally any concrete rule, law, procedure, or commonly accepted tenet on any scale. Policy change is a sort of incremental change that can clearly be mapped. While it depends on attitude change to some extent, it often only requires attitude change in a few specific people who have the power to alter policies.

Theory of Social Change



Last class, my group designed two “theory of social change” diagrams. One diagram demonstrated the process an individual goes through when trying to improve or modify his or her environment. It assumed that the sociopolitical surroundings of that individual allowed for a simple and accessible democratic process and that local politicians and stakeholders act in the interest of the individual. In that process, the individual first assesses the surroundings and decides what about status quo needs to change. Next, the individual takes this concern or idea to a local politician, and engages others in the community around the issue, encouraging them to also reach out to local politicians. Together all stakeholders form a strategy and take action.


A Theory of Social Change

Last Wednesday, our group began to formulate a theory of social change. Instead of having a single theory, however, our group divulged into two camps on what an idealized model would be like. Today, I would like to discuss the model that I had personally worked on more, and that would be the colored "human pyramid" in the picture below. We wanted to draw a model and demonstrated the current state of society, which can be broadly described as a pyramid. I believe that societal change cannot and should not warrant a "flat world", with one of absolute equality. However, societal change should bring about various shifts in the societal pyramid, for the greater benefit of the less-endowed masses.

The political economy of mass media class

Every week one of us is assigned to write a blog about the last Introduction to Civic Media class. So this week is my turn.

We started the class reviewing a few of the projects that were presented in this blog the week before. The projects are receiving faculty advice, either personally, through e-mails or blog comments on the posts.

Then we went through the theory which, for most of us in class, was very dense this week. The texts assigned for reading were all anchored on Marxist based communication theory. For starters, Sasha drove us through a review of some basic Marxist concepts, like capital, time and labor, modes of production, classes, means of production, base and superstructure.

Summary of Week 5: The Political Economy of Communications

We began class on October 3rd by reviewing ideas for our final projects. Throughout the week, students blogged about their proposals. Project topics range from Hip Hop Culture in Civic Media to Supermarket Pastoralism to the Ethics of Activist DDOS Actions. Sasha encouraged us to really push ourselves to think deeply about the intersection between our subject areas, participatory media-making, and civic action. This, in essence, is at the heart of civic media.

Civindex: trying to measure individual civic activity

Earlier this year I came across a news piece on Wired, about Klout, What Your Klout Score Really Means. The company created a score that ranks people on the internet according to their activity in Social Media, mainly Twitter and Facebook. The piece describes how people gain “points” on their Klout score, according to number of tweets, products promotion, etc. Basically, Klout is a market oriented tool, that will use and stimulate people's activity on social media to promote products. A person with a high Klout score will be offered shopping coupons, promotions, access to concerts etc. What intrigued me was that Klout is extremely market oriented and doesn’t really analyse the quality of the person’s activity on the web. It also ranks Justin Bieber with a perfect Klout score.

As it turns out, I opted out of Klout.