Monday, August 25, 2008

The Power of Placeblogs

I'm working on an article revision that examines power in the city and my short academic attention span has wandered over to the phenomenon of placeblogging as a potential challenge to established centers of power. The traditional debate in the literature on urban power centers around whether power is mostly hegemonic (power over) or transactional (power to).

I'm interested in the role that placeblogging might play in challenging both hegemonic and transactional power, but particularly the latter. A transactional view suggests that power is forged through the process of social production. Social production is the process of pooling resources to achieve a desired goal. In the urban context, important resources like wealth, knowledge and political power are seen as narrowly controlled.

However, placeblogs have the potential to redefine the social production process. While there aren't many of them, they are growing. Lisa Williams describes placeblogs as focusing on:

the lived experience of a place. That experience may be news, or it may simply be about that part of our lives that isn't news but creates the texture of our daily lives: our commute, where we eat, conversations with our neighbors, the irritations and delights of living in a particular place among particular people. However, when news happens in a community, placeblogs often cover those events in unique and nontraditional ways, and provide a community watercooler to discuss those events.

In their intent, these blogs are designed to reduce the costs of social production. One example comes from a website called Clever Commute in which transit riders on the Baltimore Washington corridor alert each other of delays and cancellations. The Baltimore Sun reports that the website has partnered with the placeblog to expand the service's reach.

In this case, if the end goal of social production is to gain greater information about commute delays, "the crowd" is a much better gatherer of knowledge resources than traditional news sources. The placeblog provides a convenient way to aggreagte information of interest to residents in a neighborhood. Recent development have made it easier to aggregate individual placeblogs. Type in zip code) and you will get an page that collects placeblog postings about your neighborhood. For example, here's the page for my neighborhood.

My interest is in the potential for these networks of placeblogs to engage in social production that challenges power. Have placeblogs been used to stop development or to get a pothole fixed?

1 comment:

Black Political Analysis said...

I'd never heard of placeblogging, but I like the concept. This seems like something that urban planners could incorporate into their designs. For instance, placing Internet-only computer stations in public places (not everyone has a Blackberry or Iphone) would allow this sort of communication more accessible. More of these could definitely improve the quality of life for folks in urban areas.