themarginalien

Postcards from the margins


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An egalitarian social order?

Public domain illustration from 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article 'Bugle'

Public domain illustration from 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article ‘Bugle’

In what will be my last post, I’d like to bring together all the discussions we’ve had over the last few weeks as we pondered the world of not-for-profits (NFPs), their use of social media and whether that use has had a positive impact on marginalised people.

NFPs, social media and political economy

In thinking about NFP use of social media from the perspective of the political economy, together we sifted through issues of inclusion and considered whether ‘marginaliens’ were more able to participate and have the same rights as those at ‘the centre’ of society.  We looked at whether the seemingly-constant focus on touting for money by NFPs was warranted, and at examples of social media’s ability to truly democratise fundraising, but also to perpetuate corporate control of how it was spent.  We touched on building community as critical to engagement for NFPs, and the importance of feeding back success stories to donors.  And we toured the digital divide, the battle against which appears to be gradually being won with ‘leap-frog technologies’ like mobile phones (Macnamara 2010).

In the trenches

Finally, albeit that the issues raised by political economy theorists remind us we must remain vigilant about the potential pitfalls of social media use, as I found when researching for my Walking the talk post, the NFP social media horse has well-and-truly bolted.  NFPs are being urged to expand their social media presence to raise awareness, raise money and build community.

But is it building a more egalitarian society?

After all your thinking about people on the margins, do you think social media can make a more egalitarian society by improving the lives of disadvantaged people?

Update 14 October 2012: Poll Results

Poll results just in indicate 60 per cent of people think social media do improve the lives of disadvantaged people, while 40 per cent are undecided. No-one thinks social media is unhelpful to disadvantaged people.  I choose to see that as promising.


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Walking the Talk

It’s time to get down to business and see how not-for-profits are really walking the social media talk.  To begin, I go back to my original post, An Opportunity for Newness, and Frosh & Baraitser’s (2008) Marginalia article which I found so fascinating.

Consider these gems:

“To demarcate a margin or outer limit is to also define a centre, and to underscore its centrality. . . [T]o define these positions as marginal presupposes another area or set of positions that are characterized by centrality, belonging, coherence, unity, and visibility and are within the enclosure that marginals supposedly seek to inhabit . . .” (p.68).

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Some are more equal than others

With apologies to George Orwell for taking liberties with his famous line from Animal Farm, my interest this week is in how the people most often seeking support from not-for-profit organisations fare when it comes to social media.

One of the issues that most exercises the political economist’s view of communication is the so-called digital divide, which refers to the difference in access to and use of the internet according to race, gender, income and location (Rice & Haythornthwaite 2006).  The argument goes that, while the marvels of Web 2.0 and all its ‘new’ media components can improve human capital by providing more opportunities to overcome disadvantage in education and training for instance, those who do not have access – or have only restricted access – to the new technologies are likely to continue to face economic disadvantage (Macnamara 2010) and are an important group not represented in the democratisation of media.

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Winners are grinners

Having wondered aloud if not-for-profits spend most of their time raising money and not community-building, I thought it was time I left aside the money question and explored the ways in which these organisations create engagement and dialogue with their publics.  One way I think they do this is by sharing success stories to as a way of modelling the values or ideals they’d like their supporters to follow (Lievrouw, 2011).

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Show me the money

I’ve been following a trail about the seemingly incessant search for money in not-for-profit organisations.  I am sympathetic because, having been on several boards of non-government organisations, I know they get very little government funding and are forced to fund-raise to improve their ability to support their clients.  Nevertheless, I lean more towards the view that most not-for-profits focus mainly on their altruistic goals and objectives.

Having said that, from what I’ve been reading about managing online communication/engagement in not-for-profit world, I’m starting to think one could be forgiven for thinking all they ever think about is money!

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Inform or engage?

In my last post, I wondered about the ‘opportunity for newness’ around engaging with marginalised groups or individuals using emergent media, and communication research certainly supports the view that the interactivity of the internet provides new opportunities for social connection and community-building (Macnamara 2010a).

But what exactly are not-for-profit organisations doing with their ‘interactive presence’ in cyberspace and are they really engaging with their publics to build “feelings of mutual control, satisfaction and commitment” for the purpose of long-term beneficial collaboration (Yang & Taylor 2010)?

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An opportunity for newness

I’m keen to understand how organisations in the community sector – charities,  non-government organisations (NGOs) and other not-for-profit businesses – are using ‘social media’ and thought I’d start my exploration by going back to the bare bones of what these organisations do.

According to organisations like Mango in the UK, and peak body NCOSS in NSW, not-for-profit organisations provide direct aid and/or services; conduct research; engage in capacity-building and public education; lobby government and other powerful decision-makers, advocating for the poor; monitor and assess the effects of policies; and empower people to increase their influence over things that affect them.

These community organisations work with some of our most marginalised, alienated people: hence my portmanteau blog name, themarginalien, linking ‘marginalia’ and ‘alien’.

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