Digital Emancipation

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Gilson Schwartz

The opposition between local and global as well as the relative de-emphasizing of space and region in the face of the ubiquity, mobility, portability and interconnection provided by numerous digital networks have become major aspects of globalization and the virtualization of life. Yet there is a well-known saying concerning universality: describe your backyard and you will reach humanity. So, on the other hand, these same features of our increasingly digital and connected world also support decentralization, telecommuting and the intangible re-valuation of each local space, of actually "being there" or at least making a connection to a specific spot (a "hot spot") for the sake of material and immaterial interaction. Thus a new space-time dimension, on a "glocal" level (global in reach but ultimately local in its value-producing competencies), creates new human development challenges. This new space-time requires new skills and generates its own styles of employment and ownership, control and freedom.


According to Glocalisation (or glocalization), a portmanteau of globalization and localization, entails one or both of the following:

  • The creation or distribution of products or services intended for a global or transregional market, but customized to suit local laws or culture
  • The use of electronic communications technologies, such as the Internet, to provide local services on a global or transregional basis; Craigslist and Meetup are examples of wW applications that have a glocalized approach.

The global and the local may be regarded as two sides of the same coin. A place may be better understood by recognizing the dual nature of glocalization. Very often localization is neglected in the shadow of the omnipresent veneer presented by globalization. Yet, in many cases, local forces constantly strive to attenuate the impact of global processes. These forces can be seen in efforts to prevent or modify plans for the local construction of buildings for global corporate enterprises, such as for Wal-Mart.

Glocalisation as a term, though originating in the 1980s from within Japanese business practices, was first popularized in the English-speaking world by the British sociologist Roland Robertson in the 1990s.


The "glocal" dimension relates to specific areas of economic development models, such as local productive arrangements (LPAs), industrial and sectoral clusters (from the electronics district in Tokyo to software and IT-related hubs in Bangalore).

It is clear that the combination of local and global, concrete and universal, remote and present, material and immaterial, tangible and intangible are not clearly demarcated in the glocal development model. Other classic distinctions also become blurred, such as private, public, the "third sector" (or philanthropic) and academic or techno-scientific. Telecenters, public spaces in Third World countries that offer free access to the Web as well as other social and educational services are examples of new glocal development tools.

These ICT-enabled hubs of social and economic engineering also tend to create and design new social artifacts, thus opening opportunities for self-knowing, lifelong learning and employability.

Mediatic capitalism is a new regime of capital accumulation regulated by the value aggregation of knowledge-creating activities and the development of intangible assets (brands, consumer habits, technological standards and service-based value chains). This new form of capital accumulation has also led, for policy purposes, to the increasingly relevant clustering of creative industries. Telecenters can also play a role in the production of images (and self-representations) in peripheral regions of the world, given appropriate regulatory and techno-economic incentives and subsidies.

The term “mediatic” stresses not only the growing role of media (ICTs or information and communication technologies) but also the key function of intermediaries in the organization of production and distribution networks.

Infomediaries, regulators and knowledge-based business consortia and local informational clusters are examples of economic agents and institutions defined by their skills in the production and management of information, communication, knowledge and cultural networks in value chains, power dynamics and organizational structures.

This perspective requires new approaches to governance in the context of rapid globalization and emerging organizational semiotics and new forms of finance that value social, cultural and intellectual capital.

For the peripheral nation-states of the world system, a new threat emerges: there is a growing concern not only with gaps in technology and knowledge, but also with the emergence of a digital divide within developing societies. On the other hand, neo-illuminists preach about the creation of development opportunities led by new technologies (such as the infamous US$100 computer proposed by MIT´s Nicholas Negroponte).

Digital emancipation was proposed as a conceptual horizon for policy-making related to glocal development in December 2005 at the first international conference on digital emancipation, held in Brazil by the City of Knowledge at the University of São Paulo. Human development as emancipation definitely places the burden of action in the local dimension - stressing traditional and informal knowledge whenever possible, so that human development under mediatic capitalism can lead to sustainability, identity and civic intelligence. These characteristics have often been highlighted by development funding agencies, which are increasingly conscious of the rising importance of glocal economics for the appropriate design and implementation of development policies. Micro and nanoeconomics may in this context be more relevant than classic macro and microeconomics.


New forms of exchange, gifts, collaboration and collective action involve not only technical choices but a fundamental consideration for the emancipatory potential of every policy and technological option. Empowerment in the creation of representations may be as important as job creation for youth and actually may be a precondition for jobs to emerge. The critique of local, regional and global as well as other (gender, faith, language) representations of the world in the media becomes as crucial as access to software codes and network engineering. Emancipation is also defined as an antidote to the "digital divide" mindmap, so that a philosophical and political turn moves technological advances into human development tools at both local and global dimensions.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Digital Emancipation, as opposed to digital inclusion, aims at income generation and identity development rather than "bridging the digital divide." While access to digital networks is increasing, there is less confidence and verified outcomes related to job opportunities, entrepreneurship, solidarity, and organization of civil society. Digital Emancipation refers to the liberating potential of policy and technological options.

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