The biennial Communities and Technologies (C&T) conference stimulates scholarly debate and is a prime venue to disseminate research on the complex connections between communities and information and communication technologies. #comtech2019 aimed to also connect academia and practitioners – an endeavor that GIG as a network and many members obviously relate and can contribute much to!

Already in 2017, some GIGers participated in C&T in Troyes, as Oliver Stickel from Fablab Siegen had initiated a workshop around 3D printing and digital fabrication for education and the common good.

This year’s C&T took place in Vienna from June 3rd till June 7th, and many GIG members participated in various roles.

  • Regina Sipos and me organized the workshop Critical Making For and With Communities with the goal to facilitate and further exchange between researchers, practitioners and activists in the fields of critical making, social and digital innovation, participatory design, and community management. It was a very fruitful exchange between people working in 10+ countries!
  • Max Krüger was part of the organizers of the workshop Technology at/of the border: a workshop about stories and experiences which examined the borders mediated by digital technologies.
  • Débora Leal and Regina Sipos took part in the workshop Artful Integrations of Infrastructures by Community-Based Telecoms which explored the experiences of communities who own and operate their own telecommunications systems.
  • The Case Study Community Track Presentations included lots of familiar GIG projects– many of which unfortunately could not be represented in person.
    • Humanitarian 3D Printing – Roy Mwangi Ombatti, AB3D, Kenya
    • Rural Broadband Initiative – Gram Marg, Sarbani Banerjee Belur, India
    • Careables – Barbara Kieslinger, Austria

Thank you Barbara from ZSI for an excellent @CareablesOrg presentation at #comtech2019 /cc @weareGIG @aprica— Victoria Wenzelmann (@myamy_vicy) 5. Juni 2019

  • Moja Free WiFi – Mark Kamau, BRCK Limited, Kenya
  • BeeCreative – Sunoj Das Shrestha, Karkhana, Nepal
  • Safe Goa Initiative – Raashi Saxena, The Bachchao Project, India
  • LabCOCO – Ricardo Ruiz Freire, Cocode Umbigada Cultural Center, Brazil

With thought-provoking keynotes, an abundance of relevant topics being covered by the many paper and poster presentations, my personal favorite feature of the conference was still something completely different: the touring equality, diversity and inclusion medal (TEDIM) recording small acts of kindness! It was just a bunch of colorful moderation cards on a keychain which was passed on from one person to the next – every time recording the small act of kindness that the receiving person had done.

In summary, I think that C&T is a wonderful venue for GIGers to get in touch with peers from academia and practice, to learn, share and get new contacts. One sad fact remains, though: Many GIGers could not attend the conference in person, due to lack of funding. We will keep supporting academic and non-academic conferences in their mission to become more inclusive and diverse – be it through travel funds or organizing formats for remote participation.

In his keynote on Day 3 of the conference, Simon Güntner talked about Communities and technology in a fragmented society and his summary resonated with me:

Communities have always played a particular role in societies. To put it somewhat drastically, communities provide a warm nest in an otherwise cold world. Experiencing commonalities brings about orientation, solidarity and security for the insiders, but also comes with bordering and distance to others. Often, but not necessarily, communities have a territorial dimension. In recent years, however, technological change and to some extent also the algorithmisation of communication has brought about new forms of communing that go beyond (and potentially replace) traditional forms of connecting and bonding. The results have been described as „filter bubbles“ and „echo chambers“ and seem to challenge our democracies, institutions and social cohesion. At the same time, new technologies also hold the potential to cross community borders, link up to people that couldn’t otherwise be reached and mobilise around shared interests, eg against oppressive structures. This keynote address introduces the concept of community and practices of communing and discusses the potentials of new, technology based, communities to harm or strengthen social cohesion.

The next C&T Conference will take place in Seattle in 2021 under the motto Communities of Action, Emerging Technologies, and Wicked Problems – looking forward to it already!


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