Qualification project

The Mediatised Village. Digital Social Innovation and Smart Villagers in Rural Areas

Research Department: Dynamics of Communication, Knowledge and Spatial Development

Project Leader within IRS: Nicole Zerrer

Duration: 06/2019 - 05/2023

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Digitalisation of various spheres of life is one of the megatrends of the 21st century. A process of social change that encompasses the society as a whole. The effects on urban areas such as the developments towards a smart city are well known in the public discourse. But processes of digitalisation can also be found in rural areas. Examples are the manifold digital projects that aim to improve the quality of life of the village population, e.g. specific village smartphone applications, digital medical counseling and smart solutions for mobility.

Focused on the question "How do village communities experience mediatization processes by driving rural development with DSI?" Is the aim of this dissertation project to better understand rural processes of digitalisation, to find out the effects on the village community and to develop a theoretical framework to this research object.

Different actors, both form the village community and from the outside, are involved to start and to implement digitally supported social innovative (DSI) initiatives. A successful innovation process needs the collaboration of actors on different stages and with complementary competences. Who, when, how and which role is taken in this dynamic process, will be shown in the data analysis.
A need that is addressed in a striking number of village communites is the strengthening and revitalization of communication and social exchange within the village. With the loss of important infrastructure for example grocery stores, bakeries, schools or post offices, the places for daily encounters of the village inhabitants disappeared simultaneously. This results in two consequences: Firstly village specific topics are less discussed or the discussions stay in small circles, secondly the villagers feel uninformed about what is going on in their village which weakens their sense of community and their identification with the village. With ageing, mobility decreases and social isolation increases, this makes elderly villagers an especially vulnerable group. The digital exchange via app has the potential to strengthen the social interaction within the village and to create the opportunity to come together in conversation. To find out how this digital interaction has effects on the village community is another aim of this dissertation.

The theoretical achievement of this project will be to develop a framework of rural digitalisation processes. The introduction and adoption of digital media formats can generally be described with the concept of mediatisation. With this concept social, societal and cultural change is viewed from the perspective of media change. Studies of mediatization are especially published in relation to urban living, in this dissertation processes of mediatisation will be analyzed in relation to rural living and village communites. The village community is defined as a specific social network-like unit, a communicative figuration.

To empirically fulfil the aims of this dissertation further sub-questions are developed: "Who are the important actors in the process of DSI?", "What is changing in the village community due to the use of the village-communication-app for the smartphone?" and "How can the concept of mediatization and communicative figurations be used on village communities?". The empirical data is mainly gathered by qualitatively guided interviews and complemented by participatory observation, document analysis and application user data. The data analysis is conducted according to the principles of the grounded theory.

The results will contribute to closing the research gap on digitalisation in rural areas. In specific, insights on actors and actor constellations will be generated and the communication scientific approach of mediatisation will be applied on village communities and further developed. The methodological gain will be the integration of smartphone application data into the social scientific analysis. Furthermore, the results will be beneficial to advise the municipal and funding policy about support possibilities on different stages of the digitalization process.

The dissertation project is supervised by Prof. Dr. Jeffrey Wimmer at the University of Augsburg at the working group of media reality and Prof. Dr. Gabriela Christmann at the IRS.

Publications

Zerrer, N., & Sept, A. (2020). Smart Villagers as Actors of Digital Social Innovation in Rural Areas. Urban Planning, 5(4), 78-88. DOI: 10.17645/up.v5i4.3183