Rubén Permuy Iglesias
UOC R&I talk with a researcher of the Faculty of Information and Communication Sciences
What is your academic background?
I have a degree and a PhD in Information and Communication Sciences from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB). After getting my postdoctoral degree in Human Geography, I began teaching communication theories and soon joined the UOC staff. In terms of teaching, I have specialized in the field of communication theory and, in terms of research, in urban realities, community media and social inequalities. Currently, I am working on a youth political participation project.
What does EURYKA, one of your main research projects, involve?
EURYKA is a European project, with the participation of institutions from nine countries, focused on analysing how young people today have access to the public sphere, as participants and political actors, and how social inequalities can impede or foster this participation. In the specific case of the work package we are leading at the UOC, we see how the use of social media networks can provide these spaces of empowerment or limitation in terms of youth participation.
What is the project’s objective?
It encompasses both the analysis of how these youths express themselves politically and the role of the institutions and policies fostering this participation within the administration. The final objective of this project would be to produce a diagnostic of the situation in these countries to determine whether there is inequality between areas, such as northern and southern Europe. We also want to identify the dynamic in each country to propose possible actions to be undertaken by the governments so that young people can participate on equal terms.
Do you only analyse online participation?
We don’t attempt to establish a difference between online and offline participation because we start from the supposition that when you are online, or are involved in actions for which you perhaps communicate with technology, you organize yourself as you would in an on-site assembly. Face-to-face contact and a physical presence in the streets are important. Certainly, there would be different types of actions and campaigns, some only online and others offline. We must check whether youths participate more in one modality than another, but I would resist generalizing and try to avoid thinking that digital natives only mobilize individually in an online campaign. There are enough examples of effective mobilizations on the street that have great repercussions on public opinion. We must explore how these new technologies and mobile devices can give way to an expansion of this networking, but not limit it to the device itself.
Is increased youth participation a global phenomenon?
It is a global phenomenon but it goes further. Historically, young people have been political actors. The age of maturity at which a person can express themselves politically or undertake an action for the common good can vary. It is an interesting debate: for example, at what age are we considered old enough to vote? It may change from country to country, it isn't global. It's more a historical issue than a recent phenomenon. It has always happened. When individuals can reason and have responsibilities, they have the capacity to think in political terms.
Can you recommend a book in your field?
I’ve chosen The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class by Guy Standing, which I’ve read recently and liked because, in the framework of the EURYKA project, I've been reviewing literature on youth and many studies are focused on the fact that the economic crisis is creating a generation of individuals who, in comparison to previous ones, do not have the same opportunities to participate in the public sphere, access a job or gain personal and social autonomy. These studies point to the creation of a new apathetic generation with regard to the changing the status quo, because, given that they lack resources, they have been deprived of opportunities. But there are more critical studies that argue that young people do have resources to go beyond this anomy with which they are identified. I'm very interested in this other approach. And Standing asserts the existence of the precariat as a social class, which not only affects youths but many other people in our society, who are bound to be relegated to second place in a neoliberal competitive world. Standing argues that this group of people expelled from the production system can think of different ways of structuring society, not only around accessing or being shut out of the labour world, but the capacity to invigorate the world in a different way. The author analyses other ways of conceiving labour relations, the role of this workforce in society, and he is revolutionary in stating that everything comes from this neoliberal pattern of performance where, if you don’t integrate, you are expelled or become part of the precariat. It has to do with thinking about how precariousness gives you wings to go further.
Is research in the social sciences valued enough?
The problem is the lack of funding. When there are cuts in research, the first areas affected are the social and human sciences. This has to do with how the activity is perceived socially: if when asked what you do you only say you are a researcher, people don't understand. In contrast, if you add that you are a professor, then they do. When you say “I am a social researcher or I do research in the field of social sciences”, you must explain carefully what it means and what consequences it has. In other words, its use and purpose. Can it be used by the government in power to change how it makes policies to improve a given situation? Sometimes it can't. In the social sciences there are also many ways of doing research. On the one hand, there is research by numbers, where you have a project, complete it, write the report, issue the pertinent publications, and the work is done. And, on the other, there is the research that I like to think is more what I'm involved in, on issues related to your own concerns, analysing the approach and the most intense part, which for me is the most interesting, the fieldwork.
I don’t think it is so much a question of people’s awareness but of funding priorities of the government in power. The fact that the social sciences have always received less funding than other fields is historical fact. It is a vicious circle because if fewer resources are allocated to one type of research, it is bound to have less impact. This is the reality, rather than the idea that people in the street do not recognize our work. When you do fieldwork, you feel there is recognition because in the end you are talking about what people experience in their daily lives.