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Crowdsourcing and the folksonomy of emergency response: The construction of a mediated subject

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This article explores the role of digital platforms in the involvement of citizens in disaster response, relying on an analysis of metadata and of the structure of classification. It adopts the analytical apparatus of Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (Vygotsky, Leontiev, Engeström) and the notion of governmentality (Foucault) in order to conduct a critical comparative analysis of how crowdsourcing platforms construct the relationship between citizens and disasters. The article identifies three regimes of classification (informing, alerting and engagement) and explores the structures of classification for mobilization of citizens’ resources. The notion of governmentality allows us to identify the struggle around the structure of classification as a struggle between the institutional actors interested in controlling citizens’ resources and those actors who are interested in citizen engagement and the synergy between independent and institutional actors as a part of the disaster response. The article suggests the notion of the folksonomy of activity, identifying situations where citizens are able to participate in the definition of their relationships with disaster through participating in classification. It also discusses the visibility of classification and the generativity of classification as a part of citizen–disaster (subject–object) relationships.
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Keywords: Activity Theory; Ushahidi; classification; crowdsourcing; emergency response; folksonomy; governmentality

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: London School of Economics and Political Science

Publication date: 01 July 2015

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