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Interview with Aitor Zuberogoitia, Elvira-Zipitria Chair in Basque Studies 2024

Published: 13 June 2024

Portait d'Aitor Zuberogoitia

Welcome Aitor Zuberogoitia, new Etxepare Euskal Institutua Elbira-Zipitria Chair in Basque Studies!

He will be in Montréal from October 7 to 21, 2024 to discuss social transformations and transdisciplinarity in cities, the use of minority languages in urban contexts, and the relationship between social media and minority languages.

Aitor Zuberogoitia, PhD in Journalism (EHU-UPV) is Associate Professor of the Faculty of Humanities and Education of Mondragon Unibertsitatea and Co-coordinator of the Global Digital Humanities degree. He also lectures on the Audiovisual Communication degree at Mondragon Unibertsitatea. His main research areas are Higher Education and innovation, communication ethics, communication and citizenship, youth and digital society, and minority language media.

Professor Zuberogoitia, your academic background bridges the disciplines of humanities, technology, and social issues. What initially drew you to explore these interconnected areas within your scholarly pursuits?

I have a background in journalism, first as a journalist and then as a scholar, but some years ago we started a reflection process in our faculty and decided that it was necessary to launch a new BA degree on Humanities adapted to this new era, characterized by an interconnected global world, digital technologies and increasing urbanization. To that end, I was involved in courses on Ethical Cities, Ethics in Sustainable Development, Urban Anthropology, Digital Ethnography and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

At the same time, we began to analyze different trends in the world of the humanities, innovative university programs, and discovered movements such as Experiential Humanities, Humanities in Action or the reports of the GUNI network (Global University Network for Innovation). All of them pointed in the same direction: situated humanities, which analyzed the problems of their territory and interacted with social agents beyond the academy to contribute to the development of their environment and face our civilizational challenges combining the Social Sciences and the Humanities with design thinking and digital technologies.

Given your expertise in digital humanities, what are your thoughts on the evolving role of technology within the educational landscape?

The digital humanities have undergone two significant waves. The first wave focused on digitizing texts and creating digital archives, making traditional humanities resources more accessible and searchable. The second wave emphasized the use of computational methods and tools, such as data mining, text analysis, and digital mapping, to analyze large datasets and uncover new insights within the humanities.

In this second wave, Human Centered Design and citizen participation approaches called "social laboratories" (Social Labs) take on special relevance, working collaboratively based on the real needs raised by different social groups. That's where we stand. Now we face another very important challenge, which is none other than learning to appropriately integrate AI into our research and curricular projects.

Your research has examined the use of the Basque language on social media platforms like TikTok. Based on your observations, what can you tell us about the current state of the Basque language in social media and its potential appeal to younger audiences?

We have carried out several research projects focused on the use of social networks by young people. The results show that the attitudes of Basque adolescents resemble those found in recent studies from western countries, indicating the same predisposition to externally oriented identities. The search for entertainment and the feeling of being part of a digital teen culture/virtual community appear as well as key driving forces for them.

In the case of the Tiktok platform, Basque tiktokers demonstrate a strong commitment to the Basque language and aspire to give it a prominent place on TikTok. However, their efforts are constrained by the limited number of Basque-speaking users on the platform. Consequently, the motivations identified in our studies do not guarantee a significant impact on the community or transform TikTok into a powerful tool for promoting the Basque language. It is necessary to combine this commitment by users with policies aimed at promoting initiatives in Basque on the internet, as has been done in the case of Wikipedia, thanks to which Wikipedia in the Basque language has more than 433,000 entries and is ranked 33rd. in the ranking of languages ​​in terms of number of articles published in the online encyclopedia.

Have you explored the potential downsides of social media and their possible contribution to language attrition, particularly for minority languages like Basque?

Given that the search for entertainment and the feeling of being part of a digital adolescent culture/virtual community are the main drivers when it comes to participating in social networks, minority languages ​​are at a disadvantage, because the content provision is much greater (and produced with many more means) in the majority languages. Additionally, Basque young users have received comments that undermine their choice to use Basque, with derogatory comments suggesting that they should speak in a more widely understood language such as Spanish. These experiences highlight the challenges faced by adolescents producing Basque-speaking content, who face hostility and prejudice based on their linguistic preference.

However, all of this can also be worked on in the classroom. A study that we carried out for four years showed that the experience of creating content in Basque on Wikipedia and knowing experientially the credibility mechanisms of the online encyclopedia in the Basque language resulted in the majority of students considering that their perception of the credibility of Wikipedia had increased and they also recognized that there is a greater volume of information in Basque than they thought and a quality control group that they did not expect.

During your time at McGill University, what key knowledge or experiences do you hope to share with both the student body and the broader Montréal community?

Firstly, I would like to share some ideas and reflections on the future of the Social Sciences and Humanities and the challenges they face; next, as I am part of a peculiar university, a cooperative university that is part of the Mondragon cooperative movement, I would also like to share some information about its origins and its objectives, and the way in which the university has tried to approach and adapt its activity to urban environments (it was born in a semi-rural area), creating a multidisciplinary campus in which the Bachelor's Degree in Global Digital Humanities is located (in this Bachelor's Degree the concept of UniverCity has also been developed, and, in that sense, I am very interested in the way in which CIRM interacts with the city of Montréal from a multidisciplinary perspective).

I would also like to talk about the concept of ethical cities, paying special attention to inclusivity, sustainability and open governance. Finally, and as I am part of a minority culture and language, I would like to talk about the place that both occupy in our citizen environments and the possible development paths they may have.

In anticipation of your upcoming residency as the Elvira-Zipitria Chair at McGill University, what aspects of the Montréal environment, either academic or cultural, are you most eager to experience?

As I have previously noted, I am very struck by CIRM's approach, its way of interacting with the city from a multidisciplinary perspective. I am also interested in the fact that it is the most populated city in Québec, since I want to learn more about the initiatives carried out in that region to preserve its identity and its language (which at the same time is a state language in Europe). And of course, they attract me a lot both its rich cultural activity and its great locations and landscapes.

Professor Zuberogoitia, how do you anticipate your experience at McGill University contributing to your future work and research at Mondragon University?

I would like to take away a series of learnings and references about the university-city interaction (town-gown relations) from a multidisciplinary perspective; I would also like to learn about the research projects that CIRM has been working on and explore possible avenues of collaboration (either in projects or in the preparation of papers) with our research in the Basque Country in relation to the role of the Humanities to promote Action Research and sustainable cooperation between actors involved in urban innovation ecosystems (paying special attention to the perspective of minorities).

 

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