Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Privacy (Blog 2)   no comments

Posted at 11:49 am in Politics,Psychology,Uncategorized

This past week I have continued to read further into my two disciplines of Psychology and Politics and how they relate to the issue of Privacy. For Psychology I have largely focused on the ‘Handbook of Self and Identity’ in order to gain more of an understanding of the psychological phenomena that constitutes ‘the self’. I was rather surprised to discover that this notion has only really been in prominence since the 1970’s and yet it is an issue that was given recognition Millenia ago by infamous thinkers such as Plato and Buddha! However it is noted that when attempting to determine the meaning of ‘self’ there is no single, universally accepted definition and that amongst the numerous definitions that have been offered, different definitions relate to different phenomena.

In accordance with the area of ‘self’ there is the notion of ‘the reflected self’ whereby an individual adjusts how their behaviour appears to others. The chapter: ‘The Reflected Self: Creating yourself as (you think) others see you by Dianne M. Tice and Harry M. Wallace is especially insightful and informative in this area. They explore the idea provided by C.H Cooley (1902), that the ‘self’ develops in reference to others within the social environment; ties in with the concept that it is created by reflecting the views that others are perceived to have of that person. The theory of ‘the looking glass’ is also imperative in this study.

Already referred to in my previous Blog. I have decided to start my initial investigation into Politics and potential political theories and policies which may be privacy related; by looking at security matters. For this I have been reading ‘Contemporary Security Studies’. Firstly I have tried to establish what is security. A simplistic definition is ‘something to do with threats to survival’, however this encompasses a wealth of issues ranging from war and the threat of war to pandemics and terrorism. Particular theories that are appearing relevant at this juncture are Realism and Liberalism: traditional approaches which were the main focus for security studies during the 19th Century, Human Security: which focuses on the need for humans to feel secure and Securitization which was developed by the Copenhagen School’: which places primary importance on determining how an issue becomes that of a security issue by how it is articulated for e.g. something may become a security issue due to the fact political leaders and or Governments have convinced their audiences that it represents a threat to our existence and thus requires emergency powers.

I am also reading books about privacy in light of technological advances and I am currently halfway through ‘Blown to Bits’ and once I have finished with that I have ‘The Digital Person’ by Daniel J. Solove. Thanks to Olivier I also have Journal articles relating to privacy to peruse too, so I have plenty of information to digest over the next week…….

Written by Lisa Sugiura on November 2nd, 2010

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Code of Conduct of Cyber Warfare   no comments

Posted at 11:49 am in Politics,Sociology,Uncategorized

Cyber Warfare, known as the fifth domain, has developed in scale and sophistication. The new US Air Force manual describes it as a “shadowy, fast-changing world where anonymous enemies can carry out devastating attacks in seconds and where conventional ideas about time and space do not apply” (Telegraph, 2010). As never before has the World Wide Web created so much prosperity and opportunity from all echelons of society, but never before have we been exposed to so much risk from anyone, anywhere in the world. 

According to Michael Chertoff, former head of the US Department of Homeland Security, he mentions how it is the least understood threat and the one where our doctrine is least developed”. Therefore, we have only just touched the surface from what is known now, into what is possible. The threat is a real one. Hospitals can be shut down, Power Grids closed and Children targeted. It raises the notion of what is sociologically acceptable within the 21st Century of Cyber Warfare.

Therefore, I hope to find individual ethical stances from governments and societies from different cultures across the world. For example, targeting children at Schools could be deemed unanimously unethical. Similarly, there will be different national stances of perceived legitimacy. Subsequently, this information could be used to help nations understand the repercussions of going against another nations ethical stance, which may be enough to deter the oppressor.

In conclusion, the 21st Century calls for a new multi-lateral agreement, with the unanimous codes of conduct between international communities ratified; similarly, the code of conducts between individual nations could be used as a deterrent if met by a Tit-for-Tat response. Therefore, I plan to understand these existential threats and incorporate them into my study of Moral Philosophy, touching other disciplines such as Sociology and International Relations.


Tanenbaum, A. (1985) Computer Networks, 4th Ed. US: Prentice Hall.

Clarke, R. (2010) Cyber War: The next threat to national security and what to do about it.  US: Ecco.

Singer, P. A. (1993) Companion to Ethics. US: Wiley- Blackwell

Williams, B. (1993) Morality: An introduction to Ethics. UK: University Press.

Written by cmh206 on October 26th, 2010

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Cyberwarfare…   no comments

Posted at 11:41 am in Economics,Politics

The issue of cyber-warfare is an increasingly topical one, as indicated by its high profile presence in the news the morning of our first COMP6044 lecture, hence my choosing of it as the issue to focus on for the interdisciplinary learning. The news that morning was focused on the Stuxnet virus, a complex and inherently suspicious virus, designed to target systems not connected to the Internet, and its effects on the Iranian civil nuclear programme (Radio 4 Today article). As this issue emerges from the realms of science fiction to reality, I intend to look into the effects it may have have on society, through the disciplines of Economics and Politics.

The first subject, Economics, can be viewed from two viewpoints. Both the Economics from the aggressors point of view and the victim’s. Wtih cyber-ware being conducted in virtual worlds, does this make warfare much cheaper to conduct than the more conventional methods and what effects might this have? Will conducting warfare become something that is much more readily pursued than traditional warfare if the costs of starting a war are much lower? Also will this have an effect on the structure and focus of a nation’s economy as a whole with less money being spent on conventional forces and more being redirected to research into cyber-warfare and cyber terrorism? From the victim’s point of view, what effects can a cyber-attack have on an economy? With infrastructure such as power stations and possibly airports being targeted, how might this damage an economy and what lasting effects may it leave in its wake?

Politics also comes into play, in particular the area of International Relations. Cyber-warfare gives politicians new avenues of attacking or maybe even controlling external powers. Cyber-warfare also allows for a certain degree of anonymity allowing one nation to effect another without the source of the attack being known. How might this affect international relations both with allies and enemies? Will the new and potential future developments lead to relations changing in unforeseen and unpredictable manners? Also cyber-warfare may allow for many such developments to remain hidden from the general public, allowing politicians to keep (more) secrets from those that elected them into power.

What’s evident from the range of questions brought up here (and there are many more not covered in this blog post) is that cyber-warfare covers an awful lot of areas in these two disciplines alone (not to mention many other disciplines that could also be looked at). In the hope of possibly answering some of these questions however I aim to look into some books covering the basics of Economics and economic infrastructure as well as the economic motives behind international relationships. From a Politics perspective I shall aim to read into the world of International Relations and the scientific theories that help to explain them.


Written by William Fyson on October 26th, 2010

Privacy from political and psychological perspectives and how this concept has been affected by the development of the Web   no comments

Posted at 11:40 am in Politics,Psychology

Privacy from political and psychological perspectives and how this concept has been affected by the development of the Web

I am attempting to ascertain the psychological and political concepts and epistemological principles relating to the issue of privacy and in accordance how they can be applied to conceptions of privacy matters on the web. My aim will be to determine whether or not these disciplines compliment or contradict each other in relation to this issue.

For the psychology part of my study I am largely going to undertake my research in the area of ‘The Self’ which is an established psychological school of thought, specifically the notion of the ‘Private Vs Public Self’. There could be a contrast between the two perceptions of individuals characters which the web could be helping to masquerade. For e.g. A person could have a hectic ‘online’ life and appear popular with lots of friends on Facebook or Myspace and not be concerned about their personal and sensitive information being apparent for all to see but in the real world be a closed and private person. On the other hand someone may utilize the web to conceal the parts of their self that they don’t want to share, thus they would be more anxious about themselves being afforded adequate privacy on the web.

Core textbooks –

  • Leary, R. & Tangney, J.P. (2003),Handbook of Self and Identity, The Guildford Press: New York.

  • Sedikides, C. The Self

For the political part of my studies I am focusing on core undergraduate textbooks in order to obtain a basic understanding of the main principles relating to political matters which can be applied or linked to privacy issues. I am making a start in the area of security networks and I have a particular interest in establishing the fundamental principles and ideas that influence the development of these networks. What are there priorities and what are there goals? Also with all the current furore of Governments ‘snooping’ on its citizens via technological means is it possible to determine whether national security is paramount over individual privacy?

  • Boucher, D. & Kelly, P. (2003), Political Thinkers – From Socrates to the Present’, Oxford University Press.

  • Collins, A. (2007), Contemporary Security Studies, Oxford University Press.

I am also conducting some reading of books which deal with establishing the notion of privacy and how this concept has differed in light of growing technological advances. The two books which I am currently reading are:

  • Kieron O’Hara and Nigel Shadbolt,

    The Spy in the Coffee Machine – The end of privacy as we know it.

  • Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen and Harry Lewis, Blown to bits –

    Your life liberty and happiness after the digital explosion.

Written by Lisa Sugiura on October 26th, 2010

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E-democracy and the Web – Freedom, governance, civil society and elections   no comments

Posted at 11:11 am in Politics

Having discussed democracy as a form of government, it is only natural to continue with the concept of freedom (or liberty). Freedom is most often defined by using is opposite, that is freedom is the absence of constraint. Although freedom is considered intrinsically good, there are sometimes legitimate reasons to limit freedom in order to protect other values, so even in a democracy, there is no such thing as complete freedom. Even though democracy seems closely related to freedom, there are examples of democracies limiting freedom, albeit with sufficient reasons.

A type of constraints of freedom which are relevant to e-democracy, are economic impediments. Due to the economic inequality of society, not all its members are free to participate in political affairs, and more importantly, may not even have access to the internet.

Another matter that needs to be discussed is freedom of speech. Even though the web offers anonymity, there are cases of “imperfect democracies” where activities and websites with political content were deemed subversive by the regime and access to them was terminated. There is also the case of developed democratic states that have passed legislation that terminates internet access to users that have broken the law online. This could be argued that it limits their freedoms in an overwhelmingly excessive way and thus constitutes unfair punishment.

One interesting aspect of the Web is that it can enhance the -already high- efficiency of state bureaucracy. According to Weber, its characteristics are amongst others precision, speed, unambiguity, reduction of material  and personal cost. All this advantages can be augmented by the Web and that is why states have invested a lot in this direction, trying to establish an online bureaucracy and e-government portals. This is in part done in order to improve the quality of governance, according to the elements of “good governance” which are the following:

  • Participation in making and implementing decisions
  • Clear legal frameworks with respect to human rights
  • Transparency in decision making
  • Responsiveness towards social needs
  • Consensus-oriented
  • Equal opportunities for all
  • Effectiveness and efficiency
  • Accountability of decision makers

Some of the above elements can be clearly enhanced by the Web, while others are still bound to the offline realm.

Civil society is the framework that those without political authority live within. It stand apart from political authority (and even commercial institutions), however no clear boundary can be drawn between them. It is composed of voluntary civic and social organisations, for example non-governmental organisations. The Web has been used extensively by such organisations, which understood its benefits faster than governments.  Better horizontal communication as well as the ability to organise in online communities have enabled them to become larger and better coordinated. Faster mobilisation of supporters helped organise protests and activist ‘instant mobs’. There is also the use of blogs to post alternative versions of events, as mentioned above when discussing freedom of speech. Of course, as always, there are also negative effects. Political blackmailing, propaganda and libel were also used by some organisations, sometimes by posting anonymously on blogs and there are extremist groups recruiting in this way.

Finally, a concept that fits with my previous post about democracy. Voting is a mechanism for making collective decisions where the majority preference dictates the final decision. In the case of representative democracies, the representatives are also elected by vote. So far there have been various attempt to use electronic voting, with mixed results. It seems though that, being cost-effective and fast, it will eventually replace traditional voting. This however has little to do with the Web, as it just uses the internet. However, the Web has played a role so far in elections: it has facilitated the communication of political manifestos to voters, gave additional chances for debates and even helped candidates approach their voters directly with the use of social networking sites. As mentioned in the previous post, it remains to be seen if the Web can play a larger part in decision making. It has to be added that there are two schools of thought as to how electronic decision making should be used. Some propose using it as an efficient way for representatives to ask directly for the citizens’ opinion by referendum. Another more direct, albeit more small scale proposal is to have local communities try a direct version of democracy, perhaps as a pilot for larger scale adoption. Again, there is criticism that stems from the long identified problems of direct democracy, which current technology cannot so far alleviate.

Written by el3e09 on May 8th, 2010

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Oxford Internet Institute – E-government Research   no comments

Posted at 5:30 pm in Politics,Sociology

After looking at the some of the core principles on both sociology and politics it seemed a good idea to explore some of the latest research that is looking at how these two disciplines are affecting the Web and vice-versa. Research from the Oxford Internet Institution (OII) is a leading research group looking how the ‘internet’ is affecting a range of areas. One research group is looking at the effect of e-government.

Some of the most interesting work has come from Helen Margetts, who has been looking at e-government and its integration into society, and possible cultural barriers that are being faced. Looking at some of the figures collated by Helen has given some indication of the use of e-government and related services in the London Area. The stats look at the type of people and other demographics. Interestingly, Helen found that although Gender or Race did not play a role in who was using e-government services, Age, social class, and education attainment was extremely influential. For example, people who only obtained GCSE’s were 47% likely to use the services, where as people with A-levels or above were 85% likely.

The OII also has conducted research which further explores the cultural barriers to e-government discussed the 4 myths of Technology and discussed possible reasons to why the government has developed a negative attitude to ICT. Broken down into Supply side barriers (i.e. the Government) and demand side barriers (i.e. the individual) the research suggests that the lack of e-government is a combination of the two sides. This comes from a mix of reasons, from the government’s bad experiences in the past with technology, overrunning projects and close mindedness. Also looking at supply side barrier such as social exclusion, where Rich and Poor are part of the digital divide. What is also introduced is the terms e-Elite and e-underclass, where the e-underclass would be more likely to trust or rely on e-government.

An interesting argument is one suggesting that the formality of e-government Websites could deter individuals away from using them. However in countries such as Holland e-government websites stress the fun factor.

What has been recognised from this research is that cultural barriers do exists, however they’re may be possible solutions to help overcome them, for instance providing incentives for staff to recognise the potential benefits of electronic media, trying to reduce the mindset of technology capricious employees. For citizens, providing incentives, financial and educational may increase the use of such services, and also lighten the attitude of the Websites providing a more informal approach.

Written by rt506 on May 3rd, 2010

Community, Deliberation, and Participation: E-Democracy (Part 2)   no comments

Posted at 11:44 am in Politics

Currently reading: Internet Politics – Andrew Chadwick

Brief overview of what has been read:

This week’s blog is a continuation of looking at Andrew Chadwick’s Internet Politics book. Last week I looked at Chadwick’s description on Conceptual tools, with this week focusing in more detail regarding E-democracy.

What will be discussed is how the Web has played a role in enhancing community cohesion, political deliberation, and participation, i.e. E-Democracy. What will be looked at is community networks, development of online political communities, and uses of online mechanisms to involve citizens.

Knowledge gained and relevance to issue:

To start with let’s looks at some theoretical foundations of E-democracy, the UK Hansard society takes the view that it is:

“The concept of e-democracy is associated with efforts to broaden political participation by enabling citizens to connect with one another and with their representatives via new information and communication technologies.”

From this, two major conceptual offshoots have formed from the many attempts to enhance political participation, the Social Capital, and the Public Sphere.
The Social capital, defined by Robert Putnam as: “the features of social organisations such as networks, norms, and trust that facilitate co-ordination and co-operation for mutual benefit”. This assumes that all groups, political or social enhance overall levels of political awareness. It is also argued that increased participation between civic associations increases the level of trust amongst citizens. Furthermore for such communities to occur, it is assumed that contributions will be reciprocated at a later stage, without this, communities would not exist.

The Public Sphere, another influential approach to understanding the role of communications in encouraging citizen’s engagement. Jurgen Habermas’s concept of Public Sphere suggested that since the early-modern capitalistic age, the new forms of communication and media has given cultural enlightenment, allowing for information to be much more freely disseminated. This level of media has allowed citizens to form political opinions. Lincoln Dahlberg used the Habermasian theory to form 6 main conditions that e-democracy schemes must try to fulfil if they are to genuinely create deliberative public spheres.
To begin with, there must be Autonomy from the state, and economic power. This means that discourse must be from citizens concerns not that of the media or corporations. Furthermore, situations or concerns must be reasons, not asserted. Another key condition is participants must reflect on their own cultural values, interests and other personal views, and also take note of the larger social context. This then implies that participants must see an argument from all viewpoints, being respectful and listening to each other. To be able to view all sides of the argument, all information and knowledge must be learned, which leads to the next consideration. Finally, all participants must be treated equally, and entitled to participate in deliberation.

Community Networks
Community networks, first appeared in the 1970’s, with relatively small numbers. But with the cost of electronic goods, during the 1990’s they began to grow tremendously. Bruce Tonn defines a Community network as:

“A Computer based system or set of systems designed to meet the social and economic needs of a spatially-defined community of individuals.”

Three main features which could be argued that are needed to form a Community network are: a high speed network, offered free of charge or at a subsidised rate, some are of centrality for the technology, i.e. servers, and thirdly, an emphasis on providing content specific to the local community.

Although modern community networks are more technologically advanced than their ancestors, they still rely on the basic principle that for people to shape the production of information about their local community, the must be willing to volunteer. Relating back to Social Capital, almost all community networking projects have been inspired by the idea that virtual community can improve geographical communities by creating new social ties and reciprocal trust.

One view is why ‘join’ citizens together who already happen to live in the same neighbourhood, instead why not encourage ‘real’ interaction. However many of the proponents of community networks come from a background in urban planning and are therefore acutely aware of the history of attempts to generate community through the physical world. It is suggested that contemporary life erodes the possibility form such ‘real’ interaction, driving the need for web based community networks. Tom Petrich suggests 5 areas of contemporary life which forms these constraints. Work-related constraints, where working hours play a large role. Another constraint is consumerism, where time is spent on goods and services, i.e. Playstation, Cinema rather than interacting. There are also social capital constraints, where local social networks are insufficient to create communities. Delving more towards the individual, there are personal constraints, confidence and skills are issues when meeting in the real world. Finally there are the constraints due to the real world, i.e. no meeting places.

Although there are hundreds of virtual communities, to begin with there was a total lack of state led virtual communities. However, central and local governments have slowly started to experiment with online forums, which have specific interest groups. A space for deliberation that are relatively unconstrained by corporate and state influence, inspired by the need for increasing citizen deliberation have opened up, some believe (Grossman) showing the true potential of the web in bringing about true participatory democracy.

Political Influence
The influence of such community networks and other forms of e-democracy has introduced the web in-to a rich set of projects, from this two broad models have been defined, Consultative and Deliberative models.

A consultative approach stresses the communication of the citizen’s opinion to the government. It is assumed that information is a resource which can be used to provide better policy and administration. Furthermore, governments can seek voters opinion from such information. A good example of use of such a model is the U.S. Federal governments e-rule making program. This was designed to allow citizens to air their opinion on specific agency rules that are being developed.
The deliberative model takes a different view on communication between the government and citizens, where a more complex multi-directional interactivity occurs. These models are thinner on the ground than their consultative counterparts.

From what has been discussed it can be seen that the impact that the Web has had on Communities, political deliberation is indeed significant. The use of the Web is a way to allow people to maintain social ties or extend them where possible. Furthermore, political interests have now started to be transferred online; furthermore the views which are being given in an online world are now transferred to an offline world.

The question of is the Web increasing Social Capital, allowing for more opportunity for public political participation? Chadwick argues that it is doing both, communities of interest tend towards being homogeneous echo chambers. However, what needs to be remembered is that individuals have more than one interest, and this creates the problem that the e-democracy is creating more complex communities, deliberation and political participation.

Written by rt506 on March 19th, 2010

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E-democracy and the Web – Power and Democracy   no comments

Posted at 11:30 pm in Politics,Sociology

This week’s reading was focused on politics. The books that I have used are Introduction to Politics, by Garner et al and An Introduction to Politics, State and Society by James McAuley. I have organized my reading so far, so as to approach e-democracy from different angles. While in my previous posts there was an approach through society, groups and even individuals, for my first post on Politics I have chosen to have a look on the concept of State. Although the role of the State in e-democracy is potentially smaller than in ordinary politics (where it is overwhelming), it is not of less importance.

Two of the concepts that are associated with the State are power and authority. While both are used for similar purposes, that is to control behaviours, power uses coercion while authority uses consent. Power and authority are evident on the Web: due to the Web’s decentralised structure, power has been distributed possibly in a more even way than in other areas. Furthermore, authority has often been an easier (or the only) way to influence behaviours in online communities.

There are various theories that have been developed to interpret the distribution of power within a society. The pluralist theory suggest that society is composed of various groups, each with its own interests and government just act according to the balance of power of these groups, which means that all groups are represented relatively to their power within society. The exact opposite is elitism, where power is considered to be concentrated to the hands of powerful elites. Of course, the distribution of power in a society may be somewhere between pluralism and elitism. Marxist theory is similar to the elitist, with bourgeoisie being the ruling class and the proletariat being the dominated one. It is different however, in claiming that true power exists only in the economic sphere of society, and that an egalitarian society can only be established through a communist revolution.

Since measuring political power in a society can be difficult, an analysis according to each of these theories can give different results. The same is probably true for the Web, and particularly e-democracy. A pluralist could argue that the Web by default allows all groups to pursue their interests and prevents one seizing disproportionate power. However, an elitist could argue, that those having access to the Web are a de facto elite, as the digital divide suggests and also, that in some groups some individuals are more influential than others. Another possibility is that the Web could provide some groups with a lower barrier to entry, and so allowing more groups to share power (Interestingly, the existence of barriers to entry in the political system is a matter of debate between pluralists and elitists).

In a study of e-democracy, it is obviously necessary to identify what is Democracy. Since the word has acquired a positive connotation, even dictatorships have been self-proclaimed as such. So a more clear definition is needed. As the word’s etymology suggests, democracy is a political system where the people have the political power. This implies some kind of equality of political power. This was vague enough for Lively (1975) to come up with seven different possibilities. While all  have this characteristic,  three of them are not considered truly democratic, because there is no accountability of the rulers towards the ruled. The remaining four are versions of democracy, with half being cases of representative democracy and the others of direct democracy. The difference is the involvement of individuals in the decision-making process, with more involvement in the case of direct democracy.

It has been often suggested that the Web could allow a more direct version of democracy to feasible. Since the Web significantly lowers the communication costs, as can be seen for example in social networking sites, larger groups/networks can operate more efficiently. But it can be argued that lack of time is not the only reason that direct democracy has been rarely chosen. A study of relevant examples, for example classical Athens, could demonstrate the quality requirements that such a system would have to meet in order to succeed. Populism and ‘mob rule’ have been identified as disadvantages of such systems.

While the classical theory of democracy emphasises participation of citizens, the elitist theory claims that democracy and elitism aren’t mutually exclusive and that “elites sometimes can protect democracy from the authoritarian values of the masses”. According to elitism, participation is not that important. But, declining participation in elections and increasing political apathy are some of the reasons that e-democracy has been considered as an alternative. Furthermore, elitist theory has been criticised as undemocratic because of the accountability issue, and since modern democracies have elitist aspects, one could go so far as to call them “imperfect democracies”.

A development of the classical democracy is the deliberative democracy, which was mainly influenced by the ideas of J. Habermas. In addition to participation, it emphasises public discussion of matters and claims that this leads to “more rational and legitimate decision making”. It seems possible that this model could ameliorate the problems of direct democracy mentioned above, since it has been criticised on the basis that sufficient deliberation takes time. If this is true, then technologies that could help large scale real-time deliberation are needed. The Web is not any more just about information, but also about knowledge; this could prove crucial to successful implementation of such a process for decision making. Another criticism of this model has been that “it exaggerates the level of consensus that can be reached through deliberation”. With the possibility of being wrong or just too optimistic, I would suggest that agents could help break such stalemates, perhaps using game theory techniques and utilising the Semantic Web.

However, as most web scientists know (and of course sociologists), viewing social change that is caused by technology in a deterministic and linear way is wrong and can often lead to embarrassing predictions. While some ideas seem fantastic in theory, in practice they sometimes fail. Could e-democracy be such an example?

If we are to believe the elitist and Marxist theories of power distribution within society, the powerful elites are not necessarily in favour of such changes and are possibly able to prevent them. They would certainly be able to do so if the Web didn’t have such a decentralised and global structure (thanks to Tim Berners-Lee’s and others’ efforts). So, some aspects of e-democracy (for example online activism) cannot be influenced, regulated or stopped by a government. Making sure that global forces are controlled by democratic means, often called cosmopolitan democracy, could be a way to maintain the status quo, or even improve it. It would be too optimistic to assume that the Web could never be controlled by non democratic entities, it is almost like saying the Web can only be used for good.

However, for some other aspects of e-democracy, such as e-voting, the role of governments is crucial. If governments are influenced by elites, their priorities and choices in how the State will use e-democracy will be dictated by them. So the quality of an e-democracy paradigm will generally be proportionate to the quality of democracy in the State that sponsored it.

I have already read about the concept of freedom, but since the post has grown too long, I will incorporate it in next week’s post. I plan to continue next week by reading about state institutions, bureaucracy and governance, parties and elections and if there is time about civil society.

Written by el3e09 on March 14th, 2010

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Technological and Social Determinism (part 1)   no comments

Posted at 6:05 pm in Politics,Sociology

Currently reading: Internet Politics – Andrew Chadwick

Brief overview of what has been read:

As mentioned in my last blog, this week a selection of more focused subjects regarding politics on the web will be studied. Andrew Chadwick’s Internet Politics (Although really Web Politics) discusses the impact of new communication technologies on political parties, pressure groups, social movements etc.
There has been two major aspects with has been studied, conceptual tools and theories for Internet Politics, and also Community, Deliberation and Participation, formally known as E-Democracy. Although a very narrow selection of topics which are discussed within the book, it seemed a good starting point to help direct the reading towards the issue trying to be addressed.

The chapters being discussed are:
• Chapter 2: Conceptual Tools
• Chapter 5: Community, Deliberation, and Participation: E-Democracy

Knowledge gained and relevance to issue:

As a good introduction to the area of Internet Politics two major concepts were introduced, Technological determinism (TD) and social determinism (SD). Technological determinism, as Chadwick suggested has a long history, with it being argued that Marxism is TD. It is based on the notion that the material basis of society is the primary motor of social, economic and ultimately political change; however Marxism is limited in its ability to understand how humans mold technological change. Furthermore, Webster argued that the new communication technologies have ushered in a new age, an information society which differs fundamentally from the social orders of the past. This suggests that whatever the content of the technology, they have their own inherent properties that human intervention cannot change; these properties can be therefore used to predict future social, economic and political change.

Oh the other hand, Social Determinism, which is also known as “social shaping of technology”, supported by many post-war writers such as Lewis Mumford, argues the case that specific technologies do not in themselves matter. What social scientists believe is that they merely need to reconstruct the social context of technological change to explain all that is considered to be important. In the case of the Web: Nothing is particularly new or distinctive, and that we make sense of its effects by referring to pre-existing models of social and political change. As technology is presumed to be nothing special, SD suggests that only social forces need to be examined, such as power struggles, groups, classes and institutions. Technology therefore becomes another policy area.

However what is suggested is that on the Web, neither Technological nor Social determinism can be seen, it is rather a mix of the two. Where technologies have political properties while simultaneously placing their use in political contexts. Landon Winner argues that there are two senses in which technologies can have political properties. Winner defines the first as:

“the invention, design or arrangement of a specific technical device or system becomes a way of settling an issue in the affairs of a particular community”

This is arguing that technological structures sometimes inhibit types of social and political action. Winner’s second view is:

“Some technologies are by their very nature political in a specific way”

This is suggesting that some technologies are inherently political, and are strongly compatible with particular kinds of political relationships; this therefore suggests that the technologies are inflexible, as only performing specific duties.

Furthermore, there are cases where understanding the political nature of technologies may not help, for instance, sometimes the technology may not be political at all, but instead examine the situation in a SD fashion, seeing the power struggle take place external to the technology. Alternatively, there may be the case where a failure to see how the technology is shaping society can occur.

Another key topic that was read was looking at the theoretical approaches to political impact. Philip Agre outlines 8 key conceptual themes:
• Decentralisation
o The use of networks to reduce the claim to expert knowledge
• Participation
o Everyone has their place on the Web, people coming together and forming discussion
• Community
o The political debates occurring on the Web could not occur without communities
• Globalisation
o David Held – “a process (or set of processes) which embodies a transformation in the spatial organisations of social relations and transactions, generating transcontinental or interregional flows and networks of activity, interaction and power”
o Basic terms, it is seen as a set of processes rather than any final state.
• Post industrialisation
o Western societies witness a decline in the authority of traditional institutions, individuals retreat further into their own private spheres, becoming less obviously politically engaged in the sense of participating in the large-scale structures of liberal democracy
• Rationalalisation
o The way the web is generating new, more efficient forms of social control
o Refers to a set of ideas which inspired the emergence of rules-based organisations that generally require individual adherence to formal rules rather than the expression of emotion or creativity
o A dominant force in contemporary life
• Governance
o Power struggles can no longer understood by a narrow focus on the core execution and the traditional institutions of central government
The state has changed
o Governance covers the whole range of institutions and relationships involved in the process of governing
o Main question is “how the centre of government interacts with society to reach mutually acceptable decisions, or whether society actually does more self-steering rather than depending upon guidance from government” (Peters)
• Libertarianisation
o Advocates the maximisation of the individuals liberty in thought and action and the minimisation or even abolition of the state
o Many see this as the default ideology of the Web
These eight key themes draw upon sociology political science, business, management, and all have one aspect in common, which is to arrive at a richer conceptual understanding of the impact of the Web.

Part 2 will conclude with looking at Community, Deliberation and participation, including disucssion on Social Capital and Public Sphere.

Written by rt506 on March 12th, 2010

Power, Authority and the State, and New Social Movements   1 comment

Posted at 11:27 am in Politics,Sociology

Currently reading: Introduction to Politics and Society – Shaun Best

Brief overview of what has been read:

Following my reading from last week, which looked at the core fundamentals of Sociology and the key academics such as Weber, Durkheim and Marx, I have been reading about the key concepts in Political Science and the contemporary world. Shaun Best’s book looks at power, authority, coercion, surveillance, and legitimacy, based on the ideas of many key academics such as Weber, Marx, and Habermas.

This week’s reading was focused around two major topics within the book:
• Chapter 1 – Power Authority and the State:
• Chapter 6 – New Social Movements

These topics seem relevant to the issue which is trying to be addressed, from looking at how the government uses it power, how bureaucracy takes place and also the struggles within society. Furthermore, New social movements, such that of Women’s liberation movement and other similar social movements and the theories behind their cause may prove to demonstrate similarities which can be seen on the web (petitions, forums, etc).

Knowledge gained and relevance to issue:

To begin with, examining chapter 1 states that the key question of sociology in politics is “How is power exercised?”. Anthony Giddens suggests that power is related to ‘resources’, which are either Allocative (physical) or Authoritative (people etc). Furthermore he suggests that collecting information on people is essential to maintaining the power of the modern ‘nation-state’. This view is also supported by Joanne Fuinkelstein, who also suggests that appearance can be seen as a social passport, improving power.

An interesting argument which could suggest why certain people within a web community may have more power (or influence) than others. For instance, in an online forum, why should a User with a High post count (also denoted by a associated tag, Pro, or star rating) be perceived as someone with a lot of power?
Weber suggests that authority is the legitimate use of power, and that Coercion occurs to force people into action either by action, threat or violence. Also he suggests that there are 3 types of legitimate rule, Charismatic, Traditional and Rational, the later being one with a set of legal rules. The question was also asked, why do people obey them? Is this through Natural law, or Fear?

Weber also looked at bureaucracy and argued that there were two types: either by consent, where rules were formed by process of agreement, or punishment centred, where the imposition of rules were forced. Richard Sennet suggested that this theory was not only applicable to political organisations.
A good definition of a Bureaucracy by Martin Albrow is as follows:
“social units in which individuals are conscious of their membership and legitimise their cooperative activities primarily by reference to attainment of impersonal goals rather than moral standards”

Furthermore, Albrow also puts organisations into 4 groups, Total institutions, Voluntary associations, postmodern organisations and formal and information organisations.
Building on the ideas of bureaucracy, Steven Lukes suggests that power within has three dimensions of appearance: decision-making, Non-decision making and shaping desires. From this Michel Foucault developed a capillary model of power, looking at the relation of Struggle and resistance. Where struggles usually share similar characteristics, such as resisting the role of the government.

Jurgen Habermas further develops the area of bureaucracy and the problems which occur by looking at the core structures of society and identifying the 3 areas causing crisis: Economic, Political, and Social-cultural, which are brought on by a combination of Social and System Integration Habermas also suggests that if the social and system break down, not only will the social system loose legitimacy but it also may collapse.

Expanding these ideas of such academics out to the issue which is trying to be tacked (implications of the webs increased methods of communication between government and society), it could be suggested that the struggles which once were seen actively demonstrated in public has now gone digital, through mediums such as Forums, petitions, even group emails. What needs to be discussed is the dangers that these ‘even more public’ demonstrations have on society?
Richard Sennett argues that authority need to be legitimate in the eyes of the population, and that imposing fear is also a form of authoritative power. He also suggests authority is a emotional connection amongst people, and at the same time it is a constraint. In summary he suggests that people have fear of freedom? Is this the case for the Web, do people really have a fear for freedom, or are they indulging in the lack of power and constraint, with no centralised power or authority dictating what they can or can’t do?

Another key area which was read was New Social Movements (NSM), which is defined by Sztompka as: “loosely organised collectivities acting together in a non-institutionalised manner in order to produce change in their society”. This is in opposition to an old social movement (OSM) which tended to be largely class-based movements and focus upon the state as the target for their collective activities.

Paul Bagguley distinguishes between the two, OSM;s are influenced by economic factors, and supported by the working class, and try to influence important people. They are also formally organised with a central bureaucracy. NSM’s are ‘post-materialist’, concerned with issues such as peace, environment etc. They are supported by the new middle class, and are largely informal, mainly networks of connections. NSM’s also have common factors, such as protests take place with direct action, and are mainly an formed due to failure of traditional political parties.

Claus Offe suggest that the rise of NSM’s may be down to certain factors: Capitalism is becoming more bureaucratic, there is a shift in techniques for managerial control at work, and importantly, the class-based system of political representation has broken down. ‘Disorganised capitalism’, the rise of NSM’s also has resulted from markets being less effectively regulated, and a decline in size of industrial working class.

Mario Diani found 4 trends which can help classify a NSM, to begin with, collective behaviour is one. Where there is no clearly defined membership / leadership. It is informal and based on networks of communications. Secondly, Diani introduced the ‘Resource mobilisation theory;, where ‘a set of opinions and beliefs which represents preferences for changing some elements of the social structures and/or reward distribution of a society. Thirdly, another trend is the political process, where there is social unrest, where the NSM is trying to change distribution of power, through forms of public demonstrations. Finally, the structural and social changes in society, where new contradictions of the middle and working class form.

Some of these key factors can be seen within the web, such as groups forming through networks of connections with a shared ideology, however no structure of leadership is in place.

Habermas asks some key questions about NSM’s including what they express: particularistic values, or universalistic values, affecting a small domain or the entire population respectively? postmodernists clearly argue that NSM’s support particularistic values, where as universalistic values build upon grand narratives. Habermas introduced the ideal speech situation, defined as “A form of shared communication between people who want to resolve their differences”.

Anthony Giddens, another key academic looking at NSM’s suggests that political/ social movements operate will follow 4 dimensions, capitalism, industrialism, centralised administrative power, and centralised control of military power. He also suggests that social movements play a key role in transition from modernity to postmodernity (‘utopian realism’). Furthermore Giddens suggests that social movements have the ability to exercise countervailing powers, and that all people should have greater opportunity to exercise power. He also suggests that NSM’s have important democratic qualities, allowing a space form public dialogue, allowing to enhance the knowledge of ones self, but due to this casts doubt upon expert systems, therefore produces a loss of trust within the social order.

What Giddens suggests here, that NSM’s give society a public voice, where all members should have equal opportunity to exercise power can be extracted to the issue trying to be discussed. Does the new forms of communications on the Web really give all members equal opportunity to exercise their power? Although any user can add a post to a forum, or sign a petition, could an admin just not remove such a vote?

From this reading it can be seen that there is much to be discussed between the theories of politics and the implications that it is having on the web.

Written by rt506 on March 5th, 2010