E-democracy and the Web – More on Sociology   1 comment

Posted at 7:34 pm in Sociology

After careful consideration, I have decided to revise my reading list as follows:


Sociology – John J. Macionis

Sociology – Anthony Giddens

Political Science:

Introduction to Politics – Robert Garner, Peter Ferdinand & Stephanie Lawson

An introduction to Politics, State and  Society – James W. McAuley

It may be necessary to read some more specific textbooks, especially for Politics. In this case, they will be referenced in future posts.

For the past week, I continued my reading as planned, by moving from basic concepts of sociology to those more relevant to the subject of e-democracy. I used both books from my reading plan, but concentrated more on the book by Macionis, while using the book by Giddens as secondary reference.

Despite of what I had decided last week, I read more on social stratification, the hierarchical ranking of categories of individuals within a society. I was interested in the social class system, as this is the common form of stratification in modern democratic societies, which have been interested to adopt e-democracy.

By applying the different theoretical approaches on the subject of social stratification, one can reach contradicting conclusions about its nature and causes. Marx has suggested that in a capitalist society, the ruling class owns the means of production and uses the working class’ labour to amass more wealth. This class structure is reproduced in each generation and that produces a corrupt and unfair society. On the other hand, Weber, while agreeing with Marx that stratification causes conflicts, he argues that economic inequality is only one of the factors that cause it, along with status and power. While Marx has considered social stratification as something harmful to society, the Davies-Moore thesis states the opposite: by offering greater rewards for important work, there is more motivation and efficiency than in a completely egalitarian society.

When plotting the average degree of stratification throughout human history, the Kuznets curve appears. While after the industrial revolution there was a tendency for less stratification, postmodern societies have exhibited a reverse trend, and that is shown by the curve. The question about whether the Web plays a role in this trend is important. There is also the matter of whether stratification exists inside the online societies. Both these questions are relevant to e-democracy.

After reading about social stratification, I had to read about Politics. However, in order to organise my posts in a better way, I will post the politics subjects in separate posts, while continuing to write about sociology and the subjects of collective action and social movements.

I started reading about collective behaviour, concentrating on the concepts that are relevant to e-democracy. Public opinion, which is widespread attitude around a controversial issue and propaganda, information presented in a way to influence public opinion, are two important concepts as they have been often observed in an online context.

A social movement is an organised activity in favour or against social change. Social movements are perhaps the most influential forms of collective behaviour, as they shape societies. There are four types of social movements as shown below:

There are various theories about what causes social movements. Deprivation theory, which claims that those deprived of something (income, insurance etc) organise in movements towards the goal of improving their condition. Mass-society theory suggests that people organise in order to gain a sense of belonging and importance. Structural strain theory identifies six factors that influence the development of social movements. Resource-mobilisation theory suggests that for a movement to succeed, substantial resources are needed and without them it will fail. Culture theory, that responds that people not only organise for material gains but also around cultural symbols. Marxist political-economy theory emphasises the failure of capitalism to meet the needs of the majority as the cause of movements. New social movements theory has been developed to interpret recent movements that do not target economic issues, but try to improve our social and environmental surroundings. No single theory can explain all types of movements, but in conjunction they can offer useful insights.

The tendency of movements to become increasingly global, without doubt, can be at least partially  attributed to the Web. As information flows easier and in larger volume, it is only natural that previously local matters become global. Social movements on the Web are as influential for e-government as offline movements for traditional democracy.

Even conservative and small scale adoption of e-democracy can lead to (or perhaps has already led to) social change. The process of social change has certain characteristics: it happens constantly, most often than not unplanned (the Web being one such example), can be controversial and not all changes are equally important. There are many causes for change: culture, ideas, social conflict and even demographic reasons. A central and recurring theme when studying social change is modernity, the social patterns arising from industrialisation. The process of modernisation has transformed societies in various ways. Progress has been considered good at all times and stability has been a synonym of stagnation. Postmodernists have criticised this way of thinking, but it is still an ongoing debate. Whether the Web will create postmodern societies in the way that industrial revolution led to the modern era, remains to be seen.

As I read more about Sociology, it became apparent that the lines between Political Science begun to blur. For the next weeks, beginning with the basics of Political Science, I will try to gain an interdisciplinary viewpoint to some of the issues already discussed, as well as to others relevant to e-democracy.

Written by el3e09 on March 7th, 2010

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One Response to 'E-democracy and the Web – More on Sociology'

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  1. I like the fact that you are prepared to make some critical appraisal of the reading you are doing (even in your earlier blog). This is quite difficult when you are in new territory like this. So well done!
    You are taking in a huge sweep of sociology – and a wide range of concepts and theoretical approaches. This is good/useful, but you may want to remind yourself of your focus on e democracy. Personally I think you are on to something thinking about collective action and social movements – for me the question I keep asking is ‘is this stuff we see on the web really new or is it just the stuff we already know?’.
    Can you see how social movement theory might be harnessed to explain e democracy? How are web democratic protests different to offline ones? There is a chapter in Web Studies (ed by Gauntlett and Horsley) by Stephen Lax about the internet and democracy that might be useful if you can track it down. This is more media studies and about the internet (is this different to the web ?) . You might also want to google Clay Shirky for a populist take on the use of web/mobile/internet for democractic participation.
    Or at the level of grand theory can ideas about stratification and social class be used to inform our explanations of e democratic forms?
    If you pull together this reading with the materials from Foundations of Web Science can you begin to develop an argument about how we might understand e democracy?
    And I note that I am asking all of this before you have started on politics…so keep going….

    Catherine Pope

    12 Mar 10 at 5:47 pm

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