Archive for the ‘Politics’ tag

Cyberwarfare – Political Science…? and Individuality   no comments

Posted at 12:38 pm in Uncategorized

Having decided to study Politics and Economics around the issue of cyber-warfare, I started by finding some books in the subject which I have had the least experience in – Politics (having an A-Level in Economics). After a quick library search I found a number of books which should be suitable: “Politics An Introduction” by Axford, Browning, et al; “Key Concepts in Politics” by Andrew Heywood and “Comparative Politics in a Globalizing World” by Jeffrey Haynes. This all seemed like quite a lot to be getting on with, so I (naturally) started with “Politics An Introduction”.

One of the things that I find most intriguing about Politics is the concept of Political Science, how something which to me seems fundamentally about how people interact with each other and make decisions can be studied in a scientific manner. The book starts by seemingly agreeing with me and makes a number of points on how Politics cannot be studied scientifically:

1) One cannot disprove theories such as “is democracy a better form of government that dictatorship”. It is rare that a political questions can be boiled down to a true or false answer. This is further complicated when many disagree on the definitions of certain concepts.

2) It is nearly impossible to replicate methods and results through experimentation or statistical methods. Most political experiments are severely hindered by ethical and logistical implications. There are often only a few number of cases that can be studied when conducting comparative analysis and the use of statistical data often falls foul of representative issue and disputes over the integrity of data sources.

3) Political science relies on visible and measurable phenomena. This is illustrated with the example of ‘false consciousness’ (in which individuals demonstrate a social understanding that is mainly false). One political thesis states that in capitalist societies, the working classes are always in a state of false consciousness, however it is not possible to prove that people are suffering from false consciousness and that as a result they do not act in their own interests.

4) When studying Politics it is essential to consider both facts and values and values may vary considerably between different societies and nations. It is very difficult to incorporate “fuzzy” concepts such as values in to scientific methodology.

5) Finally in social sciences there are no laws (or as the book points out, there are no laws yet). Political phenomena can be classified and probabilistic associations can be made between variables, but it is not possible to state causal relationships.

Therefore having established the constraints of what can and cannot be done when studying Politics (which may seem obvious to some readers, but having never studied a social science (except the rather mathematical Economics) is all quite new to myself) I then started to look into some of the issues that Politics concerns itself with, the first of which the role of people in Politics.

Upon seeing that the first chapter was about the role of the individual in Politics, I thought this had little to do with cyber-warfare and therefore maybe I should skip the chapter and head to some of the juicier stuff on international relations (at least I envisage it to be juicier). However the concept of the individual and identity (and I hope I’m not making too much of a faux pas by treating them synonymously) has cropped up a number of times in Web Science so far and so I thought I should read on and see how these ideas may apply to the Web.

First comes the question as to whether we should study individuals or structures? We can either treat these mutually exclusively, where the study of one does not infer things about the other and also introduces the concepts of individualistic fallacy (treating institutions as a single – large – individual) and ecological or systematic fallacy (treating individuals as if they take on the characteristics of their organisations). Both of these concepts I feel can be important to consider when studying Web Science and the groups and networks that form in the online world.

An alternative way of looking at individuals or structures is that of the reductionist, in which one set of variables can be explained wholly or in part by reference to another set. In this view collective structures are viewed simply as the aggregate behaviour and attitudes of the individuals. This strikes me as being similar to the construction of an object-oriented computer program in which the problem is broken down into smaller solvable problems which combined form the overall solution.

Thirdly there is the structurationist point of view in which structures are the product of day-to-day interactions of individuals. For example shoppers reproduce capitalism when they buy goods in shops even though they are not consciously doing so. This point of view can also seemingly be applied to the Web, for example social networking sites are products of the interactions between users (although I suppose the difference here is that the site is provided to allow people to interact rather than a production of the interactions). Nevertheless the social network site would fail without these constant day-to-day interactions.

To bring this back closer to the topic of cyber-warfare, Enlightenment, the process by which the concept of the individual came into being along with modernity, has also lead to some of histories worse atrocities. The concept of the individual can lead to some groups being excluded or persecuted for their collective attributes, with the book using the examples of the near genocide of the Native American peoples and the Holocaust. Could similar events take place online (without the horror or devastation caused by the aforementioned examples)? The online world can certainly be used to rally groups against other groups in society. The concept of the individual can also be used to illustrate how cyber-warfare could be used by a government against its own people, to restrict the level of individuality any one person may have (similarly to Georeg Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four) – the Web provides a medium with which Big Brother could easily monitor our actions. However it must also be taken into account that the Web helps to further a person’s individuality, giving them access to a wealth of new opportunities (aiding pluralism – a concept which many believe to be a contributor to a healthy political system).

This blog post has got quite lengthy now, however there are still many more points which could be discussed including the use of terror to control society, how the Web has effected citizenship and our rights and what impact cyber-warfare may have upon these issues and how the Web may change an individual’s political competence. The book so far has certainly made for some very interesting reading and its been fascinating to look at a subject which has a very different approach to study. Next I shall try and delve into Economics, before I get too carried away with Politics.

Written by William Fyson on November 9th, 2010

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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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Game Theory   no comments

Posted at 10:07 pm in Uncategorized

Researching psychology on second thoughts will not take me out of my comfort and consequently I would learn little. I am therefore now looking into game theory. I first came across it while watching Adam Curtis’ iconoclastic film The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom . It is a fascinating theory, which attempts, in a way analogous to quantum physics, to connect the large to the very small. It has something to say about many fields of knowledge from the inner workings of our minds to the behaviour of nation states. For example, in his film Curtis describes how game theory influenced America’s Cold War strategy and contributed to R.D. Laing’s understanding of the causes of mental illness.

This is from Wikipedia:

Game theory is a branch of applied mathematics that is used in the social sciences, most notably in economics, as well as in biology (particularly evolutionary biology and ecology), engineering, political science, international relations, computer science, and philosophy. Game theory attempts to mathematically capture behaviour in strategic situations, or games, in which an individual’s success in making choices depends on the choices of others (Myerson, 1991).

My only problem now is limiting myself to two disciplines only.

Initial Reading
A Guide to Game Theory by Fiona Carmichael

Written by HuwCDavies on November 1st, 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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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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E-democracy and the World Wide Web   no comments

Posted at 5:55 am in Politics,Sociology

E-democracy (electronic democracy or digital democracy) is a relatively new concept. It can be defined as the usage of information and communication technologies (ICT) for the enhancement of the participation of citizens in the democratic process. However, it can be argued that these technologies and especially the World Wide Web can play a bigger role in that process, by providing opportunities for reshaping the way democratic institutions currently work.

In order to evaluate the above statement, a thorough study of the way Democracy works is needed. Furthermore, prevalent ideologies within democratic states are factors that affect the degree of adoption of e-democracy, so studying Political Science textbooks is a way to be introduced to the most important ones.

The study of issues like collective action, discourse and decision making is crucial for gaining an understanding of the democratic process on both an offline context and the Web. For this reason, knowledge of Sociology and its basic principles is needed.

Some books to be used as an introduction to the aforementioned disciplines are:

Political Science:

  • Political Ideologies: an introduction – Eccleshal et al
  • Political Sociology: a critical introduction – Faulks


  • Sociology – Giddens
  • Sociology: A Global Introduction – Macionis, Plummer

Some other books that may be useful are:

  • The Myth of Digital Democracy – Hindman
  • Sociology in the Age of the Internet (Sociology and Social Change) – Cavanagh
  • The Social Net: Human behavior in cyberspace – Amichai-Hamburger

Written by el3e09 on February 20th, 2010

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