reformatting politics / notes

In the Introduction of Reformatting Politics: Information Technology and Global Civil Society, Jodi Dean, Jon W. Anderson and Geert Lovink (CRC Press, 2006) argue about the ‘postdemocratic governmentality of network societies’ that is evident in the connections between civil society organisations (CSOs) and networked ICTs (namely the internet, mobile phones, satellite radio and television). The main question that guides the volume is ‘how are activists and new technologies transforming each other and the global space in which they interact’, in other words they are interested in the impact of the use of ICTs on contemporary politics and power balance.

Their main argument is that ICTs enable affiliations and engagement that do not fit the democratic imaginary (they exceed it) and that a new set of values needs to be used when speaking about network societies and politics. Networks reformat politics because the old concepts associated with democracy, and essentially the nation state, namely accountability, representation, constituency and legitimacy, are replaced by the notions of:

  • subsidiarity: the EU basic principle (Maastricht Treaty) of taking decisions at the lowest possible level – citizen
  • ‘multistakeholderism’: as a critique of the welfare state – breaks large constituencies around specific gov progs into isolatable ‘stakeholders’- provides CSOs with practical attainable goals and expertise that the org supplies. Constituency politics not meaningful.
  • expertise : fin and tech knowledge, knowledge of procedures, rules, practices, language, ideals, principles of gov/pri funders (no more representation on basis of identity, but on basis of agendas, relationships, activities and issues)
  • reputation management (rather than legitimacy)

Talking about ‘global civil societies’ cannot be merely an extension of the political topography of the nation state, it needs to  be informed by concepts of tech migration, informational mobility, reflexivity, mutable assemblages and contingent effects (see eg. Hardt and Negri 2000).

The levels of the argument thus are (how are politics reformatted by networks? — network communications are not tools for participation, this is not  a technological deterministic account, neither a celebration of the internet as information superhighway that makes democratic participation possible, it is rather a disruption of the western european image of democracy)

(1) networks ARE the social morphology of the information age (2) networks are materially based on networked communications, eg. the internet (3) network communications introduce new ways of relating–> (4) networks operate in flat mode – indirection: distribution of responsibility across different levels. networks are hybrid, mobile, reflexive, performative (5) democratic values shift (6) appeals and politics, governance needs to take account of this new social morphology

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