Electronic Networks and Democracy, Vol. 11 - 2004, No. 1
An argument is presented here for a political structuration approach for the study of digital democracy. This argument attempts to demonstrate that political structuration can occur as users of CMC construct new forms of political interaction that produce new rules and resources for political communication. While such changes appear to occur mainly at micro levels of interaction, their cumulative effects are argued to be capable of initiating significant changes in social systems. When engaged in political structuration, citizens are more likely to increase their political efficacy as well as their active role in a democratic system. While researchers have not yet found any substantial causal links yet between CMC and political participation, it is theoretically possible to encourage such links by showing how specific political uses of communication technology can facilitate political agency.
In recent years much has been said about the possibility of the Internet facilitating and extending the public sphere of informal rational-critical communication between private affairs and official decision making. However, the abundant speculation has not yet been matched by extensive empirical research. Ongoing theoretical debate about the validity and content of the public sphere conception makes empirical evaluation difficult, as does the Internet’s constitution through a vast and dynamic array of human interactions, cultural contexts, and social institutions. Despite these difficulties, a number of pioneering studies have attempted to investigate the Net-public sphere relation. In this paper I offer a critical reflection upon some of these early studies, a reflection that explores three reoccurring methodological problems and their possible solutions, with the aim of providing strategies for developing more meaningful Net-public sphere research. These problems involve: developing a normative conception of the public sphere suitable for critical analysis; improving the transition between theory and empirical evaluation; and adequately explaining and extending findings. My suggested solutions include the specification of public sphere criteria from Habermas’ theory of communicative rationality; the identification of a variety of case sensitive indicators that can facilitate the transition between criteria and practice; and the suggestion that explanation and extension of findings be undertaken by way of comparative case study research.
In the past decades, books and articles have been published on the transition from industrial society to a new form of society - the information society. In this article information society theories are discussed with reference to the development of the Norwegian media and communication sector. Four indicators are examined: the value of information and communication production; employment in media and communication industries; consumption of media and communication goods and services, and the degree to which new technologies appear to alleviate traditional differences between classes and social groups. The overall objective of the article has been to shed light on information society theories using various economic indicators. The analysis demonstrates that changes are taking place within production, employment and consumption of media and communication. However, these changes are neither as fast nor as dramatic as some theories on the transition to the information society predict.
In many places e-voting technologies are under development, and an intensive theoretical and normative debate is taking place about the pros and cons. We investigate the opinions of the users of this type of technologies, as this is crucial for the shaping and acceptance of the technology. We did not use a survey, but held 14 intensive discussion sessions in different countries with voters and organisers of ballots, using the focus groups methodology. We found consensus that e-voting will not influence turnout. The motivation to start with e-voting therefore seems mainly financial, aiming at reducing costs. This suggests that in the future e-voting will replace traditional ways of voting, and therefore the digital divide can be expected to influence the participation in and the outcome of ballots. Finally, although most respondents expect that e-voting may improve (especially local) democracy through a combination of voting technologies with technologies for supporting deliberation and information dissemination, it remains unclear how this should be done. More detailed studies into political participation and the subtle roles of ICT’s herein are needed, as this can inform the design of adequate technologies for e-democracy.
This paper constitutes an exploration of use of the Internet for political purposes. The theoretical background is that of a critical approach to the theory of the public sphere and deliberative democracy. The substantive focus is on the political debate on immigration and asylum in the United Kingdom, and the empirical analysis is concerned with 45 activist organisations supporting immigrants and asylum seekers. The paper asks the following questions: Who do these websites primarily address? What type of information do they provide and to whom? Through focusing on the issues of addressees and communicative formats, this paper draws tentative conclusions regarding some of the political uses of the Internet. The findings indicate a variety of online communicative formats, including expressive, strategic and instrumental communications, with notable absence of any deliberation or dialogue. None of these conforms to the requirements for the functioning of the public sphere, but this paper argues that to discount them renders the theory oblivious to the political gains of the instrumental use of the Internet by activist groups. This, alongside the publicness of the Internet, suggests possible revisions to our understanding of the Internet’s role in politics.
This paper examines the issue of control of the Internet in China. We argue that the issue of control is more complex than most accounts concede. Control of a medium in China has to take into account competing interests among the political elite based in Beijing, competition between the major cities and Beijing for control of local resources and the resourcefulness of actual Internet users in China. The situation in China is compounded by the degree of scrutiny the Chinese Internet is subjected to by foreign analysts. To understand how the Internet operates in China we argue that it is imperative to look at the role of the political elites in formulating an enacting policy. Once this approach is adopted the Chinese Internet is placed in a broader context where Chinese regulations become subject to intense pressure from elites at the central and regional levels of government. From this perspective it becomes more appropriate to talk in terms of management rather than monolithic control.