Policy, Politics, and the Local Internet
The Communication Review, Volume 6, Number 3 (2003)
This is a web page about the special issue of the Communication Review that I edited in 2003. The idea for issue came from a one-day workshop I convened at Oxford University last year called: Ethnographies of the Internet: Grounding Regulation in Lived Experience.
From this page:
Christian Sandvig, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (more info)
Today, those who hope to transform society have a wide range of technologies at their disposal, not least the Internet. Yet some time ago, Thomas More set out to transform society using only an egg incubator ...
Read the full essay in PDF (link to draft version).
Dawn Nafus, University of Cambridge (now, Essex; more info)
Abstract: This article proposes that the metaphors with which people imagine the Internet are more central to its political constitution than might at first be supposed. Instead of focusing on discourses of whether the Internet is a progressive force, a capitalist or anticapitalist space, digital commons or artifact of controlled interests, this article shows that metaphors of social relations themselves frame the politicization of the Internet. The way social actors are conceptualized in turn informs the senses in which a technology could be considered an object of political constitution, and the senses in which policy is a relevant mode of social engagement. An ethnographic account of uses of the Internet in St. Petersburg, Russia is presented with a view to framing Western metaphors of sociality.
Philip N. Howard, University of Washington (more info)
Abstract: Campaigns are complex exercises in the creation, transmission, and mutation of significant political symbols. However, there are important differences between political communication through new media and political communication through traditional media. I argue that the most interesting change in patterns of political communication is in the way political culture is produced, not in the way it is consumed. These changes are presented through the findings from systematic ethnographies of two organizations devoted to digitizing the social contract. DataBank.com is a private data mining company that used to offer its services to wealthier campaigns, but can now sell data to the smallest nascent grassroots movements and individuals. Astroturf-Lobby.org is a political action committee that helps lobbyists seek legislative relief to grievances by helping these groups find and mobilize their sympathetic publics. I analyze the range of new media tools for producing political culture, and with this ethnographic evidence build two theories about the role of new media in advanced democracies-a theory of thin citizenship and a theory about data shadows as a means of political representation.
Cherian George, National University of Singapore (more info)
Abstract: The Internet has become a medium for contentious political journalism in Malaysia and Singapore, two countries known for their enthusiastic adoption of information technologies as well as their illiberal controls on political expression. These alternative sites inhabit a regulatory gap within an otherwise closed media system. Internet laws in these two settings provide a degree of freedom that is significantly greater than experienced in print and broadcast media. This article tries to explain this anomaly. It argues that the Internet’s perceived economic value dominated the authorities’ policy formulation, subordinating the goal of political control that historically shaped media policy. When dealing with print and broadcast media, the authorities had been able to tailor their political interventions narrowly, such that these actions did not smother their economic priorities. In contrast, the Internet was not as amenable to narrow tailoring. The two governments decided to tolerate a lesser degree of political control than that to which they were accustomed. While the governments maintained the prerogative to mete out after-the-fact punishments against any offending Internet publication, they were less capable of imposing prior restraints or encouraging self-censorship-their more routine forms of media control. It is not argued that the resulting advantage for radical journalism was either absolute or permanent, only that it presented a sufficiently attractive opportunity for action.
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