Sunday, March 14, 2010

study notes for The Governance of Cyberspace ed Loader

The Governance of Cyberspace; Politics, Technology and Global Restructuring ed. Brian D. Loader (1997)

Information and communication technology are the core of the restructuring of advanced capitalism. The internet is the manifestation. Loader's concern is how the 'cyberspace' made possible by the internet and underlying advances in ICT changes modernist governance, economically, politically and culturally.

What is cyberspace? Outline of William Gibson's vision in Neuromancer (via Barlow) whose original pessimistic visions of commodification and control was leavened with space for individuality and democracy that are closer to our current concerns. Utopian or dystopian?

Contributing to the development of 'cyberspace' are groups described by Loader as cyber-libertarians, like Barlow, international commercial interests (ICT, media, porn etc), and cyber-enthusiasts like Rheingold. Sterling's 'electronic frontier' (1994) to an alternative virtual reality expects a qualitative difference to the real reality for our social space, which leads the cyberlibertarians to equate freedom with progress and social trumps political in a rather modernist manner like the settling of the 'wild west'.

In this utopian vision, politics and commerce are individually anarchically negotiated to the benefit of all and explicitly independent of the nation state (Barlow's 'declaration of the independence of cyberspace'). Loader finds the mystical rhetoric surrounding the internet is muddying the waters as prophesy is confused with analysis of current behavioural practise. Is the internet being used for the benefit of humanity? What about spam and porn. Is the internet open to all? What about the digital divide. Who owns which bits?

Loader proposes dissecting cyberspace into usages or technologies as sharing TCP/IP alone does not make a common space. Will cyberspace colonise and homogenise global culture? What about the privileging of English language US .com ownership. Perhaps the internet is the apparatus of the post-industrial state. The most rapidly growing multinational corporations (MNCs) 'are the very computer and software companies responsible for driving the visions of the information age'. (Loader).

Loader points out the development of internet funded by military, educational and commercial corporations and agencies and is still indirectly funded by govt and in many ways connected to the bodies it supposedly frees us from. In conclusion, this is not to say that the internet is not challenging traditional models of governance simply that cyberspace is not separate or alternative to the real space. Not a utopian or dystopian construct by ICTs but their response to economic, political and social drivers.

PostModernity, Identity and Governmentality

Most theorists are linking post-industrial society and postmodern cultural theory. David Harvey considers 'the condition of postmodernity' (1989) a social account of structural change. Mark Poster's 'second media age' synergises postmodern culture with wider political, economic and social change seen through the mediation of ICTs. (1995a, 1995b). Loader summarises key concepts in postmodernism 'to consider the idea that cyberspace is in some sense a manifestation of the post-modern world: a domain where post-modern cultural theories fuse with the post-industrial information society thesis'. (1997)

Little narratives, fragmentation and pluralism in cyberspace.

Social critic and 'high priest of postmodernity', Jean-Francois Lyotard foregrounds 'the knowledge society' in 1984. Knowledge becomes a commodity through the use of ICTs and at the same time our cultural is losing the 'grand' or 'meta-narratives' of modernity. Universal progress through rationality towards social advancement is replaced by postmodern 'little narratives'.

Postmodernists and cyberenthusiasts find the communications of cyberspace a good fit for a fragmented, pluralist and ephemeral society which evades older power relations and social bonds. Is a new society emerging, not based on socio-economic grouping, hierarchical power relations or geographic location? Loader suggests that communication does not equal political participation and that the internet appears full of 'the sound-bite politics which epitomises the commodification of political discourse rather than informed political dialogue. In a postmodern world where information and knowledge are said to be power, this is surely not without significance.'

The rise of the global and local, and fall of the nation-state.

National, financial and cultural boundaries, which were intrinsic to modernism, have been weakened through ICT networks like the internet. The traditional functions of the modern state, external defence, internal surveillance and the maintenance of citizenship rights, have been eroded (Crook 1992). New formulations of governance at local level are expressed by enhanced participation and economic regeneration contiguous with re-emergence of local cultural identity. Nation-states are under threat from urban communities, 'the rise of electronic cities such as Singapore, Tokyo, London or New York (Sassen 1991) could be regarded as a significant reconfiguration of international, political and economic relations'.

'Hyperreality' and virtual reality.

Baudrillard's exposition of 'hyperreality' (1988) contends that technologies are creating a new electronic reality, an entirely new social environment. However, his is a dystopic vision, in which media communication technologies conceal reality 'behind a veil of signs, images and symbols which constitute processes of commodification, propaganda and advertising'.

Classic examples of Baudrillard's 'hyperreality' are Disneyland and Las Vegas, where copy and fabrication have become reality. Cyberspace is seen as an extension of 'hyperreality', where time, place and individual identity are separated from modernist reality and can become fabricated at will. Virtual reality technology is held out as a promise for the future. (I contend MMORPGs are now at that visionary place as VR technology continues to evade fulfilment). Virtual empowerment may allow escape from gender (Haraway 1985), race, class or physical disability, however living in a fantasy world risks becoming psychotic, 'it is the continuity of grounded identity that underpins and underwrites moral obligation and commitment' (Robins 1995). Baudrillard's analysis suggests that the governance of cyberspace is bound up in the creation and maintenance of metaphors, icons and symbols.

Government and Identification

Although technically a post-structuralist rather than a postmodernist, Foucault's work on 'governmentality' analyses the power relations between state and individual in modern society and is seminal in understanding technologies of control and surveillance. Foucault studies the 18th century development of nation-states, the rise of capitalism and population increases. He compares sovereignty's ruling for ruling's sake with government's mandate being the welfare of the population and improvement of its condition, 'and the means that the government uses to attain these ends are themselves all in some sense immanent to the population' (Foucault 1991).

Governmentality allows the subsumation of individual needs in the common interest. Its power is the synergy of satisfying the individual (or group) while policing and regulating them to strengthen governance. Governmentality is not centralised state control or coercion, rather an everyday form of power which celebrates the individual yet by doing so imposes truths and consequences. Loader continues, “This internalisation of individual identity according to external classifications implies that governmentality can also involve manipulation of the subject.”

So, in pursuit of economic prosperity, the individual colludes with the state through confession, identification, classification and regulation. With this background, cyberspace clearly has liberating potential! Individuals may free themselves from subjugated identities and nation states therefore seem threatened. However, Foucault differs from cyberlibertarians by asserting that 'power is a precondition for freedom rather than a barrier to its attainment'.

“Power is exercised only over free subjects, and only insofar as they are free. By this we mean individual or collective subjects who are faced with a field of possibilities in which several ways of behaving, several reactions and diverse compartments may be realized.” (1982)

Loader asserts that cyberspace is not a new society but only new communications (with the same grounding as any other reality) but that governments may need to adjust policing and regulation in response. A response that is defended on the grounds of security, commerce and law enforcement. Loader sees a continuation of governmentality in cyberspace, 'power relationships based upon public compliance and subject identity will continue to play an important part in human interaction'. We will voluntarily surrender some privacy and autonomy in exchange for quality of life.

Exploring the Debate Further

The remaining chapters clarify the concept cyberspace to provide a critical framework for the considerations of governance which follow.

*This is pertinent to the current Australian situation as well as useful for my Masters subject Internet & Governance ARIN6902
*please note, this summary is my study notes and therefore not properly cited, however I have tried to keep names and dates in place. If you want more info go straight to the real thing!

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