A Working Theoretical Blueprint for the Internet and Democracy Project

Last week my fellow research assistant, Josh Goldstein, and I had the opportunity to chat with Yochai Benkler about the Internet and Democracy Project.

In addition to being a Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard Law School and Faculty co-Director at the Berkman Center, Prof. Benkler is also the author of the influential book The Wealth of Networks, which discusses the new nonmarket collaborative political economy that the Internet makes possible.

During the conversation, Prof. Benkler drew a rough outline of the ways in which he thinks that the Internet influences democracy. I am reproducing those categories below in the hopes that they will serve as a starting point for continued debate and refinement. Developing a theoretical framework for how the Internet influences democracy is one of the goals of the Internet and Democracy Project.

I am reproducing the categories as they appeared on the white board. If anything is unclear, please ask a question in the comments section.

1. Pipeline
censorship

2. Public Sphere
deliberation
diverse sources
agenda-setting
semiotic/cultural democracy

3. Transparency/Accountability
watchdog
distributed ombudsmen

4. Participation in Government

formal
town halls
rule-making

5. Political Organizing

Orange Revolution
MoveOn

6. Something New
new type of political behavior made possible by the Internet
effective distributed action

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Posted in Ideas. 3 Comments »

3 Responses to “A Working Theoretical Blueprint for the Internet and Democracy Project”

  1. Alfred J. Fortin Says:

    A major category on the white board, it seems to me, would be the impact of the private market on both the internet and democracy. Christine Harold’s “Our Space” cuts interesting ground here. Another white board item could be international differences in the use of the internet, for example by NGOs in the developing and the democratiizing impact of blogs etc.

  2. marycjoyce Says:

    The structure we have created for looking at the connection between the Internet and Democracy are “pathways” through which the Internet affects democracy. We are looking at how the former influences the latter, not how third factors affect both.

    It would seem that private market influence falls into this “third factor” category. If we use the pathway model, we could argue that private markets have effected the Internet, then we must ask ourselves how this market-generated change in the Internet influences democracy. Is it new wealth and new political actors? That would fall into the organizing or participation category.

    Also, I would say that international difference would be part of the context within which we evaluate each category. Clearly the Internet influences democracy in different ways under different political regimes. We have seen that the Internet has not yet been successful in overthrowing authoritarian regimes (Iran, China, etc.). This means that we need to expect different democratizing effects of the Internet in different political contexts.

  3. Alfred J. Fortin Says:

    One could argue that the internet cannot be separated from the market, that it is a form of enterprise inextricable from contemporary capitalism. Another, and maybe too vexing a context would be (forgive me please) to “deconstruct” the internet beyond its obvious technologies in order to foreground the values, politics, culture, generational aspirations — in other words, the semiotic baggage embedded in the meanings it deploys. How did this driving power get contructed historically, and what political interests does it serve.