Internet Politics: States, Citizens and New Communication Technologies
Author: Andrew Chadwick
Publisher: New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006
Review Published: December 2006
First, I would like to thank Viviane Serfaty for composing a finely considered and balanced review of Internet Politics. It does an excellent job of describing the book's contents, has an appreciation of what I was trying to achieve, and engages critically with my overall approach.
Let me use this opportunity to try to expand briefly on my aim in writing the book and to respond to one or two of the more critical points made in the review.
The book is not a traditional introductory textbook, but was designed to be accessible and wide-ranging while also advancing its own arguments. My aim was to create a work that combines illustrative examples from contemporary political life with a comprehensive analysis of the burgeoning scholarly literature about the Internet and politics, broadly defined. I often tend to add the phrase 'broadly defined' to sentences like that, mainly because I believe that the best research on political aspects of the Internet comes, not from the sole discipline of political science, but from various disciplines, including communication, sociology, economics, information science, management and organization studies, to name but a few.
This leads to my first point. It is a little harsh to say that the book disregards the 'social practices' that shape political aspects of Internet use and policy. There are many examples of where this occurs. As I indicate at the start of chapter five, "Community, Participation and Deliberation: E-Democracy," the purpose there is to investigate how the Internet interacts with the social foundations of citizenship, or what happens 'before' individuals choose to become involved in interest groups, social movements, and political parties or interact with government agencies. It seems inevitable, for example, that questions of civil society and social capital should feature prominently in any consideration of e-democracy, and they do so in that chapter. There are other examples, such as the chapter on "Surveillance, Privacy and Security" which draws upon insights from social theory to organize the material, or the chapter on mobilization, which draws upon social movement literature and sociological theories of individual behaviour, networks and collective action.
That said, in the amorphous environment of scholarly research on the Internet, I do believe that there are benefits to be gained from coming back to some of the perennial concerns of one's particular discipline. I acknowledge that the sociocultural aspects of the Internet, such as personal identity, gaming cultures, and so on, are much less prominent in Internet Politics than the institutional and policy related aspects. But it occurred to me that there was a real need for a book that integrated the vast amount of material on the interaction between the Internet and politics and which did so from the perspective of a political scientist; one who believes in interdisciplinarity when it illuminates phenomena that political science does not, or cannot, explain. And, as I hope the book and the accompanying website demonstrate, there are plenty of those phenomena around.
My final point stems from this. The review highlights the book's general assumption that technologies have inherent political properties but their use needs to be situated within political contexts. There is a suggestion that this is inadequate as an 'all-encompassing theory.' To clarify, my aim in formulating the approach was not to create such a grand theory, merely to suggest a useful basic framework for interrogating what is interesting about the relationship between digital network technologies and political life. I argue that some characteristics of Internet technologies may be encoded with specific values and encourage specific uses, but we must also turn to the appropriate contexts to see how values are constructed, reconstructed, and contested by different actors and interests, and how uses are adopted, adapted or, in some cases, entirely subverted. It is essentially a circular model that can incorporate tensions and contradictions. As I write in the conclusion, this helps in a field characterized by undertainty, paradox, overstatement, and understatement. This fluidity is what makes it a fascinating area of study. If anything, the explosion of social scientific research about the Internet over the last few years has only complicated matters still further. In the end, it is the deeply contradictory nature of Internet politics that defines it as a subject.
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