Shaping the Network Society: The New Role of Civil Society in Cyberspace
Editor: Douglas Schuler, Peter Day
Publisher: Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004
Review Published: July 2005
We wanted to thank David Silver for managing this important resource and for soliciting multiple reviews for Shaping the Network Society. We also wanted to thank the three reviewers for taking the time to read the book and contribute their thoughts. Since our intention has been to open up the debate it's exciting to see the ideas from the book being raised in this public way. Also, we were of course gratified that all three reviewers supported the idea of a stronger role for "ordinary" people in shaping the Internet and other information and communication systems. Unfortunately we feel that this subject is rarely addressed. This point was brought home by Frank Webster in his review of our book in the European Journal of Communication (2005; 20: 271-274): "It astonishes that so little like it has been published in earlier decades given the huge numbers of academic researchers working on cognate subjects." Therefore we appeal to our reviewers, the readers of this online resource, future readers of our book -- and everybody else -- to focus more attention to the perspective of active and genuine engagement with ICT development, policy and use.
Given the very short time span within which we could craft a reply to these reviews, we are resorting to what may have been the right thing to do even if had had adequate time to prepare a longer reply -- write a short one! Following this line of reasoning our general reaction is that the reviewers provided useful and thoughtful analyses and -- as we said above -- we hope that the readers of the reviews take the ideas seriously and explore their implications with writing and thinking, policy work, and actual community practice -- i.e. developing real systems and working with real people.
In slight variance with our plans above, we do feel that some response to Andrew Schroeder's comments is necessary. The first thing is to acknowledge the importance of his comment regarding the necessity of being "skeptical about the sufficiency of this book's theoretical framework." We are the first to agree that our analysis is not the ultimate vision of how people ought to think and act in relation to evolution of ICT in society (which we've been calling "the network society"). We also agree for the most part that the "visions and diagnoses" in our book are "not radical enough to get to the roots of our problems." One of our main objectives in writing the book was to be helpful in the short term; we wanted to show what people are actually doing and provide some useful ways of thinking about issues and in so doing stimulate dialogues that consider alternative pathways to shaping the network society. We don't believe we have solved any of these issues through the introduction of a definitive and exhaustive framework. Indeed we are both skeptical that such a single framework exists and, if it did, whether it would be adopted -- or even understood -- by most people. (Although we encourage people to work on frameworks and other ways to intellectually describe what we should be doing or how we should think about our circumstances.) Our belief is that, at least to some degree, we must work with what we have and try to make the right choices given the choices that we have. Our feeling is, and Schroeder may disagree, that raising these issues in ways that are plausible and thoughtful, is even "radical" given the general lack of attention to work being done in this area.
Although we admit to some broad "shortcomings" that Schroeder points out, there are others that we disavow. While it may be true that we too crudely divided our "discourse into an empirically false and non-dialectical binary division between 'good' NGOs versus 'bad' transnational corporations," our basic response is that business and government do control much of the development of the Internet and other communication and information systems -- it is true that "rich people have the money." It is also true that a tremendous number of NGOs are working for human rights, peace, and other ameliorative social goals that deserve our support. Also, we believe that the work in the book does "proceed from actual social complexities and not from an abstract preference for the little guys versus the big corporations."
Finally, we are both interested in ideas that advance the idea of "democratically re-engineering the infrastructural conditions of the Internet itself, at the level of the code, technological capital investment, and the uneven distribution of the underlying hardware." The idea is fascinating and could be ultimately become a useful complement for work that focuses on what could be done now -- or soon -- with the resources that we have now -- or could obtain in the near-term.
In the last analysis, we are all living in the "real world" -- whatever that is! -- and real people can -- and should -- play a role in "shaping" their future.
-- Doug Schuler and Peter Day
Doug and Peter also co-edited a book entitled Community Practice in the Network Society (Routledge, 2004) that contains case studies and other investigations of the role of people in developing appropriate ICT.
Doug will be teaching a year-long program on "Global Citizenship" at The Evergreen State College starting in the fall of 2005. He is currently writing a book for MIT Press based on a new "pattern language" for information and communication. He is also working on the concept of "civic intelligence" as a framework for understanding and promoting the collective intelligence and action of people towards social goals.
Peter is currently coordinating the next "Directions and Implications of Advanced Computing" symposium, the same symposium series that spawned the Shaping the Network Society book reviewed above. The workshop is tentatively scheduled for September, 2006 in Brighton, England. He is also the principle investigator of "Community Network Analysis and ICTs: Bridging and Building Community Ties" -- an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded participatory research project in Brighton & Hove, UK.
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