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Internet Governance in Transition: Who is the Master of This Domain?

Author: Daniel Paré
Publisher: Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield, 2003
Review Published: November 2003

 REVIEW 1: John W. Campbell
 REVIEW 2: Arthur L. Morin

Daniel J. Paré's Internet Governance in Transition focuses specifically on governance of the domain name system. He undertakes two descriptive case studies: a political history of ICANN (the international system) and a political history of Nominet UK. One conclusion that Paré reaches is that ICANN's legitimacy is problematic while Nominet UK's legitimacy is not. Paré's most important point, however, is that the structure and function of cyberspace is not simply a matter of technology: "just as the process of legislative review conditions the extent to which an emergent statute represents the initial aims of law makers, the emergent regulatory architectures of cyberspace are conditioned by the outcomes of the interactions between purposeful social actors" (170).

Paré is associated with the London School of Economics and Political Science as "a research fellow in Media@LSE" (from the back cover of the book). His methodology is rooted in political science. He is concerned about "interest mediation" (2), uses a social constructivist approach (4), and addresses his topic through a power relations perspective (60). His methodology is further nuanced by his distinctions between "surface tier" politics: everyday politics, so to speak (60); "deep structure" politics, which include the tactics of (he calls them "games") naturalization, neutralization, invocation, and socialization (61); and "metastructure . . . the internetworking architecture itself" (62). An awareness of underlying values that shape technology use also informs his work, as does an awareness of David Easton's (1965a; 1965b) concern about "the authoritative allocation of values" (59).

The degree to which Paré thinks of technology as part of the governance architecture, as opposed to its subject, is not explicated. Paré sees a dynamic relation between the governance architecture and the socio-political architecture, a relation that includes politics-as-process. According to the author, others whose work is relevant to the study of cyberspace governance have not adequately appreciated "the importance of sociopolitical dynamics in influencing emergent policies and institutions that comprise a significant dimension of the architectural configurations [of the Internet]" (158). Paré uses his complex methodology to help the reader understand that governance of the Internet is an emergent phenomenon that unfolds as a consequence of the interaction and relation between a number of factors.

This leads to two separate questions: which views are seen as insufficient and what factors play a role in shaping governance of the Internet? Let us turn first to the question of which views he rejects. These views fall in three categories. The first, as represented in scholars like William Foster, Mark Gould, John Mathiason, and Charles Kuhlman, is rooted in the "commons school of thought" which prefers governance through hierarchy (3). The second, in which Paré includes the work of Sharon Gillet, Mitchell Kapor, Milton Mueller, and Anthony Rutkowski, is rooted in the "decentralized school of thought" (3), which leans toward laissez faire (grounded in property rights) as governance. The third, as evident in the work of David Post, David Johnson & Post, Joel Reidenbert, James Boyle, and Lessig, is composed of "process-oriented approaches" (3). According to Paré, some of these are ideologically tainted; some are prescriptive rather than descriptive; and all fail to adequately account for how politics plays a role in the emergence of internet policy.

Well, then, what are the factors that shape this emergent process? Paré does not explicitly enumerate them as such, but they would include technology, the number and variety of interests involved in shaping the governance process, the personality and capacities (not just technical capacity) of individuals who play a role, the types and quantity of demands on the technical system, and the underlying values that defined the early use of the technical system. One factor not explicitly considered, but that may have partially explained the different paths the two DNSs took, is the larger socio-political culture. The importance of the factor can be illustrated by a question: In the U.K., was there something like a consensus culture that had the effect of minimizing conflict and emphasizing consensus -- whereas in the USA there was an adversarial culture that colored the dynamics of the process leading to ICANN? The question seems at least worth considering.

I can think of two reasons why Paré did not provide a formalistic explication or a formalized model. First, he may still be in the beginning stages of formalizing his model. If so, then the book would serve two purposes: to help him more fully articulate a more formal model while also increasing our understanding of the technology governance process. Second, and contrarily, he does not want to adopt a more formalized approach but does want to explicate the political nature of "internet governance" (perhaps in order to avoid the "hammer-nail" problem: once one has a hammer, every problem becomes a nail). There could, of course, be some other reason of which I am not aware, so I should hasten to say that neither of the two reasons should be ascribed to Paré.

Paré's methodology is useful and his conclusion is instructive. Some readers may wonder whether an international system is comparable to a national system. At least two points can be made in defense of Paré's comparison: one, the focus is on narrowly defined technological systems (e.g., DNS), which increases their similarity; and two, if we expect an international system to yield different results than a national system, then we have conceded Paré's conclusion. Some readers (me, for example) may also complain that it is difficult to tell when someone is "playing" surface politics as opposed to deep structure politics. Surface-level politics can lead to deep-structure changes (the reverse is theoretically also possible) -- so even the outcome cannot tell us for sure which "game" is being played. And perhaps it's not important to try to determine whether in fact one type of game, or another, is being played -- except as a tutor for the way in which the game of politics can be played.

If deep-structure changes means that we end up with one particular architecture rather than another, then we also have to conclude that technology may not be the determinant factor shaping the emergence of a particular regulatory architecture where technology or the use of technology seems to be the focus. As Donna Haraway (1997, p. 89) points out: "The power to define what counts as technical or as political is very much at the heart of technoscience." As a consequence of Paré's book, readers should at least be skeptical of anyone who privileges a particular technological fix [1] . We should, as would Haraway, wonder who's getting the better end of the deal -- and who really writes the check. Given the increasingly important role that technology will play, the answer is bound to have significant implications for a free society and for the practical functioning of democracy.

1. The larger question is the degree to which technology is a determinant factor in any system or situation in which technology seems to be the driving concern. Fountain’s (2001) study of "technology enactment" helps us understand that technology adoption is not simply a technical question. This was also borne out by earlier work done by Kraemer, Dutton, and Northrop (1981) and Danziger and Kraemer (1986). Even the use of quantitative models can be influenced by nontechnical concerns (Kraemer et al, 1987).

James N. Danziger and Kenneth L. Kraemer. 1986. People and Computers: The Impacts of Computing on End Users in Organizations. New York: Columbia University Press.

David Easton. 1965a. A Framework for Political Analysis. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.

___. 1965b. A Systems Analysis of Political Life. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Jane E. Fountain. 2001. Building the Virtual State: Information Technology and Institutional Change. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution.

Donna J. Haraway. 1997. Modest_Witness@Second_
Millenium.FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouseTM: Feminism and Technoscience. New York and London: Routledge.

Kenneth L. Kraemer, Siegfried Dickhoven, Susan Fallows Tierney, and John Leslie King. 1987. Datawars: The Politics of Modeling in Federal Policymaking. New York: Columbia University Press.

Kenneth L. Kraemer, William H. Dutton, and Alana Northrop.1981. The Management of Information Systems. New York and Guildford, Surrey: Columbia University Press.

Arthur L. Morin:
Arthur L. Morin is Director of the Master of Liberal Studies Program and Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and Justice Studies, Fort Hays State University. He reviewed The Future of Ideas, The Ontology of Cyberspace, and The Internet Edge for RCCS.  <amorin@fhsu.edu>

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