Virtual Communities, Real Struggles: Seeking Alternatives for Democratic Networking

Virtual Communities, Real Struggles: Seeking Alternatives for Democratic Networking

Francois Fortier (Independent Researcher, The Netherlands)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-878289-69-8.ch021
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Abstract

There is a technology that was said to have the “power to disband armies, to cashier presidents, to create a whole new democratic world — democratic in ways never before imagined, even in America” (From Daniel Boorstin’s The Republic of Technology, cited in Winner, 1996, p.20). This technology was none other than television, whose potential for low-density mental reformatting is today more widely recognised than its affinity with democracy — in America as elsewhere. In fact, “Dreams of instant liberation from centralised social control have accompanied virtually every important new technological system introduced during the past century and a half” (Winner, 1986, pp.95-96). Collective memory is short, and information and communication technologies (ICTs) are now on the leading float of the technophile carnival. For many, the new technological artefacts promise to end the alienation of labour and industrial apocalypse, to leapfrog the so-called Third World into post-industrial informationalism, and to cast the foundations of slave-less, gender-balanced Athenian democracy (see notably Cairncross, 1997; Burton, 1997; Negroponte, 1995; Bissio, 1996; Annis, 1991; Lipnack and Stamps, 1986). Yet, beyond the hype of the so-called Information Revolution, ICTs are having other implications, more tuned to neo-liberal substance than classical utopia. Those implications call for a critical political economic analysis and precocious system planning and deployment. On the one hand, this chapter compares the overall political impact of the technology in relation to the immediate advantages it is said to confer. On the other hand, the analysis shows that the development and implementation of ICTs, far from serving democracy, does in fact consolidate social injustice through ideological homogenisation, restrictive controls, and an enhanced capacity for surveillance. In search of alternatives, the last section of the chapter focuses on the technological conditions and political strategies through which information systems could be more relevant to progressive social forces and grassroots emancipation.2 A matrix of relevant political issues is proposed in an effort to construct strategies of progressive community networking.

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