What Does E- add to Democracy?: Designing an Agenda for Democracy Theory in the Information Age

What Does E- add to Democracy?: Designing an Agenda for Democracy Theory in the Information Age

Patricia Mindus (Uppsala University, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9461-3.ch073
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Technologies carry politics since they embed values. It is therefore surprising that mainstream political and legal theory have taken the issue so lightly. Compared to what has been going on over the past few decades in the other branches of practical thought, namely ethics, economics, and the law, political theory lags behind. Yet the current emphasis on Internet politics that polarizes the apologists holding the Web to overcome the one-to-many architecture of opinion building in traditional representative democracy, and the critics who warn that cyber-optimism entails authoritarian technocracy has acted as a wake up call. This chapter sets the problem, “What is it about ICTs, as opposed to previous technical devices, that impact on politics and determine uncertainty about democratic matters?,” into the broad context of practical philosophy by offering a conceptual map of clusters of micro-problems and concrete examples relating to “e-democracy.” The point is to highlight when and why the hyphen of e-democracy has a conjunctive or a disjunctive function in respect to stocktaking from past experiences and settled democratic theories. The chapter's claim is that there is considerable scope to analyse how and why online politics fail or succeed. The field needs both further empirical and theoretical work.
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First, a word on democracy as a form of government is needed. It has over the ages been associated with a variety of adjectives: direct, representative, procedural, formal, substantial, social, liberal, constitutional, epistemic, deliberative, participative… and last but not least “real.” The conceptual typologies of democratic regimes (parliamentary/presidential, bi- and multipartisan, coalescent, consociated, concordant, populist, plebiscitarian, polyarchic etc.) also span over a vast amount of different organisations, just like the broad variety of historical experiences associated with it, does. Some even go as far as to claim that we are dealing with an “essentially contested concept” (Crick, 2002). There is, however, reason to believe this is not so, and the 20th century tradition of though in theory of democracy offers some evidence in that direction (Kelsen, 1929-2000; Dahl, 1956; Bobbio, 1984-1987; Sartori, 1987).

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