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date: 09 April 2020

(p. 337) Introduction

(p. 337) Introduction

In this part, the contributors focus on the power of the media and communications as institutions, the potential of new technologies to empower and disempower, and the way ICTs influence governance arrangements and democratic practices. They consider both older forms of ICTs and the new digital media, and the circumstances in which these technologies can be mobilized to enhance democratic participation, to enable new social movements, and to influence the distribution of power in public and private domains. The role of e‐government is examined as well as the spread of ICTs and their implications for privacy and security.

Saskia Sassen critiques the notion that social forms are becoming inherently distributive because of the technical capacities of electronic networks such as the Internet. In Chapter 14, she distinguishes the technical capacities of digital networks from complex socio‐digital formations, arguing that many factors can shape network outcomes. She examines financial and activist networks to draw out the different ways in which decentralized access, simultaneity, and interconnectivity influence their outcomes, and evaluates their implications for governance and for democratic participation.

In Chapter 15, Stephen Coleman argues for the essential need to assess the ways in which new media technologies can support the norms and practices of political communication. He suggests that if the spread of information and unrestricted communication between citizens is to be encouraged as a foundation of democratic practice, much greater attention needs to be given to assumptions about how citizens and political leaders interact with ICTs. He reviews early ‘teledemocracy’ experiments and evaluates the Internet as a public communication network that has the potential to influence changes in the functions of political leadership, government organization, and political parties.

Nick Couldry in Chapter 16 suggests that all citizens require a share of a society's communicative resources if they are to participate effectively in the democratic process, and considers what form such resources should take. Arguing that ‘digital divide’ debates have pushed this issue to the centre of policy discussions he assesses what policies might be needed to achieve improved distributive equity with respect to these resources. His review of the literature provides an insight into how the communicative preconditions of democracy might be understood in the light of the growing use of ICTs. He makes the case for government intervention to ensure that all citizens acquire communicative capabilities as a means of stemming otherwise declining prospects for political engagement.

In Chapter 17, Patrick Dunleavy exposes the polarized attitudes towards ICTs expressed in the literature on technology applications in the public sector, and in the public management and public administration literatures. These range from (p. 338) those who regard technology as transformational, and beneficial for all aspects of governance, to those who treat ICTs as a minor disturbance, which should be largely ignored. He offers an analysis of how ICTs are being introduced to support different approaches to e‐government. He argues that a more holistic vision of the way ICTs can be used to support the organization of government information is needed, accompanied by a better understanding of the implications of all these technologies, including web‐based services, for organizational change within government.

Charles Raab assesses whether privacy is conceivable in a world that is heavily dependent on the use of ICTs and the capacity to process enormous quantities of personal data. In Chapter 18 he discusses different approaches to information privacy including how governments and other organizations attempt to regulate personal data, and the practice of sharing data across organizational boundaries. He examines the implications of the safety and security political agenda and terrorism and counter‐terrorism measures in the light of interests in privacy protection.

In Chapter 19, David Lyon examines the social consequences of the ‘surveillance society’. He argues that ICTs are enabling the large‐scale collection and processing of personal details, which, for those involved in such activities, are offering new means of achieving influence and control. He suggests that the growth of surveillance needs to be considered in the light of basic political questions about social justice, and risk and freedom, since the availability of searchable databases that can be used to categorize and profile, can influence citizens' life chances positively or negatively.