|Paper Ari-Veikko Anttiroiko
UK-Nordic Meeting 15-16 April 1999
The UK-Nordic Initiative on Information and Communication Technologies is based on the initiative of the SSRCs of United Kingdom and Nordic countries with a view of addressing the relation between ICT and social sciences, i.e. to deal with the question whether the social sciences have developed adequate theories attending to social aspects of ICTs. The particular focus of UK-Nordic Co-operation is upon information and organisation, on the one hand, and power and democracy, on the other.
To deal with the question mentioned above is, in a sense, to seek a reorientation in the situation in which both the context and theories and methodologies of social sciences have changed during the last two decades and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. This development has at least three main sources. First of all, technological, economic, political, and societal developments have changed the 'research object' of social sciences, and they surely challenge a wide range of 'modern' concepts, models and theories. Indeed, the meanings and references of such concepts as 'society', 'social structure', 'interaction', 'democracy' etc. need to be redifined. For example, the radicalisation and intensification of technological mediation in an information society have pervasive influence on the social phenomenon known as the social science, and visa versa, theoretical knowledge and technology have contributed to the change in dynamics of the modern world, as presented in the classic studies by Drucker (1969) and Bell (1973), and in a more popularised way in Toffler (1976) and Naisbitt (1984).
Along with the changes in our 'material social relations' new developments in postmodern culture and more or less reflexive modernity have taken place, and affected people's ways of viewing and doing things. From a viewpoint of science studies the increased reflexivity and transparency, uses of ICTs, and new modes of interaction and communication, have had an impact on the internal dynamics of science in the making. The origin of this reflective view in science studies, a post-kuhnian revolution, may be traced back to the late 1960's, though its contributions became more sophisticated and well-known around the 1980's (see e.g. Laudan 1984; Latour 1988; and Woolgar 1988). One of the basic tenets was to see the science as a social phenomenon, though at the same time this new approach tried to avoid 'ontological gerrymandering' by refusing the simple return to the subject side of the continuum of 'tonal points'. Rather, entire fundamental criteria was to be reconsidered. One of the apparent consequence of this insight was expressed by Latour (1990) when he wrote that [t]he 'same' entity will be immanent and then transcendent, made and non-made, human made and discovered, freely decided and imposed upon us as a fatum. (Woolgar 1988, 11-13.) Now, at the turn of the century, it looks as if are witnessing a shift to the phase of a radicalisation of science in action. There are three dimensions of this transformation which are all gradually radicalising our cognitive horizons: postmodern mentality, cognitive globalisation, and virtual reality.
In addition to contextual transformations and changes in the internal aspects of a social science, science as an institution seems to be changing, too. Based on his sharp observations of the emerging discontinuities of the 1960's Peter Drucker in The Age of Discontinuity (1969, 326-327) concluded that existing faculties, departments and disciplines will not be appropriate for long because of the new role of knowledge. Moreover, all institutions should get rid of yesterday's practices, and the university is no exception. As to the role of universities, it may be correct to say that they still have a priviledged position as higher level educational institutions in society, but there are several indicators that show that this position is undermined many ways and under attack by several organisations and networks. There is an increased number of new nodes of reflexivity and know-how which are well resourced and operate successfully outside academia.
Figure 1. Social science in the context of social transformation.
Kühn and Hoff (1998) have presented an interesting background report concerning the relation between ICT and social science. They say that ICT has an immense impact on our lives, and emphasise the need to investigate the links between the theories of social science and the development of ICT. Their discussion implies that the social sciences have not developed adequate theories on this development. This is an important question which puzzles the entire scientific community, I assume. How much, in fact, do the "good old theories" and conceptions deserve appreciation from today's perspective. Are they just old books gathering dust on our shelves? It is understandable that such classics as Drucker (1969) and Bell (1973; 1976) do not have much to give in the late 1990's, but how about, let's say, the works of Alvin Gouldner (1976) or Eliot Freidson (1988), who seem to focus on "wrong things" if judged from the perspective of narrowly defined information society studies and its fashionable and attractive concepts? What is the fate of those social and cultural theories in which information or knowledge are dealt within a broader social theoretical framework of a disorganised capitalism, welfare state, risk society, modernity or postmodern culture (e.g. Beck 1992; Beck & Giddens & Lash 1994; Bryant & Jary 1991; Giddens 1986; 1992; Lash & Urry 1987; Luhmann 1990)? Indeed, how does the dilemma of postmodernity relate to our discussions on information society or the role of ICTs in society (see e.g. Best & Kellner 1991; Cahoone 1988; and Callinicos 1989)? Is this a change in which the safe realm of social structures, relations and institutions must be opened to the realities of technologically mediated social practices, and in which a new reflexivity is called for (Latour 1988; 1990)?
From this point of view such reviews as The Information Society. Economy, Social, and Structural Issues edited by Jerry L. Salvaggio (1989) as well as Frank Webster's Theories of the Information Society (1995) are interesting and valuable, though they leave this basic dilemma open. Related to UK-Nordic Co-operation, it was interesting to read Scott Lash's (1999) arguments on why he is willing to refer to contemporary times in terms of information society, rather than as postmodern society, risk society, or late capitalism. Be that as it may, what this all implies is that whether I focus on the IS development or ICT/social science relation on the basis of traditional theories and conceptions, there is something that does not fit into the picture, something that demands redefinition and reconsideration. I have no answers to this dilemma, but what follows here is my tentative attempt to provide some clarification of the plurality of aspects with reference to IS and ICTs. The main focus will be on power and democracy.
Three perspectives on social science in the information age
In order to avoid a 'balkanisation' of the social sciences, there is need to integrate ICT and other technologies into different spheres of social sciences. At a very general level it is to develop new conceptual and theoretical tools to understand the emerging society at least from three perspectives: our experiences and ways we construct our social practices; changes in living conditions and in the material aspects of social relations; and interrelatedness of the subjective and objective elements of social reality; e.g. transformations in the role of institutions.
In order to shed light on the relations between ICT, society and social science, I first trace some approaches to the information society. My discussion is inspired by a presentations given by Bruno Latour (1998) and the works of Manuel Castells (1989; 1996; 1997). I try to show how some basic dimensions of social existence match with the concept we use when discussing the information society.
My starting point is Castells' claim that our societies are organised around human processes structured by historically determined relationships of production, power and experience. Before going further, let me give here some short definitions of these concepts. Production is the action of humankind on matter to appropriate it and transform it for its benefit by obtaining a product, consuming part of it, and accumulating surplus for investment. These are organised in class relationships, and conducted according to a variety of socially determined goals. Experience is the action of human subjects on themselves, and also their understanding of themselves and each other. It is determined by the interaction between their biological and cultural identities, and in relationship to their social and natural environment. It is ultimately constructed around the endless search for fulfillment of human needs and desires. As to its basic tensions, suffice it to say that it is structured around gender/sexual relationship, historically organised around patriarchal family in most cultures. And the third category, power, can be defined as the relationship between human subjects which, on the basis of production and experience, imposes the will of some subjects upon other by the potential or actual use of physical or symbolic violence. It should be noted that institutions are built to enforce power relationships existing in each historical period. In modern societies power is founded upon the state and its institutionalised monopoly of violence. (Castells 1996, 15)
My idea is to conceptualise the emerging "information society" by using three different attributes - informational, digital, and virtual - which all express some aspects of social being and also of related technological mediation. Castells (1989; 1996) has emphasised in his analysis of informational society that we are facing a new trinity of production, power, and experience, in which networking is the main principle of social organisation, in which the global networks are dominant forces, and in which they mirror the change in the dynamics of society. These three realms are represented in the three perspectives described below. Informational society is ultimately about power, digital society is ultimately about production and transactions, and virtual society is more than anything about experience and social interaction.
When these perspectives of a society are combined, we have a framework which serves as a heuristic device in analysing how society, science and ICT relate to each other. The table below shows how this framework can be used when focusing on ICT and social science.
Table 1. Three approaches to society, science and ICT in the information age.
First category, informational society, is a social science perspective to the formation of information society. Many of these conceptualisations are based on theory constructions which have some structuralist aspirations. They emphasise the relation of subjective and objective elements of social reality, and are based on more traditional social theories, such as Marxist-inspired or rather post-Marxist theories (Castells, Harvey, Kellner etc.), more or less critical theories of modernity and/or postmodernity (Giddens, Habermas, Cahoone, Lash, Beck etc.), or theory of structuration (Giddens 1986; 1992; and Bryant & Jary 1991). In the same category we may place a range of macro theories of informationalism, post-industrial society and information society (see Webster 1995). One of the most important contributions since Bell, Touraine and other scholars in this field is Manuel Castells' analysis of the informational network society. It is the 'grand theory' of the information age par excellence, a kind of conflict theory which attempts to deal with the underlying social tension between the global network of instrumental exchanges (the Net) and social movements and historically and locally rooted identities (the Self). It is this opposition that characterises the emerging information age. (Castells 1985; 1989; 1996; 1997; 1998.) Such developments can be seen as an attempt to construct a new framework based on analytical resources developed in modern social theory and political economy.
Bruno Latour (1998) made a very interesting point as he tried to relativise the hype around virtuality by stating that "once you can get information as bores, bytes, modem, sockets, cables and so on, you have actually a more material way of looking at what happens in Society". He continues: "Virtual Society, thus, is not a thing of the future, it's the materialisation, the tracibility of Society." The more we rely on computer-mediated communication and interaction, the more material we become. Here the 'virtuality' changes into 'digitisation', so to speak. The more we are dependent on network infrastructure (ISDN, ATM etc.), cable networks (Copper, Coaxial, Fibre-to-the-home etc.), local area networks (Ethernet, Token Ring, High speed LANs etc.), WWW technologies, personal or network computers, and other equipment, the more traceable are our social interactions and transactions. This is a sophisticated way to address the core of a digital society. Usually the conceptions and descriptions within this framework are, however, much more technologically and commercially oriented, and pay less attention to the social consequences of the 'digitisation' of society.
An additional element in understanding the social aspects of ICT can be based on the category of experience. This is the world of new frontiers of virtual reality, of the excitement of those who have found a new world in the cyberspace. On the other hand, it is also about 'cyberia' or about 'future shock' as described by Alvin Toffler in his classic book Future Shock (first published in 1970). What is essential in this is that from this angle a society has not so much to do with 'material' social relations, but rather with being a part of a global village or a virtual community (see e.g. Rheingold 1995; and Schuler 1996). This is what we may indicate properly as a virtual society.
Science in the information age
Manuel Castells has presented one of the most comprehensive macrosociological theories of the paradigmatic shift from the industrial age to the information age. His ideas had a sophisticated form as early as the late 1980's, as presented in his The Informational City (1989). But more comprehensive analysis was given in his seminal trilogy The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture (1996-1998). According to Castells, two key features of the emerging new era are informationalism and globalism. It is 'informational' because in the economy the higher productivity and success in competition depend on economic actors' ability to utilise information in the process of creating innovations and new information, and it is 'global' because the central functions of production, consumption, communication and other areas of social action are organised on a global scale through global networks. The most important tool in these processes is information and communication technology. (Wilenius 1998.)
According to Castells, societal processes cannot be understand without underlying technology. Technology does not determine the social actions or structures in any simplistic sense. Rather, it represents the society, or to be more precise, the use and development of technology mirrors us as human beings. Castells even claims that the question of determination relations between technological and social factors is misleading. (Wilenius 1998.) I would formulate this by saying that our social existence is becoming increasingly technologically mediated.
Technological revolution, restructuring of the economy, and the 'critique of culture' (or the raise of cultural movements and creation of new identities) converge bringing about a globalised information society, a new trinity of production, power and human experience. Networking has become the dominant form of social organisation, and it is the reason why Castells subtitled the first volume the trilogy as The Rise of the Network Society.
Castells' analysis provides interesting arguments and insights which have many implications to the role of science and scientific theories. Here some key concepts and ideas of his theory:
There is no point in going into details of Castells' analysis in this paper. What the selected points above show well is that this kind of holistic view of the present world system and the underlying logic of informational capitalism may help us to identify the structural changes which have a direct or indirect impact on theory formation. They may also provide some ideas of what is the actual relation between social science and ICT, and how they related the social relations and practices. In addition, it gives a framework which may prove useful in analysing power and democracy, the issues which will be discussed briefly in the next two chapters.
Aspects of power
Pedersen and Hoff (1998) emphasise in their introductory paper that recent developments have brought about paradoxical and challenging situations in power and democracy studies. This is certainly true. For example, it is obvious that a traditional power analysis is not adequate in studying power in the information age.
It seems evident, as Pedersen and Hoff (1998) suggest, that new frameworks should be developed. Let us think about traditional ways to approach the dilemma of power with a view to the impact of ICTs. First, there are different types of systems analyses which operate usually at macro level and are based on certain formal(ising) principles derived, ultimately, from the metaphysics of systems theory. On the other hand, there is a wide range of micro-level approaches which aim at providing a picture of the concrete uses of ICTs in specific situations. As Pedersen and Hoff point out, these both approaches deal with the question of power in relation to ICTs in a rather superficial way. One reason for this is obviously that traditional power analysis has difficulties in conceptualising the new roles and practices evolved around the uses of Internet, just to name one of the most well-known examples. Ultimately this is due to the premises of traditional power analysis, which usually lack a view of experiences related to the virtuality, the power of space of flows, new forms of adhocracy, and certain other related aspects of a network society.
How to react to this? Pedersen and Hoff (1998) conclude that the traditional framework still has a relevance when studying the uses of ICT by different actors, the role of ICT in strategy formulation of different societal actors, identifying those who benefit from these new developments at the expense of others, and how to use ICT to empower citizens. But new approaches are needed to conceptualise the changing fields of power. These aspects could be studied within the framework of postmodern theories focussing on discourses related to ICT, strategies of inclusion and exclusion, and changes in power relations. Yet, Pedersen and Hoff call for new approaches and theories which allow us to grasp the 'power of ICT' in a proper way. It seems apparent that our fundamental categories of power need to be reconsidered and redefined.
One way to do this is to direct attention from hype to the materialisation of virtual reality (cf. Latour 1998). My contention is that this idea has a close connection to what Manuel Castells (1989; 1996) has tried to do in his analysis of informational network society. Let us take a brief look at this conception.
According to Castells (1996, 469), we are entering a new state of development in which the networking is becoming the main form of social organisation. This is one of the key concepts if we wish to understand the real nature of the power related to ICT. Namely, presence or absence in the network and the dynamics of each network in relation to others are critical sources of domination and change in our society. This is why Castells focusses in his analysis on the 'network society' characterised by the preeminence of social morphology over social action.
What then is the network? Castells (1996, 470) defines network as a set of interconnected nodes. A node, in turn, is the point at which a curve intersects itself. Concrete examples of nodes are stock exchange markets, and their ancillary advanced services centres, in the network of global financial flows. Or national councils of ministers and European Commissioners in the political network that governs the EU. They are television systems, entertainment studios, computer graphics milieux, news teams, and mobile devices generating, transmitting, and receiving signals in the global network of the new media. The inclusion in and exclusion from networks enacted by light-speed operating ITs configurate dominant processes and functions in our societies, concludes Castells.
Networks are open structures and they serve as appropriate instruments for a capitalist economy based on innovation, globalisation, and 'decentralised' concentration. Yet, the network morphology is also a source of reorganisation of power relationships. Thus, switches connecting the networks are the privileged instruments of power. For example, when financial flows take some control of media empires that, in turn, influence political processes, there are "switchers" who are power holders in several fields of society. This is ultimately how new material basis is built in networks, and how it earmarks dominant social processes shaping social structure itself. (Castells 1996, 470-471). Says Castells (1996, 3), "[Y]et identity is becoming the main, [...], source of meaning in a historical period characterized by widespread destructuring of organizations, delegitimation of institutions, fading away of major social movements, and ephemeral cultural expressions. People increasingly organize their meaning not around what they do but on the basis of what they [...] believe they are. Meanwhile, on the other hand, global networks of instrumental exchanges selectively switch on and off individuals, groups, regions, and even countries, according to their relevance in fulfilling the goals processed in the network, in a relentless flow of strategic decision. It follows a fundamental split between abstract, universal instrumentalism, and historically rooted, particularistic identities."
What this implies is that power is no longer concentrated in institutions (the state), organisations (capitalist firms), or even symbolic controllers (corporate media, church). It is diffused in global networks of wealth, power, information, and images. But, claims Castells, "[p]ower still rules society; it still shapes, and dominates, us. Not only because apparatuses of different kinds can still discipline bodies and silence minds. This form of power is, at the same time, eternal, and fading away. It is eternal because humans are, and will be, predators. But, in its current form of existence, it is fading away: the exercise of this kind of power is increasingly ineffective for the interests that it is supposed to serve." On the basis of these insights Castells concludes: "The new power lies in the codes of information and in the images of representation around which societies organize their institutions, and people build their lives, and decide their behavior. The sites of this power are people's minds." (Castells 1997, 359) This brings us close to the economy of signs. Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson conclude in their interesting book entitled Nike Culture (1998, 169) that Nike is representative of a new stage of capitalist institutions rooted in the kinds of cultural economies they have observed. Global and transnational capitalism has, they claim, brought with it industries where commodities are themselves symbols.
In the critical theories of early 20th century the subject of change was, roughly speaking, the proletariat guided by left-wing intellectuals. This is not the case in the late 1990's. Real subjects of the information age are neither labour movement nor political parties, but social movements emerging from communal resistance to globalisation, capitalist restructuring, organisational networking, uncontrolled informationalism, and patriarchalism. That is, in the contemporary society the potential of change is in the hands of ecologists, feminists, religious fundamentalists, nationalists, and localists. (Castells 1997, 360-361) Their forces and strategies should be taken into account in a new 'informational' power analysis.
Aspects of democracy
What was previously said about power has direct implications to democracy, of course. Pedersen and Hoff (1998) raise the ICT related dilemmas such as direct democracy vs. totalitarian state, optimistic visions vs. empirical evidence, creation of new forms of democracy vs. support to existing forms of democracy, and the potential of the uses of ICT in democratic processes vs. poor understanding and/or utilisation of this potential. All of these tensions have been discussed in the last twenty years, though it seems that most of us are confused about what is really happening to our cherished democracy. And the emergence of new modes of technological mediation, in their actual and potential forms, in social relations is increasing this confusion.
As in the case of power, there is evidently need for more adequate understanding between ICT and democracy. This should help us to reconstruct new descriptive and normative theories which, in turn, form a precondition for the realisation of the potential of electronic democracy (or teledemocracy or cyberdemocracy or something similar).
Castells writes about the crisis of democracy, a theme familiar to all of us. One of the most striking indicator of this development is the transformation of the nation-state, i.e. it has lost much of its sovereignty, undermined by the dynamics of global flows and transorganisational networks of wealth, information and power. Another undermining factor is the reconstruction of political meaning on the basis of specific identities, thus undermining the idea of democracy and citizenship. These are accompanied by the crisis of credibility of the political system. These all have led to frustration with the current system and a search for new frameworks. What to do in this situation in which there is convincing evidence of the growing political alienation worldwide? (Castells 1997, 342-345.) All the changes in political life seem to indicate that we are witnessing the fragmentation of the state, the unpredictability of the political system, and the singularisation of politics. Political freedom may still exist, but as Castells claims, political democracy, as conceived by the liberal revolutions of the eighteenth century, and as diffused throughout the world in the twentieth century, has become an empty shell. (Castells 1997, 349.)
The ideas of participatory democracy have been widely discussed in last two decades (e.g. Barber 1984). Another idea is that ICTs allow us to develop a new mode of Athenian democracy, a direct democracy which is based on televoting systems. Are these what we really want? I think it is worth noting Niklas Luhmann's observation that things are made chaotic for politics. Luhmann also points out that democracy is not a principle that states that all decisions have to be made so as to enable participation. This, he argues, would lead to a never-ending increase in decisional burdens, a gigantic tele-demo-bureaucratization and a hopeless opacity of the power relationships. (Luhmann 1990, 232-234) Indeed, what do we gain by increasing participation or information and communication frequencies.
Thus, I am inclined to maintain that 'sustainable' solutions must be based on other ways of organising public space, collective decision-making processes (local government, communities and civic activism), community life, and local service provision. Postmodern tendencies form a new agenda for discussion (Anttiroiko 1998):
- Do we want to participate, and do we simply have enough time to participate in local affairs?
- Will there be an inevitable polarity between active minority and passive majority?
- Are there suitable and efficient ways to participate, and what are the impacts of active participation?
- Is there anything that can please a postmodern citizen as to the public decision-making processes?
- Do participation and community politics matter beyond rhetoric, in real life?
There is no doubt that one of the most promising 'mediation techniques' of our age is based on ICT and Internet in particular. For example, the Internet can be used in voting, deliberative polling, computer assisted democratic practices, electronic town meetings and networking and public discussions. In addition, there already exists such experiments as simplifying citizens' access to government, presenting information about elected officials and candidates, publicizing meeting agendas and minutes, informing citizens of planning issues, of pending decisions and of traffic conditions, announcing community events, enhancing public safety awareness, promoting business and tourism, obtaining lower cost contracts and so on.
What I have said above does not mean that there is no point in developing citizens' participation with the help of telematics. It is an important innovation for democracy (see Stewart 1995). Net communication provides new horizons for civic and communal life as well as local governance, there is no doubt about it (see e.g. Rheingold 1995; and Schuler 1996). These promises include such elements as means for effective communication; formations of new communities and community-based identities; 'virtual' aspects of communicative collective action; and flexibility in interaction and communication. But, as useful as these may prove to be, they are just a part of the solution. A wider perspective is provided by Castells when he outlines the potential paths of democratic reconstruction. He emphasises three trends which are highly relevant for the future of informational politics:
1) Re-creation of the local state, which is, in essence, about revitalising local democracy;
2) Electronic communication to enhance political participation and horizontal communication among citizens; and
3) Development of symbolic politics, and of political mobilization around humanitarian and other 'non-political' causes. (Castells 1997, 350-352)
Territorial identitiy and local and/or regional governments seem to have become decisive forces in the fate of citizens. Says Castells: "the local state, and therefore people's control over their lives, will fade away, unless democracy is reinvented to match the space of flows with the power of places." (Castells 1997, 273; cf. Castells 1989, 346-347, 352) This is one expression for the principal task of institutions in the information age: to ease the tension between global megatrends and local conditions and identities and to build a dialogue between them on a more equal basis. Paradoxically, it is maybe not ICT that is the key to reinventing or revitalising democracy, for it seems possible - and even evident - that only modest democratic gains can be made through electronic means (Raab 1997, 166). The uses of ICTs may be most effective in two ways: (a) increasing transparency in public discussions and communications, and (b) bringing democratic practices close to our everyday lives by strengthening user and grassroots democracy. These should help us to create a 'precision democracy', or tailored or custom-made (or rather, citizen-made) democracy for the information age.
What is suggested above has its limitations. First, as Schiller (1989, 106) has put it, we have to face the fact that telecommunication systems have been conceived, designed, built and installed with the maintenance of economic privilege and advantage and the prevention of the kind of social change that would overturn and eliminate this privilege as the primary objectives. Another element relates to globalisation. If the global networks operate on a global scale, how does it impact on the preconditions of democracy? There seems to be a need not only for grassroots democracy but also for new cosmopolitan democracy, as suggested by David Held (1993; 1995).
What has been described above hardly gives any cut-and-dried solutions to the dilemma of complex relations between ICT, sciences, and society. Rather, what has been indicated is some themes that clearly need elaboration and rethinking. Above all, the bipolar opposition between the Net and the Self is the question that needs clarification. It may be the burning issue of the information age in which social sciences have a role to play. What are the forms of exclusion? How to strengthen inclusion in the emerging state of jobless growth? How to support alternative ways of life and lifestyles within the context of growth-oriented economy, globalisation and IS development? What is happening to people's identities and mentalities, and how do they relate to emerging power of networks of instrumental exchanges? These are questions that arise from Castellsian analysis of the informational network society. In addition to this, there is a need to focus on more 'concrete' aspects of this development, such as the genealogy of ICT practices (cf. Thrift 1999).
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