Endnotes to Real-Time Politics: The Internet and the Political Process

[1] For convenience I will allow the meaning of "the Internet" to shift as needed across the whole universe of convergent digital technologies. The term preferred in Europe, information and communication technologies (ICT's), is more accurate, but it carries too many connotations of bureaucracy and not enough connotations of digital convergence.

[2] The list of theoretical proposals that I will present is hardly complete. For broader surveys of the literature, see Arterton (1987); Axford and Huggins (2001); Dutton (1992); Harrison, Stephen, and Falvey (1999); Malina (1999); and van de Donk and Tops (1995). Neuman (1991: 5-6) provides a concise bulleted list of the conventional claims about the political effects of new media. Friedland (1996) situates the early history of the community networking movement in the context of theories of civic life. Practical guides to the Internet's role in politics include Bennett and Fielding (1999), Browning (1996), Kush (2000), Maxwell (2000), Schwartz (1996), and Walch (1999). See also Alexander and Pal (1998), Barney (2000), Gibson and Ward (2000), Gutstein (1999), Kakabadse and Kakabadse (2000), Rash (1997), Selnow (1998), and Sunstein (2001). Works that have appeared as this article is going to press include Kamarck and Nye (2002), McIver and Elmagarmid (2002), Rosenau and Singh (2002), and Saco (2002).

[3] See, for example, Kitchin (1998), Mitchell (1996), Toulouse and Luke (1998), and Vandenberg (2000), or the "cyberdemocratic" model advocated in Hoff, Horrocks, and Tops (2000), which is otherwise quite sophisticated. For a historical perspective see Grosswiler (1998), and for an extensive skeptical analysis see Netanel (2000). An early speculation about the online polity is Toffler (1970: 423-428).

[4] On the use of the Internet by legislatures, see Coleman, Taylor, and van de Donk (1999).

[5] See also Hoos (1983) and Lilienfeld (1978).

[6] The problem, briefly, is that when more than two options are available, voters cannot always meaningfully rank-order them, for example because they differ along multiple dimensions. Arrow (1951) proved a set of theorems to the effect that no rational voting scheme is possible in some such situations. For further discussion and the implications for electronic referenda, see McLean (1989).

[7] It should be said that Innis' own thought was more discerning and less deterministic than this implies, particularly about the ambivalent nature of economic and power relations between centers and peripheries.

[8] The cartoon, by Peter Steiner, appeared on page 61 of the July 5, 1993 issue of The New Yorker.

[9] Likewise, Fischer (1992: 265) resolves the question of whether the telephone increased Americans' local or long-distance relationships by concluding that it increased both, and that it intensified existing involvements rather than creating new ones. His point is not that nothing changed; he also concluded that the telephone contributed to what he calls "privatism": conducting social activities in the home rather than in public places (266). On the whole, though, he concludes that "we might consider a technology, such as the telephone, not as a force impelling 'modernity', but as a tool modern people have used to various ends, including perhaps the maintenance, even enhancement, of past practices" (272).

[10] In contrast to "monist" theories that emphasize a single factor in explaining the social consequences of new media technologies, Neuman (1991: 15-20) argues for "balance theories" based on the search for "interaction effects" among explanatory factors on different levels of analysis. In particular, he suggests (1991: 41-43, 165) that the forces of the communications revolution, which tend toward democratic pluralism, are in conflict with the forces of audience psychology and political economy of the mass media, which tend toward totalitarianism, leading to a balance at an uncertain point in the middle. Winston's (1998) argument is broadly similar.

[11] Ranerup (1999) enumerates some of the "contradictions" involved in the design of a system for online deliberation, using the term to refer to the trade-offs that arise in designing an online forum that is embedded in a contradictory institutional field.

[12] In the case of print culture in early modern England, by way of comparison, Zaret (2000: 13) observes that:

"... printing's relevance for the birth of the public sphere goes beyond change in the scope and extends to the content of political communication. Competition among stationers is important for explaining changes in scope, when a flood of cheap texts and simple prose enlarged public access to political debates and discussion. For explaining changes in the content of political communication, the heightened capacity of printing, relative to scribal culture, for reproducing texts is crucial for understanding how political discourse became oriented to the constitution and invocation of public opinion."
Zaret argues that this led to the "imposition of a dialogical order on conflict" (2000: 13). He continues,
"Printing's technical capacity to reproduce texts led to the production of broadsides and pamphlets that referred to other texts, often accompanied by partial and, less often, full reproduction of the referenced texts. Readers thus confronted political texts that responded to prior texts, simultaneously referring to, excerpting from, and commenting on them" (2000: 13-14).
[13] The comments of an anonymous referee clarified my thinking on this point.

[14] A notable exception to the pattern is Arterton (1987). For Arterton, the political problem to be overcome is low levels of voter participation, especially as manifested in low voter turnout. But in reviewing early experiments with two types of technological fix for this problem, online discussion groups and electronic plebiscites, he is cautiously optimistic. He is aware of (what he calls) "the co-optation hypothesis", but holds that the experiments he studied did not prove it (1987: 199-200).

More representative (though not centrally concerned with the political system) are Morrison, Svennevig, and Firmstone (1999), who counterpose the exaggerated rhetoric of a "communications revolution" to (what they call) "functional amplification". Their project is clearly frustrated by the difficulty of turning the language of "revolution" into a hypothesis that is sufficiently well-defined to test.

"We take it that the term 'communications revolution' must mean one or all of the following: a radical change in social organization; a radical change in how people view the world; and/or a radical change in the way people lead their lives. Our findings do not point to a communications revolution having taken place, nor do they indicate that such a revolution is about to happen. What they do suggest is functional amplification rather than any displacement of existing communications" (58-59).
Their notion of functional amplification, however, draws its substance from a polemical opposition to the idea of revolution. That is why, as with much of the literature on the reinforcement model, the term "amplification" strangely loses its normal connotations of dangerous, unbounded increase, and instead suggests inertia or homeostasis.
"... e-mail is, in functional terms, essentially an amplification of the physical mail system. It makes life easier (or at least faster, which is not necessarily the same thing), but not radically different" (59).
They assert, reasonably enough, that
"[a]t this time we simply cannot say, for example, whether the substitution of e-mail for posted letters will change the relationship between individuals and to institutions at large" (59).
But observe how the superficial nature of the "revolutionary" hypothesis of a generalized change between individuals and institutions threatens to condemn rebuttals such as Morrison, Svennevig, and Firmstone's to a similar superficiality. Later, in rebutting the "revolutionary" hypothesis that the cellular telephone cause a more mobile society, they do say this:
"[I]t has been the increased mobility of both business and social life that has guaranteed the mobile phone a place in contemporary life. The success of the mobile phone offers a particularly close fit between social factors and technological possibilities, and a good instance of the dialectical relationship of the social and the technological" (72).
But they proceed to explain this dialectic purely in terms of the network effects that give rise to the familiar S-shaped technology adoption curve, and not in terms of any coevolution between the workings of the technology and the workings of the society that both produces and appropriates it.

[15] The various chapters of Danziger, Dutton, Kling and Kraemer (1982) were authored by different pairs of the authors, but for simplicity I have cited the book as a whole. On the idea of reinforcement politics see also Laudon (1974) and Pratchett (1995). Ferdinand (2000: 9) observes that "[e]xisting parliaments in democracies ... have tended to be more interested in applying the new technologies to help them become more effective, rather than adopting innovations that might undermine their traditional status and authority".

[16] As this example illustrates, "forces" in the amplification model should not be confused with "interests", "coalitions", or other political groupings in studies such as Danziger, Dutton, Kling and Kraemer (1982).

[17] Hill and Hughes (1998: 182) and Norris (1999) have drawn similar conclusions. Graham, a conservative opponent of democracy, argues that "the Internet ... by its very nature ... has a tendency to promote reinforcement of interest and opinion among the like-minded" (1999: 83).

[18] This list of phenomena is obviously drawn from experience in the United States, although the larger point probably generalizes. In earlier work with Owen (Davis and Owen 1998), Davis gives some of these factors greater weight (for a summary see pages 255-256) and also emphasizes the distinctive features of the new media. Still, Davis and Owen's argument is organized around the question of whether new media are significantly enhancing political participation. Their conclusion is essentially negative: "The realization of a truly democratic vision of public discourse facilitated via the new media ... will require a large-scale societal commitment to change" (Davis and Owen 1998: 257).

[19] He attributes this idea to (Reese et al. 1979). Also, note that Hagen uses the terms "ICT" (i.e., information and communication technologies) and "Internet" interchangeably. As I mentioned in Note 1, this is my own practice as well. In addition, I have corrected an apparent English usage problem in the quoted passage: in place of "attributed", Hagen actually says "contributed".

[20] See Carrithers, Collins, and Lukes (1985). A more precise phrasing would be: the way -- no doubt complex and contradictory -- that the individual is constituted by a society's institutions.

[21] I am using the word "ubiquitous" in a nonstandard way. For Weiser (1991), ubiquitous computing is woven transparently into everyday life; I want to suggest that Weiser's concept of ubiquity can be productively developed by analyzing everyday life into the overlapping zones of activity that different institutions organize. Computing, on this analysis, is not just ubiquitous in a literal, geographic sense ("everywhere"); it is also ubiquitous in a structural sense ("everything").

[22] The term "communities of practice" is due to Lave and Wenger (1991). For a systematic analysis see Wenger (1998). Organizational theorists have long emphasized the theme of lateral communication; it is often attributed to Fayol (1949 [1916]), who despite his prevailing rationalism and conservatism argued that strict hierarchical control was insufficient and advocated a "gang-plank" system whereby subordinates on a given organizational level have structured opportunities to interact. Only with more recent work, however, have these lateral relations been interpreted as spontaneous organisms with complex physiologies. The notion that Internet discussion groups constitute what Rheingold (1993: 110) called "grassroots groupminds" has been part of the culture of the medium from its earliest days.

[23] An especially striking example of this phenomenon is worth quoting at length:

"The most informal and passive level of transnational judicial interaction is the cross-fertilization of ideas through increased knowledge of both foreign and international judicial decisions and a corresponding willingness actually to cite those decisions as persuasive authority. The Israeli Supreme Court, the German Constitutional Court, and the Canadian Supreme Court have long researched US Supreme Court precedents in preparing their own conclusions on constitutional issues such as freedom of speech, privacy rights or fair process. Young constitutional courts in Eastern and Central Europe and the former Soviet Union are now eagerly following suit. The paradigm case in this regard is a recent decision by the South African Supreme Court. In finding the death penalty unconstitutional under the South African Constitution, the Court cited decisions from national and supranational courts all over the world, including Hungary, India, Tanzania, Canada, Germany, and the European Court of Human Rights" (Slaughter 2000: 204-205, footnote omitted).
On the general phenomenon of governance networks, see also Marin and Mayntz (1991) and Riles (2000).

[24] On evolutionary theories of institutional change see Hodgson (1993, 1999).

[25] See also Bellamy (2000: 49-50). Fischer (1992: 268) observes that the telephone "expanded a dimension of social life, the realm of frequent checking-in, rapid updates, easy scheduling of appointments, and quick exchanges of casual confidences, as well as the sphere of long-distance conversation".

[26] I have codified a great deal of this practical networking knowledge in a how-to article for PhD students entitled "Networking on the Network" that is available on the Web at <http://dlis.gseis.ucla.edu/people/pagre/network.html>.

[27] Akrich (1992) makes a similar point in describing how social roles are inscribed into the workings of designed artefacts.

[28] In fact, Poster says that the database is itself a discourse, but it is more accurate to say that the database is one of the constituents of the larger discourse that binds numerous parties together into a polity.

[29] The Foucauldian analysis of the liberal subject has been developed in a large literature; see for example Barry, Osborne, and Rose (1996). My purpose here, however, is not to evaluate this literature, which in my view fails to provide an adequate account of political agency or of institutions generally, but simply to draw on certain elements of Poster's Foucauldian analysis of databases.

[30] On origins the "permanent campaign" and the profession that administers it, see Blumenthal (1980). For an update see Johnson (2001).

[31] For a brief discussion see Horrocks, Hoff, and Topps (2000).