Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

What Lies beyond Lies Within: Global Information Flows and the Politics of the State/inter-State System

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

What Lies beyond Lies Within: Global Information Flows and the Politics of the State/inter-State System

Article excerpt

Abstract

The potential impact of global information flows is commonly framed either by pointing to how these flows transcend the limits of and introduce us to a world beyond the sovereign state and the international system of states, or by showing how these flows are subordinated to the control and static presence of the state/inter-state system. In contrast, this article explores how information flows move beyond while simultaneously being forced within the limits of the state/ inter-state system, in ways that highlight an important paradox shaping the politics and continuous reproduction of the state/inter-state system. Specifically, it demonstrates how the presence of the state/inter-state system depends upon a process of affirming as well as rejecting the possibility of a world of flows and networks located somewhere beyond the state/inter-state system.

Keywords

information flows, the state, the modern international, exceptionalism, sovereignty

Introduction

It can be argued, on one hand, that information flows and networks have vastly improved the social and economic conditions of many parts of the world; that they have brought people and companies closer to each other, made national borders increasingly outdated, and introduced us to a more open world. Traveling through modern information and communications technologies (ICTs) such as the Internet and mobile phones, these flows open up the possibility of new forms of existence that transcend the borders of nation-states and the international system of states. On the other hand, it can also be argued that information flows and networks have brought us many new and unforeseen dangers, which must be dealt with through more rigorous methods of control, surveillance, and data retention. Terrorists and criminals might be targeting the digital information systems and networks that our societies depend so heavily on. Such groups might also use these networks to communicate and plan their next attacks. In this context we have seen, for example, how the United States in its ongoing "war on terror" relies heavily on gathering massive amounts of data on telephone, e-mail, and Internet traffic. We have also seen how a new European Union (EU) directive on data retention has been passed by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union--a directive that obliges Member States to force communications providers to store all traffic data for up to two years and make it available to national authorities.

These and other similar cases of dealing with the perceived risks and dangers of information flows highlight several important tensions: tensions between the increasingly transnational dimension of everyday life enabled by new ICTs, and the state's traditional monopoly to determine the conditions of "proper" political life within the borders of the state; tensions between, on one hand, the emergence of a world dominated by different kinds of flows and networks, and on the other hand, the continuous relevance of the borders and boundaries of the international system of sovereign states.

Looking at much of the recent literature addressing these tensions, it is possible to find some rather familiar conceptualizations. The tensions between the increasingly transnational dimension of everyday life, enabled by more sophisticated ICTs, and the state's traditional monopoly to determine the conditions of properly political life within the borders of the state is often framed either by pointing to the static presence and near-total control of the modem nation-state, (1) or by referring to its impending dissolution and the creation of other forms of existence and political belonging. (2) In a similar way, tensions between, on one hand, the emergence of a world of flows and networks and, on the other hand, the continuous relevance of the borders and boundaries of the international system of states tend to be framed either by pointing to the static limits of the system, (3) or by highlighting the growing significance of other, more "global" forms of governance, social structures, and power. …

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