Cyberdemocracy: Technology, Cities, and Civic Networks

By Roza Tsagarousianou; Damian Tambini et al. | Go to book overview

9

Electronic democracy and the public sphere

Opportunities and challenges

Roza Tsagarousianou

‘Electronic democracy’ as a means of improving the responsiveness and accountability of political institutions and enhancing citizen participation in the political process has captured the imagination of scholars, politicians and activists since the 1960s, when, armed with optimism and belief in the democratic potential of technology activists set up a wide variety of radical media (such as pirate radio stations). Since then, experimentation with remote computing, telephone conferencing technology and interactive cable television has given rise to a debate on the advantages—and potential dangers—that the application of these technologies in the political process might entail (Abramson, Arterton and Orren, 1988; Arterton, 1987; Laudon, 1977). Since the mid-1980s, the development of computer networks has substantially altered the terms of the debate on the use of new technologies in the democratic process. Until then, discussions on the plebiscitary or deliberative character of electronic democracy had focused primarily on interactive television. They paid only secondary attention to the possibilities of group communication inherent in the emerging computer-mediated communications systems.

In the 1980s, the rapid convergence of information and communications technologies and the development of computer networks have been thought to have the capacity to challenge the monopoly of existing political hierarchies over powerful communications media and perhaps the ability to revitalise citizen-based democracy (Rheingold, 1995:14). Furthermore, they could amplify the power of grassroots groups to gather critical information, organise political action, sway public opinion and guide policy-making (Rheingold, 1996). More recently, public awareness of the potential of information and communications technologies has been supported by the high-profile embrace of the new technologies by such political figures as Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich and American conservative Republican

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Cyberdemocracy: Technology, Cities, and Civic Networks
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Acknowledgements ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Figures and Tables vii
  • 1 - Electronic Democracy and the Civic Networking Movement in Context 1
  • 2 - Virtually Going Places 18
  • 3 - Back to the Future of Democracy? 41
  • 4 - Berlin in the Net 60
  • References 82
  • 5 - Civic Networking and Universal Rights to Connectivity: Bologna 84
  • 6 - An Internet Resource for Neighbourhoods 110
  • 7 - The First Amendment Online 125
  • Notes 149
  • 8 - Manchester 152
  • 9 - Electronic Democracy and the Public Sphere 167
  • Index 179
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