Politics of Cyberconflict

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Book: The Politics of Cyberconflict. Athina Karatzogianni. New York: Routledge, 2006


Review

Andrew Robinson:

" In The Politics of Cyberconflict, Athina Karatzogianni's central thesis is that the possibilities offered by internet technologies are used differently by different kinds of social movements, depending on how easily they take to the network form. Socio-political movements such as peace, pro-democracy, anti-capitalist, ecological, and single-issue groups take enthusiastically to the new media, constructing networks of activism which themselves operate rhizomatically. In contrast, ethno-religious movements such as American and Chinese nationalists, political Islamists, and Israeli and Palestinian hackers are trapped within a differential model of identity which precludes the adoption of network forms, and instead end up deploying new technologies in ways compatible with their identity-structure, imitating models of hierarchical political organisation and warfare. They also make use of the new technologies, but are constrained by their ideological structures, and therefore use them in a more instrumental way. As Karatzogianni notes, "The structure of the internet is ideal for network groups ... However, in ethnoreligious cyberconflicts ... this network form is not always evident. This is why there is a dual modality of cyberconflict: one rhizomatic and one hierarchical" (88). The empirical sections of the book use the distinction to categorise a range of different instances of online activity, effectively demonstrating in practice the importance of the distinction." (http://rccs.usfca.edu/bookinfo.asp?BookID=385&ReviewID=531)


From the Author

"After passing through various fields -- Journalism, International Relations, International Conflict Analysis -- and changing many times my mind over what on Earth was going on, being 22, in that bizarre intersection, I remember waking up one morning after some hideous MA exams and thinking I know something about conflict now, but not enough about the internet and conflict.

My doctoral thesis started at Nottingham with my supervisor, a great, patient man, Professor Ian Forbes, who probably thought I was out of my mind. It was September 1999. For the next couple of years, I would have serious trouble getting material, I would ask fellow students for extra inter-library loan vouchers -- you couldn't find anything on internet politics stuff then, in an otherwise respectable library. My literature review, the first chapter of this book, was a look of what was out there. And even more of what was not there: Cyberconflict, defined in a broader way. It needed a theory, a methodology, a framework, and more.

I needed a PhD. I found out that it was very hard to get one by choosing this subject. When I meet doctoral students now doing work in the area, I always say: "You brave souls!"

Until 2002, I was falling on deaf ears, I could not even upgrade from MPhil to PhD. Only a miraculous publication in the Journal of Politics saved my neck. The war in Iraq and the years 2000-3 added more empirical material to what was already there, more "simulated reality" and more "pornography of suffering" upon which to apply the cyberconflict model. In 2003, the Cyber Conflict Studies Association was founded in the US -- imagine how weird that was!

In Australia, the US, and perhaps a couple of other places, research on ICTs, the impact of the internet on politics, sociology, political economy, and internet security started way before the millennium, but not here in Britain. My viva examination in 2004 was probably the most frustrating day in my life! It was easier to get this book contract than my PhD! Most of the time (and especially when interviewing for academic jobs), people thought I was presenting on mumbo jumbo. I don't blame them. Britain has only of late thrown more researchers to new media and conflict research, as a direct response to 24-hour internet coverage and terrorist propaganda.

Further, the more serious implication of using the lens of this book to look at new media, politics, and conflict is that you will be messing and trespassing many areas, disciplines, and academic turfs. In my opinion, you can't describe a football match well unless you are watching it from as many angles as possible and talking to as many commentators as possible from all sides involved (not to mention how new capturing technology helps). This is what was attempted in this work. Sadly, it was pointed out to me in the early days that it was "too ambitious" and "others have tried and failed, what made you think you could pull it off," and other very encouraging comments.

Nevertheless, I think if you don't trespass and present your work and your ideas to different people from different areas, you might be safe, but you cannot explain and understand anything beyond what you have been spoon-fed as a student.

I have messed with many things in this work, and thoroughly enjoyed it. There are many flaws of course. Here, the complaint that I did not explore enough the implications of the network model is my complaint too, and I am making things right by joining Andrew Robinson towards co-authoring Power, Conflict and Resistance in the Contemporary World: Social Movements, Networks and Hierarchies for the Routledge Advanced Series in International Relations and Global Politics.

This is perhaps where we can discuss more the need or not for greater organizational efficiency. Briefly, my hope is that ICTs combined with more emphasis on stronger organization and more consistency in ideologies and actions does not harm flexibility and does not necessarily encourage hegemonic reduction; enhances the power of the movement/s to communicate frames that global public opinion can engage with for longer periods of time; and can find counterparts more readily in hierarchies to enter in dialogue with.

Lastly, I am editing a volume on Cyber Conflict and Global Politics (Military and Security Studies, Routledge), inviting and welcoming many worthy colleagues to write on the latest instances of cyberconflict and the fast developments in media and war coverage, blogging, social movements and ethnoreligious groups using the internet, open source, politico-economic and cultural cyberconflicts and struggles in netarchical capitalism.

Cyberconflict combines my inner conflicts with all my loves: global politics, the internet, security, journalism, war coverage, world system, and network theory, and I tailored my analysis to suit my bizarre intellectual needs. If other people find pleasure in that then I couldn't be happier!" (http://rccs.usfca.edu/bookinfo.asp?BookID=385&AuthorID=134)