Four Principles and Corollaries of Network Society and the New International Governance

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Article: Machiavelli 2.0: The Fundamentals of Network Society by Alexander Schellong, Philipp Mueller. Harvard International Review.



Alexander Schellong, Philipp Mueller:

"There are two driving characteristics of the networked society: the ease to connect (technology) and the willingness to connect (social legitimacy) which redefine territoriality and increase complexity. The ease to connect stems from technologies that allow us to supersede territorial space and linear time. However, without a willingness to interact, the ability does not lead to a changed world. It is not technological determinism, but the interplay between new social practices and enabling technologies that have transformative potential. So, in a nutshell, there are four main principles and several corollaries that describe network society: the territoriality principle, the complexity principle, the technology principle, and the choice principle.

The territoriality principle

Technology, greater mobility of society or capital—some may refer to it as globalization—facilitates blurring the formerly clear boundaries of territoriality. The Westphalian Order marked by the peace agreement in 1648 ending the 30 Years War in Europe, defined nation-states as entities with fixed territorial boundaries that defined the limits of their legal jurisdiction and the scope of their political authority. Today the fundamental principles and practices of liberal democracy—the nature of citizens, the definition of democratic citizenship, the ideas of self-governance, consent, representation, political spin, popular sovereignty—are almost exclusively associated with the institutions of the sovereign territorial nation-state. Consequently, modern democratic theory and democratic politics assume correspondence between the democratic political community and the modern nation-state: a self-contained, self-governing, territorially delimited national community. Yet world order and sovereign statehood is no longer immutable. The world faces problems such as environmental change, large-scale market failures and terrorism which span the globe, are known to many and which cannot be solved by one entity alone. Thus political issues and action are now also located in the global arena.

The complexity principle

The territoriality principle and the corollaries of the technology principle make the cornerstones of the complexity principle. In the network society, interdependence is increasing. Everything is and can potentially be connected. The recent financial crisis provides us with a case in point. Because of complexity and the capacity (institutional, organizational, and technological) of the nation-state being the strongest within its territory, government faces a crisis of efficiency and legitimacy.

The technology principle

The technology principle includes the corollaries of path dependency, scale and networks effect, real-time, modularity and granularity. The network society is mediated through advances in technology. The Internet, especially, is continuing to play an important part in the change towards network society.

The Path dependency corollary

Path dependency makes it costly for us to exercise choice and leave any given network because of the network effect. Examples are the width of our high-speed railway tracks which conform to the track-width of the mule-trains in the coal mines of Newcastle or Brazilians mainly joining Orkut, Americans joining facebook, and Japanese joining Mixi.

The Scale and Network Effects corollary

Network effects are the glue of network society. In essence, the network effect describes the positive externalities (value) of a product, service, or activity as more people use it. An organization taking advantage of the principle may refer to the practice as “crowdsourcing” (e.g. Wikipedia, Dell’s Ideastorm, iPhone Apps) taking advantage of the “wisdom of the crowds”. Individuals may also aggregate and mobilize for a specific cause, be it political, civic or commercial (e.g., Ukrainian orange revolution). The emergence of the latter can be of spontaneous and real-time nature.

The real-time corollary

With the reduced need for securing the supply of physical goods, consumers are turning to experiences to find gratification and an escape from everyday life. Moreover, with people’s lives full of obligations and choices, and with only roughly waking 16-17 hours available each day, the more (new) information and activities that can be obtained in a short time, the better. The Netizen, the member of those generations that have grown up with the Internet or use it heavily, constantly hunger for something new—think real-time communication and interaction (e.g. Google Wave, Twitter), real-time news, real-time search or real-time content creation. “Digital” is becoming synonymous with “instantaneously” for many.

The Modularity corollary

Modularity allows complexity through the combination out of simple parts. Examples of modularity at work is when social movements combine technologies such as skype, twitter, and facebook status updates to organize the post-election demonstrations in Iran.

The Granularity corollary

The smaller the useful contribution, the easier the scalability. In the 2009 expense scandal in the British parliament, the Guardian put a website online where they posted all potential infringing documents. By 2010, 25,530 people had visited this website and reviewed 218,587 of the documents, unearthing information that would have never been uncovered.

The choice principle

The choice principle includes the corollaries of consensus, forking, peer-production and transparency. According to the choice principle, any network participant chooses to participate or to leave at any given point in time. However, because of the complexity principle, entities that have chosen to opt-out of a network or a particular activity does not mean they can not be affected by it. Mass society tends unite and disrupt existing communities and traditions over time. The choice principle also accounts for the increasing number of decisions individuals must make on a day-to-day basis (choices include those relating to products, communication channels, information sources, setting.

The Consensus corollary

Decisions in choice-communities are made by consensus. David Clark explains that this does not mean unanimity and certainly not majority voting. It is the mechanism with which the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) develops and promotes Internet standards.

The Forking corollary

Forking happens when developers take a copy of source code from one software package and start independent development on it, creating a distinct piece of software. ‏This happens often in open source development projects as well as in online content creation, combining different sources to create new insight.

The Peer Production corollary

Public Commons in network society are produced by peers for peers. Examples of such commons that are playing an ever more important role in our societal and political lives are Ubuntu Linux, Wikipedia, or the Obama volunteers.

The Transparency corollary

Transparency/Documentation takes the role of democracy as the standard against which any governance situation is evaluated. The open government directives and the corresponding websites in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia show how much transparency has become the core legitimizing instrument of governments. At the same time an individual’s private life and experiences become more transparent through technology which opens many avenues for government communication. Along these lines there is also greater transparency about organizations, their activities or products (e.g. thousands or even millions of reviews can be found on products, doctors or hotels). The organizations concerned are either disclosing this information on a voluntary basis or because they are forced by external entities (e.g. consumer initiative; think of a non-profit such as foodwatch) that can build power through the network effect. In addition, transparency is prone to the network effect, too. Transparency in one area increases the expectations of people in other areas (e.g. the idea of Open Government spreading from the U.S. to Europe)." (