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There are no rights ‘in’ cyberspace – new publication

Published on
27 Jan 2019
Written by
Mark Graham

I have a chapter out in a nice-looking new book that has put together by Ben Wagner, Matthias Kettemann, and Kilian Vieth. The chapter is an attempt to think carefully about what we mean when using words like ‘cyberspace’ and ‘online.’ You can download it at the link below.

Graham, M. 2019. There are rights ‘in’ cyberspace. In Wagner, B., Kettemann, M. C., and Vieth, K. (eds). Research Handbook on Human Rights and Digital Technology. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. 24-32.



Rights are always bounded, granted, bestowed, enjoyed, received, performed, and violated in real, physical places. The chapter argues that just because actions or interactions happen ‘online’ – or mediated by digital networks – does not mean that they happen in any sort of alternate sphere or space beyond the laws, norms and principles that apply and are practiced elsewhere.

It posits that we have often taken a wrong turn in discussions about digital politics and rights by relying on inaccurate and unhelpful spatial metaphors. In particular, the chapter focuses on the usage of the ‘cyberspace’ metaphor and outlines why the reliance by contemporary policy-makers on this inherently geographic metaphor matters. The metaphor constrains, enables and structures very distinct ways of imagining the interactions between people, information, code and machines through digital networks. These distinct imaginations, in turn, have real effects on how we enact politics and bring places into being.

The chapter traces the history of ‘cyberspace’, explores the scope of its current usage, and highlights the discursive power of its distinct way of shaping our spatial imagination of the Internet. It then concludes by arguing that we should take the lead in employing alternate, nuanced and spatially grounded ways of envisioning the myriad ways in which the Internet mediates social, economic and political experiences.


Related work

Graham, M., De Sabbata, S., Zook, M. 2015. Towards a study of information geographies:(im)mutable augmentations and a mapping of the geographies of information Geo: Geography and Environment.2(1) 88-105.

Graham, M., M. Zook., and A. Boulton. 2013. Augmented Reality in Urban Places: contested content and the duplicity of code. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 38(3), 464-479. (pre-publication version here)

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