“The Internet is playing an increasingly important part in political life around the world: this is the course that describes these very rapid changes, and more importantly how this affects democracy and how democracy works in the wider world.”
In the digital era, political institutions, activities and relationships are increasingly mediated and shaped by the technologies of information and communication. This paper examines the impact of the Internet and related technologies on the core activities and institutions of government and politics and considers whether the developing use of these technologies serves to reinforce, undermine or otherwise alter traditional political models or patterns of behaviour.
Commentators have disagreed about the effect and importance of the internet and related technologies for politics and government. Utopian accounts predict the transformation of political life through Internet-based mediation, with ‘peer production’ and on-line networks enhancing political participation and technological innovation driving policy innovation. In contrast, dystopian arguments emphasise the risks and dangers of technologically strengthened government and the ‘database state’.
A number of ‘politics-as-usual’ accounts underplay the likelihood of technology-driven change and the importance of the internet for politics and political theory, stressing that technologies reinforce existing relationships and inequalities. Meanwhile, mainstream political science has tended to ignore the phenomenon, appearing to view technological development as policy neutral with no profound implications for contemporary government and politics; many interesting questions remain consequently under-explored, for example, regarding the changing viability of pluralist, elitist, market liberal and cosmopolitan models of democracy.
This course aims to equip students with the theoretical tools and empirical evidence necessary to identify, evaluate and critique these various positions and debates. It will enable students to investigate the implications of the Internet and related technologies for political participation and government, reviewing available evidence and new methodological approaches to the study of politics in the digital-era. Students will be asked to question and in some cases re-assess traditional approaches to the study of government and democracy in the light of such evidence. The course thereby provides students with the toolkit of concepts, theories, methods and principles to carry out ‘e-literate’ analysis of politics and policy and to conduct further postgraduate research in this field.
Outcomes: By the end of the course, students should have an in-depth understanding of the changing nature of digital-era governance and politics and the theoretical, practical and ethical questions surrounding the role of the Internet and related technologies in political life. Specifically, students will: be able to understand and critically review theoretical approaches to digital-era governance and politics and be aware of the key arguments and debates surrounding its implications for political participation, policy-making and the shape of the contemporary state; have a sophisticated understanding of the potential for the Internet and other ICTs to shape political relationships, activities and outcomes; be aware of the empirical evidence available to assess the role of the internet and related technologies in politics and policy-making and to use it to question key micro-foundations of mainstream theoretical approaches; be familiar with the methodological tools necessary to research digital-era governance and politics nationally and internationally, and be in a position to embark on further research in this field.