I recently read Athina Karatzogianni’s The Politics of Cyberconflict and met the author at the Politics 2.0 International Conference in London last month. This blog entry is a mini “review” of Athina’s book based on my dissertation research thus far. By review, I mean to provide several excerpts from the study and to comment on them. In particular, I address the role of technology in fostering new organizational structures.
New Social Movements are open, decentralized, non-hierarchical and ideal for internet communication. At the same time, uses of the internet may have important effects on organizational structures, both inside member organizations and in terms of overall network stability and capacity.
The information revolution is favoring and strengthening networked organizational designs, often at the expense of hierarchies. States need to wake up to the fact and realize that networks can be fought effectively only by flexible network-style responses.
Painting modern resistance movements as decentralized and states as hierarchical is increasingly fashionable. However, I know of no study that empirically supports (or denies) the validity of these broad caricatures. Such a study would certainly be feasible and especially interesting if it were to employ networks analysis. I suspect that one would find resistance movements resembling hybrid networks rather than strictly decentralized organizational forms.
In any event, a question oft overlooked vis-a-vis the information revolution’s influence on organizational structure is technology’s impact on authoritarian rule. If the thesis is that decentralized, distributed and mobile technologies “flattens” preexisting organizational structures, then is modern information communication technology likely to have a similar impact on repressive regimes over time? If a coercive, centralized state were to “wake up” and make more effective use of networked and peer-to-peer communication technologies, would this necessarily delegate and distribute power? My inclination, based on the theory of power in the nonviolence literature, is to say yes.
Information technology is constantly being modified, enhanced and overtaken by better ideas, leaving importing states to engage in an expensive and never-ending game of catch-up technologies which have been conducive to state power, even to coercive state power.
I see Athina’s point but at the same time would argue that a number of nondemocratic regimes have been effective in limiting the import and use of technologies that purport to threaten their “information blockade”. This is true of Burma, Cuba, Nigeria and North Korea amongst several others.