Literature Reviews

Livingston, Steven. Africa’s Evolving Infosystems:  A Pathway to Security and Stability. Africa Center for Strategic Studies. Research Paper No. 2, 2010.

Livingston details the effects of the rapid growth of ICTs on governance in Africa. ICTs have no inherent political valence, and can be used for criminal or violent means as well as for human benefit. But Livingston argues that, in contrast to previous generations’ experience with the politically malicious use of communication tools to propagate insecurity and violence, new ICTs are improving security and economic development continent-wide, because they develop in tandem with democratic institutions and are being used to promote transparency. He also stresses the importance of scientific research to support political technology policy and investment.

Manuel Castells. The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture. Vols. I-III. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1996-1997

 A seminal work in the theory of informational and networked societies, The Information Age spans three volumes of detailed argumentation on the rise to dominance of contemporary, ICT-driven social formations. It concentrates in large part on the status of labor in a Network Society as it supercedes industrial society globally. An information economy, dependent on knowledge and technology, also includes more exclusionary potential than an industrial economy. A global economy, connecting organizations across the entire planet, further excludes the vast majority of people, especially unskilled labor and the global poor, creating a “Fourth World” that penetrates both Northern and Southern populations. Enterprise fragments as it relies more heavily on networks, and labor gives way to flexibility, wherein individualization accompanies freelancing, along with the decline of salaries, benefits, and other trappings of corporate employment. Polarization becomes the norm, as financial inequality increases, buoyed by social exclusion. Meanwhile, as culture moves further into the digital, virtual realm, media become the grounds of politics.  Castells argues that the network society reorganizes time and space: time into “timeless time”, a compression of events without sequences; and space into “the space of flows” to subsume the space of places, wherein social practices work on shared flows but everyday life remains under social and political structures in specific places. The dominance of networks to structure social functions and processes has immense effects on capital, work, communication, and territory.

Howard, Philip N., and Muzammil M. Hussain. “The Role of Digital Media.” Journal of Democracy 22, no. 3 (2011): 35–48

Howard and Hussain’s article demonstrates the key shift in ICT’s impact on political change over the past decade. In their words, “one of the most consistent narratives from civil society leaders in Arab countries has been that the Internet, mobile phones, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter made the difference” between the failures of Third Wave democratization in MENA and the efficacy of the Arab Spring uprisings in 2010-2011. They argue that the antigovernmental movements were able to use digital media as tools to organize material protests and even entire revolutions. However, it should be noted that the difference between the effective uprisings, such as in Tunisia, Egypt, and Algeria, from those that took longer and cost more lives, such as Libya, Syria, and Algeria, underscores the impact of the underlying architecture — including its political/cultural constraints — on the ability of populations to deploy such tools for change. (See this paper for a more detailed analysis of these effects). In short, however, a paradigm shift has taken place that allows people and technology to combine on what Howard and Hussain call “Digital Scaffolding for Civil Society”. It is this scaffolding that national internet policy addresses in direct and indirect ways, and to which further research will turn.

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