Volume on Internet Governance published
In March 2021, Prof. dr. Jan Aart Scholte, Professor Global Transformations and Governance Challenges at Leiden University, co-edited with Dr. Blayne Haggart and Dr. Natasha Tusikov the volume Power and Authority in Internet Governance.
The co-editors began to develop the project at the Centre for Global Cooperation Research (CGCR) at the University of Duisburg-Essen out of a workshop on Internet Governance that took place in 2019 and investigated the hotly contested role of the state in today’s digital society.
The book cautions an all too easy juxtaposition of authoritarian vs. democratic state governance. This, as the editors stress in their introductory remarks, draws attention away from what they see as some important underlying dynamics. These include 1) the hegemonic role of the United States in constructing the private internet governance regime; 2) the somewhat ironic sidelining of civil society in multistakeholder governance processes; and 3) the extent to which internet governance is shaped within the context of an increasingly powerful global digital capitalism. (p. 9)
The volume begins with a bird's-eye view on the typology of internet governance (Mauro Santaniello), the role of states at ICANN (Olga Cavalli and Jan Aart Scholte), value competition in a single regime complex (Niels ten Oever) and the changing role of the state in an emerging data-driven economy (Dan Ciuriak and Maria Ptashkina). It then scrutinizes internet governance in authoritarian and democratic states. It will be interesting for readers to compare these depictions of the state of the art in China and Russia, as mentioned before, with those of Brazil (Jhessica Reia, Luã Fergus Cruz), Latin America more generally (Jean-Marie Chenou) and the EU (Julia Rone). It seems that institutional and historical contexts contribute much to a possible explanation of differences in approaches and perceived regulatory needs. The role of civil society involvement is an underlying theme in almost all contributions. Civil society was instrumental in spreading digital culture and 'literacy' in many countries. Civil society feels sidelined, however, in many contemporary scenarios. Smart Cities in Brazil seem to provide a case study here (Jhessica Reia, Luã Fergus Cruz).
Five main points
In a summary the editors highlight five main points. First, current trends show widespread state attempts to exert greater control in internet governance, and these government initiatives often conflict with the private regimes that have previously dominated in areas such as internet infrastructure. Second, business plays significant constraining and enabling roles in shaping state power vis- àvis the internet. Third, both authoritarian and democratic states (in different ways and to different degrees) face technical, social and economic limitations when they seek to exert ‘sovereignty’ in internet governance. Fourth, multistakeholder internet governance in practice often puts both state and civil society actors in a secondary role behind business and technical interests. Fifth, the US government continues to have a consequential role in the overall regime complex for internet governance. (p. 243)
Conclusion: the role of the state
The book problematises the tension between norm-resistant capitalism and ideas of governance that have a kind of public interest in mind (democratic and authoritarian states; civil society). In the end, the editors indicate sympathy with 'A carefully crafted return of the state in internet governance’. Readers with a background in policy will get the message that the editors, if not all contributors as well, actually encourage a consideration of greater state involvement. ‘The conclusion highlights the need for researchers and policymakers to ask not whether the state should be involved in internet governance – it always has been – but how the state can be most constructively engaged in internet governance, with full respect for democratic accountability and human rights’. (p. 9)
Part of the content of this news item was originally published on the website of the Centre for Global Cooperation Research.
Haggart, Blayne, Tusikov, Natasha, and Scholte, Jan Aart (eds.) (2021). Power and Authority in Internet Governance: Return of the State? Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003008309.