The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam

The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam

by Philip N. Howard
     
 

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Around the developing world, political leaders face a dilemma: the very information and communication technologies that boost economic fortunes also undermine power structures. Globally, one in ten internet users is a Muslim living in a populous Muslim community. In these countries, young people are developing their political identities--including a… See more details below

Overview


Around the developing world, political leaders face a dilemma: the very information and communication technologies that boost economic fortunes also undermine power structures. Globally, one in ten internet users is a Muslim living in a populous Muslim community. In these countries, young people are developing their political identities--including a transnational Muslim identity--online. In countries where political parties are illegal, the internet is the only infrastructure for democratic discourse. In others, digital technologies such as mobile phones and the internet have given key actors an information infrastructure that is independent of the state. And in countries with large Muslim communities, mobile phones and the internet are helping civil society build systems of political communication independent of the state and beyond easy manipulation by cultural or religious elites.
This book looks at the role that communications technologies play in advancing democratic transitions in Muslim countries. As such, its central question is whether technology holds the potential to substantially enhance democracy. Certainly, no democratic transition has occurred solely because of the internet. But, as Philip Howard argues, no democratic transition can occur today without the internet. According to Howard, the major (and perhaps only meaningful) forum for civic debate in most Muslim countries today is online. Activists both within diasporic communities and within authoritarian states, including Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, are the drivers of this debate, which centers around issues such as the interpretation of Islamic texts, gender roles, and security issues. Drawing upon material from interviews with telecommunications policy makers and activists in Azerbaijan, Egypt, Tajikistan and Tanzania and a comparative study of 74 countries with large Muslim populations, Howard demonstrates that these forums have been the means to organize activist movements that have lead to successful democratic insurgencies.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A long-awaited inquiry into the politics of the Internet...Howard's book is an innovative contribution among the overwhelming amount of writings about the role of the Internet in the Middle East...Howard puts much effort in explaining the multifaceted results, adding tables to summarize important findings. This nuanced approach is a pleasant break from the often-found urge for absolute (utopian or dystopian) claims...The book is highly recommended as required reading for technology experts, graduate students, and longer serving academics alike."—Political Communication

"At a time when everyone is asking whether new media affects politics in the Mid-East, Philip Howard has produced the definitive answer in his book. This is an impressive work of scholarship, both in its quantitative approach to international affairs and in its conclusions, which will be of interest to social scientists and policy makers alike."—Clay Shirky, New York University and author of Cognitive Surplus

"This book presents a most challenging and original analysis of the cultural and political dynamics of the Muslim world through the lens of the interaction between communication technology and politics. It breaks new ground in our understanding of the implications of digital technology for socio-political change. It will become a reference in political communication for the years to come."—Manuel Castells, Wallis Annenberg Chair of Communication Technology and Society, University of Southern California-Los Angeles

"For too long the literature on the politics of the new information technologies has been empirically thin and theoretically overheated. By substituting systematic empirical analysis for anecdote and nuanced interpretation for hyperbole, Howard has written an original and important book that scholars of comparative politics, democratization, contentious politics and the new information technologies will be obliged to read. As he provocatively reminds us (quoting Kranzberg), 'technology is neither good nor bad, nor is it neutral.'"—Doug McAdam, Professor of Sociology and Director of Urban Studies, Stanford University

"In contests between dictatorship and democracy, new media exert increasingly determinative influence. Philip Howard provides a detailed, thoughtful analysis of how the flow of information and tools of communication are reshaping global politics."—Philip Seib, Director of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy

"Philip Howard develops an empirically grounded case for the role that the Internet and related communication technologies are playing in supporting democratic developments within Islamic states. This would be an excellent book for courses on 21st Century politics and the Internet."—William H. Dutton, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

"[Howard's] meticulously researched account stands in stark contrast to two rather simplistic narratives that have become extremely popular with pundits and journalists, who like to view the Internet either as a breeding ground for terrorists or as an almighty force that causes revolutions anywhere it goes. EL a well-informed and ambitious study that expounds on the historical relationship between technology diffusion and democratization in Muslim countries in a very nuanced and technologically literate manner." - Perspectives on Politics

"In this timely, erudite, and well-written book, Howard captures the multifaceted dimensions and transformative power of new technologies. Empirically grounded and analytically rich, the reader will find much that is informative and insightful."—CHOICE

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199736423
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
09/21/2010
Series:
Oxford Studies in Digital Politics Series
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

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