This book examines how citizens encounter and perform new sorts of rights, duties, opportunities and challenges through the Internet. By disrupting prevailing understandings of citizenship and cyberspace, the authors highlight the dynamic relationship between these two concepts. Rather than assuming that these are static or established “facts” of politics and society, the book shows how the challenges and opportunities presented by the Internet inevitably impact upon the action and understanding of political agency. In doing so, it investigates how we conduct ourselves in cyberspace through digital acts. This book provides a new theoretical understanding of what it means to be a citizen today for students and scholars across the social sciences.
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About the Author
Evelyn Ruppert is professor in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, UK. She is a Data Sociologist and founding and chief editor of the journal Big Data & Society.
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Being Digital Citizens
By Engin Isin, Evelyn Ruppert
Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd.Copyright © 2015 Engin F. Isin and Evelyn S. Ruppert
All rights reserved.
Doing Things with Words and Saying Words with Things
That things we say and do through the Internet have permeated our lives in unprecedented ways is now a cliché that needs not repeating. That this has happened practically throughout the world despite a digital divide is also accepted. That both corporations and states have become heavily invested in harvesting, assembling, and storing data — for profits or security — about things we say and do through the Internet is practically the strongest evidence of the significance attached to our connected digital lives. That for many people Aaron Swartz, Anonymous, DDoS, Edward Snowden, GCHQ, Julian Assange, LulzSec, NSA, Pirate Bay, PRISM, or WikiLeaks hardly require introduction is yet further evidence. That presidents and footballers tweet, hackers leak nude photos, and murderers and advertisers use Facebook or that people post their sex acts are not so controversial as just recognizable events of our times. That Airbnb disrupts the hospitality industry or Uber the taxi industry is taken for granted. It certainly feels like saying and doing things through the Internet has become an everyday experience with dangerous possibilities.
The worldwide debate over the social, economic, and cultural consequences of digital life connected to the Internet has been in full swing for about twenty years now. Early and notable books such as Sherry Turkle's Life on the Screen (1995) and Nicholas Negroponte's Being Digital (1995) were by and large celebrations of digital lives being connected to the Internet and enabling people to do things through it. Yet within twenty years the mood has decisively changed. Evgeny Morozov's The Net Delusion (2011), Turkle's own Alone Together (2011), or Jamie Bartlett's The Dark Net (2014) strike much more sombre, if not worried, moods. While Morozov draws attention to the consequences of giving up data in return for so-called free services, Turkle draws attention to how people are getting lost in their devices. Bartlett draws attention to what is happening in certain areas of the Internet when pushed underground (removed from access via search engines) and thus giving rise to new forms of vigilantism and extremism. Perhaps the spying and snooping by corporations and states into what people say and do through the Internet has become a watershed event. Seen from another angle, novels such as William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984) and Dave Eggers's The Circle (2013) practically bookmark an era. While Gibson projects an experimental and explorative, if not separate and independent, cyberspace, almost like a frontier, Eggers announces the arrival of the guardians at the gates of the frontier. As Ronald Deibert recently suggested, while the Internet used to be characterized as a network of networks it is perhaps more appropriate now to see it as a network of filters and chokepoints. The struggle over the things we say and do through the Internet is now a political struggle of our times, and so is the Internet itself.
If indeed what we are saying and doing through the Internet is dramatically changing political life, what then of the subjects of politics? If the Internet — or, more precisely, how we are increasingly acting through the Internet — is changing our political subjectivity, what do we think about the way in which we understand ourselves as political subjects, subjects who have rights to speech, access, and privacy, rights that constitute us as political, as beings with responsibilities and obligations? Like those who approach the study of the Internet as remaking social networks, identities, subjectivities, or human-technology interactions, we are interested in how the Internet involves the refashioning of relations not only between people but between people and vast arrangements of technologies and conventions that have become part of everyday language, such as tweeting, messaging, friending, emailing, blogging, sharing, and so on. We are specifically interested in the consequences of these conventions for political life, which we think is being reconfigured in novel ways. Moreover, with the development of the Internet of things — our phones, watches, dishwashers, fridges, cars, and many other devices being always already connected to the Internet — we not only do things with words but also do words with things. (We are going to elaborate on this awkward but necessary phrase 'saying and doing things through the Internet' and its two sides, 'doing things with words' and 'saying words with things,' in chapters 2 and 3 when we discuss the figures of the citizen and cyberspace and then speech acts and digital acts.) These connected devices generate enormous volumes of data about our movements, locations, activities, interests, encounters, and private and public relationships through which we become data subjects. When joined up with other data collected by private or public authorities concerning our taxes, health, passport, travel, and finance, the data profiles that can be compiled about people is staggering. Who owns the data generated by the digital traces of people and their devices? The Internet has not only permeated our social, cultural, and economic lives but also resignified political life by creating an interconnected web of relations among people and things. It has influenced almost every aspect of politics, and its presence in politics is ubiquitous. It has created new kinds of politics where there is ostensibly no previous equivalent. It has also given rise to new subjects of politics such as Anonymous, cypherpunks, hacktivists, and whistle-blowers.
Along with these political subjects, a new designation has also emerged: digital citizens. Subjects such as citizen journalists, citizen artists, citizen scientists, citizen philanthropists, and citizen prosecutors have variously accompanied it. Going back to the euphoric years of the 1990s, Jon Katz introduced the term to describe generally the kinds of Americans who were active on the Internet. For Katz, people were inventing new ways of conducting themselves politically on the Internet and were transcending the straitjacket of at least American electoral politics caught, as it were, between conventional Democratic versus Republican party politics. Considering this as the birth of a new political subjectivity entirely owing to the Internet, Katz thought that although digital citizens were libertarian, they were neither alienated nor isolated. Rather, digital citizens were a political movement struggling to come together with a common cause mobilized by values of sharing, prosperity, exchange, knowledge, and openness. Katz's optimism has not been entirely borne out by our subsequent (and international) experience. A recent website, for example, calling on people to become digital citizens seems to be more about personal safety and personal security than Katz's libertarian political subjects dedicated to openness and sharing. It promises, for example, that through becoming digital citizens you will 'learn how to protect yourself and your family. Be a voice for real solutions. Help us take our online neighbourhood back from the criminals and predators.' As this signals, these different imaginaries of being or becoming digital citizens are contested. This contestation is not entirely a product of the Internet, as we shall see later, and perhaps expresses the paradox of the late modern citizen with conflicting and ambiguous callings. The question that we face in relation to this contestation or struggle as both an object of theorizing and of politics is: What kind of political subject, if not a citizen, is coming into being through the Internet? What are the callings that mobilize people with ever more force to become digital citizens, and what are the closings that generate dread and motivate them to withdraw?
In posing these questions our focus is thus on the political subject that arises from acting through the Internet. To state from the outset, we understand the political subject not as a coherent and unified being but as a composite of multiple subjectivities that emerge from different situations and relations. We ask how it is possible for political subjects to make rights claims about how their digital lives are configured, regulated, and organized by dispersed arrangements of numerous people and things such as corporations and states but also software and devices as well as people such as programmers and regulators. This question concerns not only by now well-known activists who are mostly male and Euro-American but also the innumerable and often anonymous subjects whose everyday acts through the Internet make claims to its workings and rules. And as we have already suggested in the questions raised above, how these everyday acts come to produce a political subjectivity that we call digital citizens is our central concern. We have already implied two key ideas of this book; let us now specify them.
First, by bringing the political subject to the centre of concern, we interfere with determinist analyses of the Internet and hyperbolic assertions about its impact that imagine subjects as passive data subjects. Instead, we attend to how political subjectivities are always performed in relation to sociotechnical arrangements to then think about how they are brought into being through the Internet. We also interfere with libertarian analyses of the Internet and their hyperbolic assertions of sovereign subjects. We contend that if we shift our analysis from how we are being 'controlled' (as both determinist and libertarian views agree) to the complexities of 'acting' — by foregrounding citizen subjects not in isolation but in relation to the arrangements of which they are a part — we can identify ways of being not simply obedient and submissive but also subversive. While usually reserved for high-profile hacktivists and whistle-blowers, we ask, how do subjects act in ways that transgress the expectations of and go beyond specific conventions and in doing so make rights claims about how to conduct themselves as digital citizens? Second, by focusing on how digital citizens make rights claims through the Internet, we ask, how are their relations mediated, regulated, and monitored, and how is knowledge generated, ordered, and disseminated through the Internet? We consider both of these concerns as objects of struggle and ones through which we might identify how we otherwise conduct ourselves as digital citizens when we engage with others and act through the Internet.
When the sociotechnical arrangements and subjects that make up the Internet traverse not only national borders but also legal orders, both borders and orders become permeable and reinforced simultaneously. The implications of this are evident in struggles over the Internet; from Anonymous to WikiLeaks, from activists to security professionals alike, acts can and do cut across national borders and multiple legal orders. Some of the Internet's novel aspects, such as the speed and reach of interactions and transactions, have spurred concerns about high-frequency trading, the hacking of financial and banking services, state and corporate spying on citizens, deliberate cross-border virus attacks, covert cyberwars among states, and the rise of often anonymous racism, xenophobia, and homophobia along with cyberbullying and issues of freedom of speech. These are just a few prominent issues of how technical, material, cultural, ethical, and political matters collide and collude across multiple and overlapping orders. The challenge we set for ourselves in this book is to find ways of investigating how people enact themselves as citizens by negotiating their rights such as privacy, access, openness, and innovation and their rights concerning data. We investigate these rights not in terms of their substance but in relation to who the subject is of these rights, or more precisely, who is constituting themselves as political subjects of these rights by saying and doing things — and thus making rights claims — through the Internet.
BETWEEN DIGITAL LIFE AND POLITICAL LIFE
So far there has been a remarkably limited discussion, let alone theorization, of the relationship between citizens and the Internet. It has been limited in two senses. First, discussions of the relationship have focused on issues concerning the provision and delivery of public services through the Internet, variously described as e-government and measured by indicators such as the United Nations e-government readiness index or other indices and metrics. This is also the case for studies of government transparency and citizen rights to open data that have lead to initiatives such as the G8 Open Data Charter. Although open data and the provision and delivery of public services through the Internet are important aspects of contemporary citizenship, to limit citizenship to these meanings is obviously too narrow for understanding various broader, if not fundamental, issues we have just mentioned. Second, those who consider such broad issues that we discuss under the rubric of 'digital citizens' seem to overlook how citizenship itself in contemporary societies is undergoing fundamental changes that are related to a series of other transformations similar to and different from those concerning the Internet. The issues of transnational mobility and migrations, resurgence of nationalism, assertions of sovereignty, internationalization of capital, the decline of the social state, and the rise of neoliberalism are all forcing the boundaries of citizenship as an issue of concern. Just as the extensity of the Internet enables digital life to flow across state regulatory jurisdictions, so too do the rights claims of citizens increasingly traverse multiple legal orders.
To an extent, these issues are now being addressed in the field of digital studies. Questions concerning who shapes the Internet, who uses it, and who shapes law and regulation regarding it are now being debated. It is well recognized that digital studies concerns itself with not only underlying digital technologies but how these technologies are embedded in sociotechnical arrangements and subjects who shape these arrangements both as users and producers. More significantly, digital studies spans both social sciences and humanities as well as science and technology studies and asks questions concerning the relation of digital technologies to social and cultural change. For Arthur and Marilouise Kroker especially, critical digital studies revisits the question concerning technology and its embodiment in political, social, and cultural lives. For Kroker and Kroker 'What is truly critical about critical digital studies is the emphasis on not only understanding the dominant codes of technology, politics, and culture in the digital era but also on digital studies that excel in breaking the codes and in introducing new visions of the digital future by disrupting the codes, disturbing boundaries, and adding uncertainty to established patterns of (code) behaviour.' As we shall see in chapter 6, breaking codes or conventions is an essential aspect of the performativity of digital acts, and hence being critical is inherent in a performative understanding of acts.
If indeed we want to engage with critical digital studies concerning the connectivity of people and things through the Internet, our premise is that even in critical digital studies that explore 'the politics of the Internet', the figure of the citizen makes a faint appearance. As we explain below, we do not mean that either the term 'citizens' or 'citizenship' is absent from digital studies. On the contrary, since the 1990s, the terms 'citizens' and 'citizenship' have been used to describe politics of and on the Internet. The question is, rather, concerned with the faint appearance of the figure of the citizen as a subject making rights claims. A brief survey of exceptions to this absence will help us explain what we mean by this.
Excerpted from Being Digital Citizens by Engin Isin, Evelyn Ruppert. Copyright © 2015 Engin F. Isin and Evelyn S. Ruppert. Excerpted by permission of Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd..
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Table of ContentsAcknowledgments / 1. Doing Things with Words and Saying Words with Things / 2. Citizens and Cyberspace / 3. Speech Acts and Digital Acts / 4. Callings: Participating, Connecting, Sharing / 5. Closings: Filtering, Tracking, Normalising / 6. Openings: Witnessing, Hacking, Commoning / 7. Making Digital Rights Claims / Bibliography / Index