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Recent OII workshop on networked governance

April 16, 2009

This past 26 March 2009 I attended a workshop at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) entitled Modes of Governance in Digitally Networked Environments. The session was impeccably organised by Christian Pentzold and Malte Ziewitz. Once again I found myself marvelling at the sheer diversity of digital environments that social scientists are today grappling with. The starting point  here was the common misconception that digitally networked environments, as the organisers aptly put it, ‘magically govern themselves’. Particularly

when traditional modes of governance like law and centralized regulations fail, researchers tend to resort to rather vague ideas like ‘self-regulation’, ‘decentralization’, ‘liberalization’, or ‘peer production’ to describe the complex interactions and mechanisms that take place in large-scale, loose-knit socio-technical networks. Moreover, the network itself is often contrasted with markets or hierarchies as a new mode of governance in its own right.

The presentations formed a rich set of governance case studies ranging from local e-government in France and Malaysia (my own example)  to an academic mailing list based in Greece, predictive consumer modelling, Wikipedia, the internet browser Firefox, the US political blog Daily Kos and the virtual world Second Life.

The question posed by the organisers that came back to me during the wrap-up session was: ‘Is there evidence for a new form of networked governance?’. My tentative reply, on the basis of the studies presented throughout the day, is that there appears to be no such emergent form of  C21 governance. Instead, what we find is a great diversity of digitally mediated practices and processes around different endeavours (blogging on issues of the day, getting a second life, editing an online encyclopaedia, governing a locality, etc.). At the same time, earlier practices and institutions (i.e. sedimented sets of practices, Giddens 1984)  have not gone away, for example, the familiar bureaucratic practices of local government that I encountered in a Malaysian suburb.

See preliminary report by Malte Ziewitz here

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