Network society and political democracy

We will only access the benefits of the network society when the digital infrastructures are distributed throughout the territory

One of the most relevant facets of the digital transition is the emergence of very diverse networks – centralized, decentralized and distributed – and the immersion of politics in these networks as a result of their progressive institutional, technical and administrative disintermediation.

If we want, we will witness, in a way, the desacralization of politics and its immersion/transfiguration in the universe of networks, more verticalized or more autonomous, in line with the novelties that arrive from the information and knowledge society.

Furthermore, in this society of information and knowledge, a new theory of communicational action will emerge, a new relationship between the actor and the system, where, in its own benefit, the self-limitation of politics will serve to protect it from its own meanness and triviality. Thus, if it has this foresight, politics will seek to decentralize part of its activities in networked territories, in networked actors and in the production of common goods obtained through co-production and co-management.

Let's see some characteristics of this new relationship between the actor and the system within the network society and a more collaborative political democracy.

Firstly, post-industrial capitalism very early understood this radical mutation of the digital transition and transmuted itself into cognitive and creative capitalism (Boutang, 2008).

In this cognitive capitalism, simulated and virtual environments where, allegedly, there is more lateral power than vertical, are terrains where labor productivity is no longer measured so much by hierarchies, chains of command and disciplinary regulations, but rather by shared intelligence. and creative contributions to collective work. In a way, it's a return to a community work ethic and collaborative peer intelligence.

In this sense, imagine, for example, the collaborative potential and collective intelligence that inhabit business cooperation and extension networks, research and development networks, social innovation networks, environmentally friendly networks or the various territories- network of the 2nd rurality, among many others.

Secondly, it is in the context of the information and knowledge society that there is also talk of a return to the ethics of common goods (Coriat, 2015), not only the material commons, but, above all, the commons of knowledge, of culture and social solidarity on the back of digital technologies and platforms.

In the interaction between the knowledge economy and the social and solidarity economy and in this return to common goods, the so-called emerging properties of social and collaborative ethics should be highlighted, for example: the priority given to access and service over property and possession, the priority given to use values ​​and collective utility, the effective regulation of transaction costs vis-à-vis large intermediaries, the apology of proximity agrifood systems and short circuits, the provision of outpatient and itinerant services to the most vulnerable groups, the promotion of responsible and shared consumption and the fight against waste, the apology of merit goods that ensure the sustainability of resources, which socialize relationships and promote the effectiveness of institutions and rules, openness to collaborative business models, participatory financing and economy of collaborative platforms as a privileged instrument of knowledge.

All these emerging properties feed political democracy in its most collaborative and associative aspect.

Thirdly, this broad understanding of collaborative platforms and common goods opens a window of opportunity to put the general theory of network-territories into practice (Covas and Covas, 2014) where the actor-network and territorial curatorship play a key role, far beyond simple corporate, municipal or intermunicipal administration.

There is already undeniable collaborative progress and very diversified collective intelligence in modified and simulated business environments, in common spaces for artistic creation and social innovation and in network territories in the rural world, as a result of the organization of online communities, networks and collaborative and associative platforms. All of them develop forms of collective territorial intelligence, very diverse applications and functionalities and very creative curatorships that it is important to deepen and monitor.

Final grade

Democratic pluralism in its various dimensions – representative, participatory, associative and collaborative – will be highly valued by the various accesses, channels and public spaces opened by the network society. However, all these facilities of the network society are not made by decree and without effort on the part of the citizens.

In summary, we will only access the benefits of the network society when the digital infrastructures are distributed throughout the territory, when digital literacy is generalized and allow the launch of many peer-distributed platforms, we will only access the knowledge society more easily when science and technology , arts and culture go hand in hand and allow an explosion of creativity in the heart of intelligent local communities, finally, we will only access full political democracy when representation, association and collaboration open the door to the ethics of care and utility respect, in a virtuous association between the government of the commons and environmentally friendly merit goods.

When, in 1977, Crozier and Friedberg wrote the classic of the sociology of organizations The actor and the system about cooperation relations and power conflicts in the scope of collective action, they could not imagine how their reflections are, even today, a basis essential for understanding the relationships within the information and knowledge society.

Recommend a read revisit.


Author António Covas is a Retired Full Professor at the University of Algarve


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