DOING INTERNET GOVERNANCE - STS-INFORMED PERSPECTIVES ON ORDERING THE NET

Christian Katzenbach, Jeanette Hofmann, Kirsten Gollatz, Francesca Musiani, Dmitry Epstein, Laura DeNardis, Andrea Hackl, Jean-François Blanchette

Abstract


Internet governance - an important, but often overlooked area in Internet studies - is gaining increasing attention in the post-Snowden era which increased distrust of formal government institutions and their ‘dangerous liaisons with the private sector. User-driven, technology-embedded, decentralized approaches to contracts, currency, privacy protection keep on seeing the light. Politics and traditional purveyors of authority negotiate ways of reinventing and distributing themselves. Thus, investigating the ordering and governing processes as they relate to the network of networks is both timely and important.

Traditionally, when talking about Internet Governance (with capital letters) researchers and practitioners refer to the new organizations and institutions that have been explicitly established to regulate, discuss, and negotiate issues of internet governance. This approach left the field mainly to legal scholars, political scientists, and institutional economists looking at institutions and processes such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Numbers and Names (ICANN), UN’s 2003 and 2005 World Summit on Information Society (WSIS), and the ongoing Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Recently, authors have criticized this institutional focus arguing for the need for a more comprehensive conceptualization of Internet governance (DeNardis 2012, Eeten/Mueller 2013, Musiani 2014, Hofmann et al. 2014).

Among these recent developments, a small set of publications has drawn on perspectives from Science and Technology Studies (STS) in order to rethink and substantiate questions of ordering the net. These contributions highlight the day-to-day, mundane practices that constitute internet governance, take into account the plurality and ‘‘networkedness’’ of devices and arrangements involved, and investigate the invisibility, pervasiveness, and apparent agency of the digital infrastructure itself (Musiani 2014). In this way, STS-informed perspectives are increasingly instrumental for challenging and expanding our understanding and for informing our examination of ordering and governing processes in the digital realm.

This panel seeks to nurture this nascent interest by pioneering a conversation on the governance of digitally networked environments from an STS-informed perspective. The papers grouped into this panel share a strong conceptual interest in understanding processes of ordering and governing the internet as a core infrastructure of our daily lives. With references to diverse controversies and phenomena (like data centers and cloud infrastructures, the negotiation of LGTB conflicts on different layers of internet architectures, discourses around multistakeholderism, the translation of copyright regulation into platform algorithms) the panel mobilizes perspectives from Science and Technology Studies (STS) to substantiate – and complicate in its best sense – our understanding of internet governance processes.

This discussion is highly relevant beyond the core internet governance research community or groups of STS scholars interested in this specific “field-site”. First, it touches upon fundamental issues for all internet scholars: how the norms shaping the provision, design and usage of the internet are negotiated, de- and re-stabilized and subject to controversies. Second, for internet governance scholars, STS opens up new perspectives on digital uses and practices, delving into the variety of ways in which they are an integral part of today’s Internet governance -- not only because such practices reflect belonging and commitment to a community, but because they allow issues of sovereignty, autonomy and liberty come into play. Finally, using STS to expand the notion of governance in Internet governance opens this field to meaningful contibutions from scholars studying constitutional aspects of technology design and use, which are typically excluded from traditional Internet governance literature. This is an exercise in cross-disciplinary bridge-building.

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