The Shape of Diversity to Come: Global Community, Global Archipelago, or a New Civility?
Date: 24 and 25 January 2013
Location: Erasmus University Rotterdam, Forumzaal (M-building, M3-15).
Call for Papers
The Conference will consist of a two-day Seminar with keynotes that bring together scholars from different domains, hoping to raise new insights across disciplinary borders.
We invite scholars from all relevant fields to present a paper at the conference, ‘The Shape of Diversity to Come’. Proposals for papers in one of the 4 conference tracks listed below will be taken into consideration.
1. Deadline for the submission of paper proposals in the form of an extended abstract (max. 1500 words): September 30th 2012. Please send to email@example.com.
2. Acceptance or rejection of the proposals by: October 15th 2012.
3. The deadline for the written papers (6000 to 8000 words) is December 30th 2012.
We aim to publish the keynotes and a selection of the papers in an edited volume.
THE SHAPE OF DIVERSITY TO COME
GLOBAL COMMUNITY, GLOBAL ARCHIPELAGO, OR A NEW CIVILITY?
For most political and legal theorists who reflect on diversity and multiculturalism the nation-state is the natural environment in which questions of difference have to be resolved. To be a liberal theorist or a multi-culturalist, in most cases, is to be a liberal or multicultural nationalist (Kukathas 2003: p. 9-10). Yet, the nation state, as a formation encompassing a culturally unified people, is now straining under the challenges of globalization and the revolution in communication technology. This conference will consider the dynamic changes that are currently taking place with respect to cultural and religious diversity as a result of the explosion in communication, address the conflicts they give rise to, and discuss the ramifications for law and politics.
The importance of “communication-technology shifts” is well-documented (Eisenstein 1979, 2011; Anderson 1983; Castells 2009). The shift from “script to print” is closely related to the Reformation and the Enlightenment. The emergence of telecommunications and mass media made possible the “imagined community” of the nation. The current shift from analog to digital, and toward a global communications network, is also producing seismic change. Two views on the impact of communication and information technology dominate the scholarship: one in which communication leads to the emergence of a global community and an interconnected global culture; and a second in which it leads to an archipelago of communities that do not necessarily converge with the boundaries nation states, i.e. to a cultural Balkanization of the world across national borders.
The global community scenario suggests that the increased communication is creating a global community. Communication is bringing us closer together, breeding mutual understanding, and creating a global civil society. It is the narrative that is told about the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement ― i.e. faced with a regional deficit of democracy or a global problem of financial regulation, people across national borders find common cause and unite. A view of the world as becoming more connected through communication need not necessarily be positive and democratic. There is also a more dystopian perspective, in which the global community is molded by big corporations and people are increasingly standardized and commodified. People are not so much reaching out across borders, as passively fitting in with the ready-made formats and standardized templates of the market.
The global archipelago scenario, on the other hand, suggests that the increased possibilities of communication technology lead not to greater mutuality, but to diversification and fragmentation. The internet has embraced the concept of “personalization,” of tailoring information to the profile of the internet user. As a result, the infosphere is breaking up into different habitats for distinct subcultures. Hence, as both Sunstein and Pariser have pointed out, the general trend is now towards “groupism” and to “fragmentation and local homogeneity”. Communication technology is not creating one all-embracing global community, in other words, but an archipelago of separate communities in which those who are similar and likeminded congregate. Though this can be seen as a process of liberation it may lead to polarization, extremism and the development of parallel communities that no longer understand each other (Sunstein 2001, Pariser 2011). Such a process that can be seen at work in the rise of Muslim fundamentalist networks, for instance, or in the intensification of the American culture wars between secular liberals and religious conservatives.
Instead of presenting the implications of the networked information and communication infrastructure in the opposing metaphors of a global community or a global archipelago, we can also argue for a normative understanding of what is at stake. Referring to Lessig’s observation that mobility and urbanization freed serfs and peasants from the constraints of closed communities in the late Middle Ages, we can investigate how the novel ICT architecture can be designed and sustained in a way that nourishes civility and urbanity. Instead of endorsing either utopian notions of global community or dystopian fears of an internet with walled gardens, we can vouch for an internet that allows for interconnectivity without accepting the increased personalization that leads to unprecedented surveillance and social sorting in both the private and the public sphere.
Information Technology and Identity
Does the way in which new forms of communication bolster immigrant and minority communities call into question classical liberal and communitarian views of the multicultural society? Information and conversation flows freely in and out of the national space. What does this mean for the habituation of new citizens? Dutch expats in New York, London, or Singapore can remain intimately connected and attached to their country of origin in a range of new ways. Should their hybrid identity be recognized in dual citizenship?
Of course, critical questions can also be asked about the real substance of these new forms of association that the communication and information revolution has brought forth. Are the ties of these communities strong enough to substitute the traditional organizations of civil society? Or, is it a mistake to equate the weak internet communities with real-life social, cultural and political organizations (Morozov 2011)?
Techno-Determinism and Choice
Some of the analysis presents the development of information and communication technology as an unstoppable force that reshapes the way people relate. Yet, there is a great deal of man-made code at the basis of this reconstitution of social life (Lessig 1996, 2006). Should we simply accept the design choices and algorithms that rule our social lives in cyberspace?
This raises normative questions about the technical choices in the architectural design of cyberspace. What sort of place do we want cyberspace to be? “We must take responsibility for the politics we are building into this architecture,” Lessig claims, “for this architecture is a sovereign governing the community that lives in that space. We must consider the politics of the architecture of the life there” (2006, p. 293). Code maybe law, as Lessig suggests, but it is not generally accepted as a type of law.
Media and Public Discourse
The nationally organized media organizations once played a pivotal role in creating and informing a mass public, in facilitating a national debate on national issues. It created Benedict Anderson’s famous “imagined community” of the nation by making people feel they were all part of a developing story, that they were all experiencing the same events as part of an encompassing nation (1983). The internet has undermined this role. The news is now fragmenting. This shattering of the news media in part tracks existing cultural and religious divisions ― think of the role Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya play for immigrants of North-Africa and the Middle-East, or the Christian networks for evangelicals the world over. What does this fragmentation of the news media mean for public discourse and the need for a national conversation?
Is there Method for this Madness?
How do we overcome the methodological nationalism of political and legal theory? How do we think about the political community if the groups that define people are becoming both more global and more local in scope than the nation state in which they are citizens? Both Lawrence Lessig’s and Eli Pariser’s analysis, moreover, raise the question: To what extent must the “code” of cyberspace also be considered a matter for political and legal decision-making? If they are considered legitimate political and legal issues, then it is unclear to which constituency these issues should be addressed. Which sovereign decides on the code of cyberspace?
Julie Cohen is a Professor of Law at the Georgetown University Law Center, she teaches and writes about intellectual property law and privacy law, with particular focus on copyright and on the intersection of copyright and privacy rights in the networked information society. She recently published Configuring the Networked Self: Law, Code and the Play of Everyday Practice (Yale University Press, 2012).
Chandran Kukathas is author of The Liberal Archipelago (Oxford University Press 2003). Kukathas is currently chair of Political Theory at the London School of Economics. He has taught at the Royal Military College, Canberra; Oxford; the Australian National University; the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy; and the University of Utah, where he held the Neal Maxwell Chair in Political Theory in the Department of Political Science.
Emmanuel Melissaris is Senior Lecturer in Law at the LSE Department of Law. He is the author of a recent work on legal pluralism and legal theory Ubiquitous Law: Legal Theory and the Space for Legal Pluralism (Ashgate, 2009). In this book Melissaris argues for an understanding of law disassociated from the state.
JOS DE MUL
Jos de Mul is professor in Philosophical Anthropology and its History and head of the section Philosophy of Man and Culture. Moreover, he is the Scientific Director of the research institute ‘Philosophy of Information and Communication Technology’ (FICT). Among his books are Romantic Desire in (Post)Modern Art and Philosophy (State University of New York Press, 1999), The Tragedy of Finitude (Yale University Press, 2004), and Cyberspace Odyssey (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010).
Saskia Sassen is the Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology and Co-Chair, The Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University. Recent books are Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages ( Princeton University Press 2008), A Sociology of Globalization (W.W.Norton 2007), and the 4th fully updated edition of Cities in a World Economy (Sage 2011). The Global City came out in a new fully updated edition in 2001. Her books are translated into over twenty languages. She is currently working on When Territory Exits Existing Frameworks (Under contract with Harvard University Press). She contributes regularly to www.OpenDemocracy.net and www.HuffingtonPost.com
Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, London: Verso 1983.
Castells, Manuel, Communication Power, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2009.
Eisenstein, Elizabeth L., Divine Art, Infernal Machine: The Reception of Printing in the West from First Impressions to the Sense of Ending, Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press 2011.
Eisenstein, Elizabeth L., The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-Modern Europe, Vol. I & II, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1979.
Kukathas, Chandran, The Liberal Archipelago: A Theory of Diversity and Freedom, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2003.
Lessig, Lawrence, Code: Version 2.0, New York: Basic Books, 2006.
Lessig, Lawrence, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, New York: Basic Books, 1999.
Morozov, Evgeny, The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, Philadelphia: Public Affairs 2011.
Pariser, Eli, The Filter Bubble, London: Viking 2011.
Sunstein, Cass, Republic.Com, Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press 2001.