2021-12-22Zeitschriftenartikel DOI: 10.1007/s41358-021-00305-z
Political ideas of the network society: why digitalization research needs critical conceptual analysis
Kultur-, Sozial- und Bildungswissenschaftliche Fakultät
In this article, I argue for an interpretive approach to digitalization research that analyzes the concepts, narratives, and belief systems in digitalization debates. I illustrate this methodological proposal by assessing the spread of network ideas. Many political actors and digitalization researchers follow network ideas, e.g. by claiming that the rise of a network society must lead to network governance. In contrast to this narrative, I argue that there are multiple visions of the digital society, each of which follows a specific pattern of epistemology, social imaginary, and political proposals. These competing self-interpretations must be investigated by digitalization research in order to map and evaluate different pathways into a digital society. For doing so, critical conceptual analysis draws on political theory, critical conceptual history, and the sociology of knowledge. It offers two major benefits for digitalization research. Firstly, it provides a systematic overview of competing governance rationalities in the digital society, enabling a critical evaluation of their potentials and proposals. Secondly, it enhances the methodological rigor of digitalization research by reviewing the narratives researchers themselves tell. I substantiate these claims by analyzing and historicizing the above network narrative. Tracing it back to cybernetics, I show that it has been used multiple times in efforts to reshape the way we think about society and politics, including our concepts of subjectivity, power, and governance.
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