Synopsis of the book


ome proponents of computer-mediated communication have called the Internet an “electronic agora” ushering in “a new Athenian Age of democracy.” Such claims suggest two curious ideas: that the Internet truly is a kind of space and that it counts as a democratic space. This study critically examines these assumptions by developing a systematic framework and vocabulary for studyingthe social production of space in relation to both cyberspace and democracy.

For cyberspace, the challenge is to understand that notion not as hyperbole, but as a genuine expression of an apparently nonphysical space that is nonethelessa real social space. Drawing from radical geography and discourse analytics, this study shows how cyberspace is a produced social space (like all other social spaces) but one constituted in part by different physical laws than the spaces in which human bodies move. This alternative physics–as much electricity as it is the material infrastructure in which electronic data flow–makes cyberspace an other space (a heterotopia) in relation to our more conventional physical spaces. This difference is what leads us to experience cyberspace as at once real but contradictory: a space that invites us to rethink our assumptions about what goes on in our embodied spaces. In other words, a key issue here is what do we learn about the spaces of atoms from our travels in the spaces of bits.

For democracy, the task is to understand, first, that all democratic theories presuppose something about the spaces in which democracy is practiced, and to expore, second, what those presuppositions are. Theorists of direct democracy, for example, argue that true democracy can exist only in small communities–built on “human scale”–where citizens can meet face-to-face to deliberate public matters. According to this view, something vital to the democratic process is lost when any mediation is introduced into this process, whether through the establishment of a representative system of government or through the use of electronic communication. Unfortunately, theorists of direct democracy haven’t been able to say what exactly is gained from the face-to-face encounter, nor do they tend to acknowledge the ways in which those encounters themselves are discursively mediated: i.e., they fail to acknowledge that no pure form of communication can exist absent the discourses that structure knowledge and power. This study challenges such claims by exploring the ambivalent ways we embody our politics. It foregrounds that citizenship depends on locating physical bodies in physical spaces and that it does so not only to enable political agency but also to manage it.

Empirically, the analysis is based (1) on a partially historical study of computer networking hardware and software and the wetware (human) practices they have enabled, and (2) on their cumulative contribution to the production of a space of politics (the Internet) and a politics of space (competing blueprints for finding safer ways to restructure cyberspace). The analysis critically evaluates the U.S. encryption debate and telecommunications policy of the 1990s as illustrations of common, popular, and ultimately bankrupt ways in which this new techno-political space is unfolding. This critique, however, is intended not as a condemnation of the Internet, but as a grounded theoretical effort to broaden and enrich our current political debates about space, technology, and the body, about cyberspace, and about democracy.

Copyright 2017 -, Diana Saco and Saco Media LLC. All rights reserved.