This study is intended to contribute to the forging of a social-action knowledge that enables the enactment of radical change to the American political system: A trans-formation through which the prevailing system of ascendancy, along with the interests that sustain it, will be substantially dismantled and dispossessed, leaving in its place a condition in which the preponderance of authority is localized, emplacing political power in provincial civic institutions.
This refitting of our federal system of government will amplify the abilities of individuals to affect the conditions in which they live through participation in local political structures. The institutions forming municipal polities are more accessible to the common individual. Therefore, through the empowerment of local assemblies, individuals will have greater influence over the public policies directly impacting their human ecologies (Park, 1925). For instance, in terms of advancing initiatives, individuals will possess more direct and immediate access to the deliberative processes through which public policies are produced. Plebes will cease to be dependent upon the class of professional surrogates: Those who occupy stations in Washington NGOs, which have procured an advisory capacity to Congressmen and Congressional staffers during the drafting of legislation. As opposed to a state in which the political selves of the common man and woman are shaped by flows and currents rippling through “multitudes” (Hardt & Negri, 2000), individuals will have the opportunity to fashion a unique public persona; a political self that fails to be crammed into the precincts imposed by group definitions, or fails to suffer a public self whose externalizations are muted by the constant racket emitted by chattering classes.
In order to enact such a condition – a political reconfiguration that I reference with the term, “Localism” – it is necessary to challenge the institutions and agents who have an interest in maintaining the present state-of-affairs. American governance is highly centralized, and it is controlled by a party duopoly – Democrats and Republicans – a consolidation that contributes to centralized power. In order to effectively dismantle the centralization of political power in America, the two-party system must be challenged and eventually dislocated from its position of control over the institutions through which socio-political power is operationalized.
The Two-party system.
Although Americans often think of the two-party system as the only viable political model for a mature “democracy,” it should not be overlooked that during the 19th century third-parties had influential roles in local politics (Disch, 2002). However, as a result of electoral legislation that was passed by Democratic and Republican controlled state legislatures, third-parties were largely pushed into political obscurity. One of the more significant alterations to electoral dealings included the elimination of fusion voting (Disch, 2002). Fusion voting had allowed candidates to concurrently run on multiple ballots. Therefore, a voter could demonstrate support for a third-party while continuing to cast his vote for a competitive opposition candidate. Third-parties, due to the fusion vote, could have substantial impacts upon the platforms adopted by the major parties, both of which had an incentive to tailor their platforms so that third-parties would nominate their candidates. The Age of Reform and Progressivism. In addition to electoral legislation, which effectively extended the power of the two national parties into the spheres of state and local politics, the progressive reform movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries played a vital role in the advancement of centralization. I do not want to criticize many of the reforms that were championed by progressives. Nevertheless, despite this movement’s association with a mêlée against plutocracy and corruption – a reform programme intended to enhance American democracy by eliminating the abuses of party machines and by increasing distributional justice – progressives compromised the ability of local populations to self-govern according to the institutions formed from their indigenous socio-cultural conventions.
Progressivism was electrified by an unfortunate vanguard Zeitgeist, resulting in its effort to empower the presidency; an office that progressives perceived as the proponent of the general welfare (Nelson, 2008). The presidency was construed as the most practicable vehicle with which to overcome the backwardness and political narrow sightedness of provincialism. Progressives saw the presidency and the executive branch as an opportunity to rationalize governance. The individuals occupying the positions within the departments and agencies extending from a unitary executive could be selected according to merits, such as erudition and expertise. Governing would be left to those who possessed the intellectual capacity necessary to devise complicated public planning. In short, according to the polity envisioned by progressives, the president and those to whom he delegated authority and from whom he sought counsel were to shoulder a responsibility comparable to what Plato (2009) had envisioned for the “Gold Caste” in The Republic: The president would serve as a philosopher king and his appointments and nominees would act as members of his court.
Unfortunately, by increasing the powers of the executive branch, progressives furthered the consolidation of American governance under a locus of central authority; a process that failed to contribute to the realization of democracy (Nelson, 2008). Rather than furthering American democratization, Progressivism constricted the political possibilities possessed by individuals and communities. It limited popular sovereignty. Power was taken from communities and handed over to the national government; a body that, by definition, is distanced and removed from the geographic localities over which it exercises authority.
Localism and its history.
It is the position taken in this paper that immediacy and familiarity should be prioritized over distance and detachment when determining which person or group should have his or its political will prioritized in the decision-making determinative of policies affecting local populations. I came to adopt this political philosophy, Localism, when participating in the Populist Party of America. It was the position of the party that political decentralization – a condition that promotes Localism – could be used as a device to limit the effects of undesirable forms of governance, due to the fact that no single type of polity could exercise exclusive will over the population. There might be instances of undesirable regimes in regional politics. However, such political forms would be limited in scope, and, furthermore, they would be surrounded by contrasting forms of civic life offering alternatives. Localism, therefore, was intended to cultivate socio-political diversification.
From my subsequent readings of American socio-political history, I realized that Localism is not a contemporary philosophy that collaborators contributing to the Populist Party of America had invented. It has been a recurring theme expressed in various historical contexts by popular factions who opposed structures and institutions that were perceived as distanced and alienated from their local forms of life. Localism, for instance, was the preeminent cognitive frame constructed by agitators working to incite a civil war with the British. The monarchy represented an alien power that was too removed from the towns and communities comprising the colonies to be responsive to their local concerns. Localism continued to resonate among anti-Federalists (Borden, Ed., 1965), who opposed the ratification of a constitution embodying a prescription for governance that compromised the sovereignty of states while empowering a remote national polity (Masur and Staloff, year unknown); a sphere of policy deliberation that was detached from the diverse, manifold communities it collectively and individually impacted through executive orders implementing federal legislation and jurisprudence. George Clinton encapsulated anti-Federalist concerns in the first paragraph in his essay, Extent of Territory under Consolidated Government too Large to Preserve Liberty or Protect Property:
. . . . The recital, or premises on which the new form of government is erected, declares a consolidation or union of all the thirteen parts, or states, into one great whole, under the form of the United States, for all the various and important purposes therein set forth. But whoever seriously considers the immense extent of territory comprehended within the limits of the United States, together with the variety of its climates, productions, and commerce, the difference of extent, and number of inhabitants in all; the dissimilitude of interest, morals, and politics, in almost every one, will receive it as an intuitive truth, that a consolidated republican form of government therein, can never form a perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to you and your posterity, for to these objects it must be directed. This unkindred legislature therefore, composed of interests opposite and dissimilar in their nature, will in its exercise, emphatically be like a house divided against itself (Borden, ed., 1965).
Although the Federalist victory directed America along a counterrevolutionary course in its socio-political development, Localism did not cease to reverberate and inspire the practice of oppositional politics. The Whiskey Rebellion consisted of Western Pennsylvania farmers who objected to the inequities of Hamiltonian taxation policies. They realized that whiskey was the only feasible cash crop and, therefore, was the only source of monetary revenue for a population isolated from the rest of the country by the Alleghenies (Cornell, 2006). They interpreted Hamilton’s efforts to consolidate whiskey production among large scale industrial manufacturers along the East Coast as partisan and unrepresentative of their own local interests. It was imperious and worthy of their militant confrontation, which was directed against Federal tax collecting agents.
Localism can additionally be observed in the antimonopoly and antitrust advocacies undertaken by popular factions during the Gilded Age: The period, following the Civil War, during which America experienced massive industrial expansion. It was the era in which robber barons accumulated enormous wealth and had unseemly influence over political processes. It was also the time when state legislators in conjunction with the jurisprudence of state and federal courts – whose judges engaged in judicial activism, overhauling common law in order for it to be accommodative to capitalist interests – constructed the legal fiction as it currently stands, the corporation: A fixture belonging to the institutional economy that is endowed with legal provisions that benefit members of the investor class and their “moneyed interests,” such as the principle of “limited liability” (Drutman, 2003).
Historians, such as Richard Hofstadter (2005), misrepresented populists of the latter half of the 19th century as unsophisticated, xenophobic reactionaries, who were interested in reversing the inevitable progression of American society from an agrarian, village-based social organization into an urban, industrialized society. Despite disparaging renderings depicting the discursive structures produced by the Agrarian Revolt as manifestations of an irrational luddite nostalgia for an irretrievable past, recent scholars have reevaluated the populism of the 19th century using alternative meta-theoretical conceptions of history. Gretchen Ritter (1997) for instance, has analyzed the political ideologies of third-party movements, not as remonstrations clamored by historical dead-enders, but as incidents involved in a contingent historical process, whose outcome was contested. Consequently, she presents the polemics and proposals articulated and disseminated by Greenbacks and Populists as intellectually serious and politically viable. They were credible programmatic policy recommendations that were intended to configure American society according to a conception of the good life that stood in contrast and in defiance to contemporary processes of corporatization. Free-grangers, for example, who opposed the corporatization and resulting privatization of the plains by land syndicates, were not ripples of discontent in a fated historical current leading to the proprietorship and partitioned fencing of the American steppes.
There is no reason to concede that the present political economy – what we can refer to as “corporate capitalism” – is the natural outgrowth of our social maturation. Had certain events and interrelated struggles turned out otherwise, history could have been directed according to values underlying the American ethos of “producerism” (Ritter, 1997); subsequently, incurring a condition of petty-capitalism: A social system consisting of self-sufficient, politically individuated citizens. In other words, America had the potential to embody a Jeffersonian democracy as opposed to the present state-of-affairs: A society consisting of employed masses habitually deferential to corporate hierarchy.
From understanding and appreciating the social context of this period, the Gilded Age, we can empathize with the apprehension and resentment that local populations directed toward the increasing empowerment of the corporation. Trusts and monopolies were not simply instances of excessive vertical integration or market consolidation; they were forms of colonization that exploited local communities and their labors. They captured resources and dispossessed people of the commodities produced from their work. The American ethic of producerism disdained these “moneyed interests,” which were detached from – albeit in legal control and in possession – of actual embodiments of production. They were considered to be alien interferences in the affairs of those who actually contributed to the economic vitality and subsequent wealth of local populations.
In the contemporary landscape, there is a growing return to Localism. I am not referring to the Tea Party. Instead, I am designating phenomena, such as the emerging economic paradigm which reinterprets economic principles according to the interests of local economies (Houston & Eness, 2009; Civic Economics, 2004). This economic localism has produced research that effectively argues for provincial public policies that prevent national and, worse, multinational retailers from entering and inevitably monopolizing local markets. Such foreign agents extract more resources than they reinvest in the local economy. Rather than procuring the merchandise, with which they stock their shelves, from local producers, these retailers import from distanced manufacturers that exploit cheaper, often, offshore labor. The promises of low paying jobs and cheap, knockoff products does not recompense for the net drain upon the local economy incurred by retail chains. The same principle holds true for other service sector industries.
Localism and Socio-political power.
Localism is a political philosophy that is opposed to a tendency in American politics that this paper references as centralization: A social process through which political power is accumulated in a locus that is distanced, removed from local communities, their unique human ecologies, and their provincial political institutions. The notion of political centralization, however, is not to suggest that politics and power should be conceived according to a pre-Foucauldian framework (Foucault, 1990). There is certainly a micro-physical dimension to centralized government that allows its policies to be concretely manifested so that they affect local institutions and practices.
Power relationships can assume multiple forms involving varying degrees of immediacy. Incarceration, for instance, is a type of disciplinary power (Foucault, 2005), that consists of direct physical coercion in the form of confinement and regimentation. On the other end of the spectrum, power can assume a regulatory form (Foucault, 1990). In these instances, power is intended to shape and control populations or groups. The differences between disciplinary and regulatory power do not constitute a contrast between mutually exclusive objects, so the presence of one does not entail the negation of the other.
“Biopower” (Foucault, 1990) – the strategic use of regulatory power – must in some way touch individual bodies if it is to have an effect upon the behavioral patterns instantiated by a population. In this sense, regulatory policies are an attempt to integrate and appropriate the disciplinary power distributed throughout the corpus of society: A flow that can be analogized to the vascular system belonging to the human physiology. Power circulates according to morphologies that diminish in scale as power moves closer to the bodies that will be impacted by its actualization. Regulatory power is arterial. It is directed to major parts of the body; what is comparable to the population and sub-aggregates of the population. However, in order to sustain the body, blood must eventually make contact with individual cells. Correspondingly, in its most direct connection to the human subject, power circulates according to a capillary distribution. When in this form, it is embodied in the work of disciplinarians, such as educators, therapists, social workers, medical doctors, agents of law enforcement, and criminologists, to name a few.
Despite some of the implications following from the metaphor above, it would be a mistake to think of regulation and disciplinarian praxes as forming an integrated system. There is a disjunction between the two morphologies. The integration of regulation and discipline into a single systematization is by no means given. The various disciplinarian professions are largely the product of differing historical circumstances, entailing divergent social contexts out of which each set of practices emerged. As a result, disciplinary knowledges developed in response to particular concerns. Depending upon the socio-historical context, practitioners came to problematize the empirical field and to identify which exemplars to emulate when engaging in problem-solving practices. Nevertheless, on an ad hoc basis, through the implementation of strategies formulated as part of regulatory initiatives, different disciplinary practices can be fitted together in order to conjunctively carry out biopower policy. Therefore, it would also be misbegotten not to recognize the macro-interventions conducted, in the case of America, by state and national governments – agencies that are generative of biopower – as initiatives that affect the practices of disciplinarian agents operating in local contexts.
Consequently, centralization is both immediate and removed. It is the remoteness and separateness of central authority that estranges its disciplinarian agents from the local populations with whom they interact, enacting a state where the materialization of power, from the perspective of local inhabitants, constitutes the advancement of alien interests; what amounts to imperialism. The interests undergirding centralization emanate from a standpoint exogenous to the milieu in which its extensions intervene. Of course, the interests propelling centralization – what herein is referred to as centralism – are often ideologically justified under pretenses that conflate local interests with universal interests; i.e., freer-market proponents often contend that all populations are benefited by market liberalization, despite the displacement suffered by members of some regional labor markets.
Centralization and democracy.
The centralization of power has led to a condition in which the democracy once extant in Colonial America has been paved over by a system of Pluralism: A political structure in which elites, who assume positions in government and other institutions wielding power, purport to represent the interests of the social groups to which they belong. This political system makes a distinction between elites and masses. Elites are endowed with governing responsibilities. Masses, contrastingly, can only impact public policy by affecting elites – directly or indirectly – through the electoral process, including various forms of campaign support or opposition, or through networking and quid pro quo. Of course, Pluralists often insist that elites, for the most part, form of discrete groups with little overlapping. Therefore, elites do not form a single cohesive body. Nevertheless, such a notion has been strongly challenged by empirical findings that have supported Marxist interpretations of society (Manley, 1983).
In a system of Pluralism, individuality and the unique interests that are bound to it are deemphasized while group identities along with the collective interests with which they are associated are prioritized. Under such a condition, political identity is constructed in compulsory conformity with the parameters defined by the various specifications attributed to multitudes. Consequently, the political selves of individuals are relegated to a state of existential inauthenticity (Heidegger, 1962). That is, rather than possessing the opportunity to construct a unique political biography, individuals are left to conform to the expectations attached to the social identities with which they are ascribed. The possibility of a “World,” in the sense given to the term by Hannah Arendt (McGowan, 1997) is only available to a small minority of elites who are public figures in the arenas of state and national politics. For those who belong to masses, they are confined to the private realm of society, unable to project a political persona to interlocutors collectively constituting a political public.
I am conscious of and sympathetic to the arguments produced by advocates contributing to identity politics, and I realize that the “ideology of individualism” has operated as a rhetorical device obfuscating structural inequities that can only be adequately conceptualized according to aggregate dimensions. Nevertheless, proponents of identity politics have never sufficiently addressed a problematical feature laden in their political philosophy. The political models that they advance (i.e., Young, 1990) are merely forms of ultra-pluralism; meaning, they advocate restructuring American government so that the political opportunities afforded to individuals are even more tied, not to citizenship, but to group identity. Such proposals would exacerbate the most pervasive and arguably impacting socio-political stratification in American society: The difference between elites and masses: Those who govern versus those who are governed. It is the position articulated in the research and analysis presented in this study that Localism provides a more desirable alternative to this present state of socio-political affairs.
The question then becomes, how can Localism be realized? The following review of literature is a summation of some of the existing work offering insights into present matrices of socio-political power and the forces that are causing them to transform. By analyzing the current cultural and technological transitions and their impact upon political economic and socio-political institutions, I intend to begin to map out a strategy for the implementation of Localism.
This review of research and theory encompasses portions of the fields of Communications, Sociology, Political Science, and to a lesser extent Computer Science. The review is focused upon the topic of electronic Information Technology and its relationship to the sociological properties exhibited by American civics in addition to socio-political movements and their SMOs. This is, obviously, a primitively defined subject that is arguably – due to the impreciseness of its definition – extensible to a set of literature that encompasses far more research than I include in this brief summation of scholarly themes. Therefore, I make no pretensions to have exhaustively covered all of the material. Nonetheless, I am fairly confident that I have captured the predominant topoi emerging as a result of the interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary research that has been devoted to this topic.
Computer Mediated Communications.
Computer Science, Sociology and Communications have been synthesized into a distinctive domain of research, Computer Mediated Communications, (CMC), which is inter-disciplinary. CMC refers to human interaction that is conducted through computers. This can include mundane activities, such as emailing and chat messaging over the Internet (McQuail, 2005). It can also include text messaging, (SMS).
Computer Mediated Communication and its impact upon civic institutions and socio-political movements is a relatively new problematization that is still, overwhelmingly, addressed through cross-disciplinary, as opposed to interdisciplinary, research programs. Additionally, the study of electronic communications is a complicated affair due to a peculiar relationship between the work currently being done and the empirical domain that is being investigated. Of course, issues related to reactivity emerge in every form of empirical research. However, in this scenario the effects are exacerbated because those who study the domain of electronic-communications are sometimes concurrently charged with structuring the objects and relations falling under the purview of what additionally qualify as the ontology defining the objects falling within their considerations. For example, in the field of communications, there currently exists some contention regarding how electronic databases should be constructed. One side of the issue contends that the databases should be structured in order to preserve disciplinarity, and, in fact, cater to researchers who are interested in finding resources falling under the extension of the disciplines to which they belong. However, in other instances, disciplinarity is not a consideration, which influences the construction of databases that, when queried, return results that span across numerous disciplines; a condition that facilitates interdisciplinary research. However, agents who are attempting to find relative results for queries intended to return references to studies falling within their particular discipline are stymied by the framework and how it defines relevancy.
Those in Communications, who study electronic forms of human intercourse, have been involved in the design and implementation of electronic archives, intended to provide more accessibility to literary materials for members of various intellectual pursuits. Whether the designers decide to organize the electronic archives along the lines of disciplinarity or in accord with an interdisciplinary schema will alter the composition of the empirical domain. Therefore, the researchers can be said to be having a formative effect upon the ontology: the domain of objects and properties that they purport to observe, record, and analyze, but often neglect to register that they help to create in the process. Their studies do not merely exposit the empirical domain; additionally, by contributing to the discourse, they constitute that sphere of reality.
Electronic democracy refers to democratic politic practices that make use of information technology. Therefore, there is an overlap between e-democracy and CMCs. The definition of democracy, of course, remains problematic, and I shall – throughout this document – attempt to discredit some ordinary definitions of democracy. However, operationally, I will adopt the parsimonious and the unpresumptuous definition of democracy that is provided by Dana Nelson (2008): Democracy consists of when the will of the people becomes public policy.
Early warnings of the Internet dangers.
Discourse emanating from political science during early 2000s was, often, either alarmist or dismissive when it came to appraising the consequences of Internet diffusion. The alarmist commentary pertaining to the Internet was overly pessimistic and based upon unfounded futurism. One such concern manifested from worries enunciated by the adherents of Madisonian Pluralism. They saw – and some continue to see – the Internet and the collapse of geographical spaces – as a threat to republicanism (Nye & Kamarck, Eds., 2002). This is due to the possible fomenting of factions across diverse regions and populations, which poses the risk of establishing a socio-political hegemony.
The other criticism of the Internet is the latter’s bipolar opposite. It is the antithesis of the Madisonian critique. We were warned of impending tribalism resulting from the diffusion of the Internet. This thesis propounds that technological innovation, allowing consumers of Internet-distributed journalism, political commentary, and even popular media to select what contents they consume, will compromise the integrative function performed by other types of mass communications. Since the Internet allows for the personalization of content – a feature facilitated by the filtering capacities of rendering applications – i.e., RSS readers – people will not be exposed to a diversity of perspectives, leading to the loss of a “shared stock of knowledge” (Schutz, 1960). The contents that the people consume will reinforce preexisting ideological prejudices; rather than exposing members of the public to a diversity of perspectives; a function generative of inter-subjectivity. There is evidence in the literature suggesting that people tend to consume Internet-distributed contents that reinforce their ideological prejudices. However, research upon the diffusions of earlier mass communicative technologies indicates that people, nevertheless, remain aware of alternative ideologies and forms of mass media (DiMaggio, Hargittai, Neuman, & Robinson, 2001).
Following the crash.
After the first Dot Com collapse, (Dalton, 2004), most of the early work pertaining to electronic democracy was rejected due to feelings maintaining that the original interpretation of the Internet as ushering forth a transformed social order, embodying a more participatory democracy, were impetuous and formulated with excessive optimism. Following the deflation of the tech sector and the ensuing recession, scholars – as a reaction to the ebullient speculations inciting the economic bubble – exhibited a dismissive intellectual pattern when reappraising the Internet’s civic implications. Consequently, the scholarship downplayed the significance of the social relationships forged through the adoption of Internet technologies. More specifically, the literature of this period often discounted the prospect that the Internet would function as a catalyst for sociopolitical change. In support of such conclusions, research performed upon the 1996 and 2000 presidential elections (i.e., PEW Research Center, 2005) were frequently cited. These studies concluded that in juxtaposition to other forms of mass media relatively small percentages of Americans had used the Internet as a source from which to acquire information about candidacies and their platforms. What is more, even those who did use the Internet as a source of information typically patronized websites maintained by news sources that were already established in other conventional media, such as newspaper and television.
Additionally, according to this research and commentary, academics have historically demonstrated a tendency to overestimate the impact that new mass communicative technologies will have upon sociopolitical and political economic institutions. For instance, radio and television were originally projected to dramatically alter the social landscape. However, such prognostications were later interpreted as hyperbolic. The Internet, according to this discourse, might change society. However, the change would be, “piecemeal,” occurring over decades (Grazian, 2005). I should further mention that change and continuity are in the eyes of the beholder. Therefore empirical reevaluations of the diffusion of communicative technologies, such as television, might illumine extraordinary alterations to the Human Condition if analyzed from the perspective of disciplines, such as cultural studies.
Internet as faddism. The Internet as faddism theme came about after the Dot Com collapse in the early 2000s. The event caused commentators to relegate the Internet, in its totality, to a phenomenon warranting no more attention than what was ordinarily devoted to a fleeting trend (Kamarck & Nye, Eds., 2002). In other words, the Internet was conceived as something that need not preoccupy serious scholars interested in exploring the salient issues affecting American civics. The justifications offered for such conclusions seem to have invoked the following thematic consistency: The thinness of the interactions prevented the development of the trust required to foment substantive communities. Phenomena disclosed in research that had been performed upon Web activity, such as “gender-bending,” were often referenced as exemplary of the superficiality of Internet interactions (Kamarck & Nye, Eds., 2002). Gender-bending takes place when an individual who is engaged in some form of “chat” presents a “false” gender to ‘his’ or ‘her’ interlocutor. Apparently, according to the discourse, this phenomenon, or phenomena, which are similar to it, occurs fairly frequently in virtual interactions.
Abductions inferred from Internet incidents, such as “gender-bending,” supplied justification for the contention that virtual communities were societally epiphenomena. Their apparent thinness was thought to prevent substantive social change because they could foment no trust. How can trust among counterparts solidify when events, such as gender-bending, occur? Furthermore, people can enter virtual communities and leave them effortlessly, without any emotional unease stemming from physical re-encounters with those with whom relationships had been severed or neglected.
These considerations are related to the work that has been done by Robert Putnam (2001), who gave a gloomy account of American civil society during the 1990s. He calls upon the concept, Social Capital, when establishing the negative consequences arising from a lack of substantive, community interactions; forms of engagement that are face-to-face, not disembodied and virtual. Successful community projects precipitate the accrual of trust, which, in turn, renders community members more likely to engage in future communal projects. The diffusion of the Internet, which diminishes face-to-face interaction and the successful projects that might result from such communal interactions, negatively impacts the production of trust among community counterparts. Social Capital is based upon trust. Therefore, it is appropriate to ask, Can Social Capital be fomented in virtual spaces? Putnam claimed to be agnostic on the potentials of the Internet as a substitute for the face-to-face interactions that had been traditionally cultivated by embodied community organizations in American civil society.
Bowling Alone is a classic, and it has inspired a generation of sociological dissertations (Putnam, 2001). Nonetheless, it is not productive to expend more than a few moments treating all of the excessive complaints leveled by Putnam and his adherents; aspersions that they have directed upon the state of American civil society. As the Internet continues to transform the way we consume journalism and entertainment; the way we relate to others; and the platforms used to achieve publicity for political messages, Putnam’s agnosticism toward Internet potentials appears luddite. Rather than lamenting the loss of traditional civil society in America, one is better off discovering new possibilities for modes of collective behavior, which have been, in particular, engendered by Internet infrastructures.
Organizational Theory and the Internet.
Following the discourse that assumed a dismissive posture toward the Internet in response to the Dot Com Crash, some scholars attempted to revamp the work contributing to the study of electronic democracy (Fountain, 2001). I would characterize this discourse as organizational theory that concentrates upon the impact upon organizations resulting from their adoptions and implementations of various information management strategies and Information Technologies. Although not entirely dismissive of the Internet’s potential relevancy to American socio-political affairs, it did embody conservatism in respect to its interpretation of the changes that could be ushered in through the digitalization and inter-connectedness of governmental work-flow processes. Electronic democracy, as conceptualized in these studies, does not involve a qualitative break with the form that government had assumed. Rather, the purpose and role of government, including the power structures responsible for the determination of public policies and their administration, are conceptualized according to Management Business Administration strategies, such as Customer-service Relations Management, (CRM): The ability of a firm – or, in this case, government agency – to deliver its services to the population in a way that fosters customer, or citizen, satisfaction. It includes techniques for the retention and retrieval of customer information that is gathered over the course of the firm’s relationship with the consumer. If relevant information can be quickly accessed by the firm’s customer care representatives, then it can be utilized for the purpose of improving the customer’s experience.
This discourse emphasizes the need for government agencies to adopt intranet infrastructures, because they allow for the rapid integration of streams of data gathered through the various appendages of government that interface with citizens. Further, an underlying premise to these studies consists of a presupposition that the ultimate teleology of an organization is to increase its performativity, allowing its processes to operate more efficiently and to produce their sanctioned outputs more prolifically. This literature is of little interest for those who desire to transcend considerations that are constrained to the parameters imposed by preexisting sociopolitical structures. Nevertheless, there is one interesting aspect to this literature, which, I suspect, is the result of the familiarity of the researchers contributing to this field with Information Technology. Specifically, I am referring to the theoretical incorporation of concepts derived from IT, such as “virtualism:” A term that has a different meaning in this context than the sense it acquires when used in other passages of this document. It is not a space for people, necessarily, to interact. It is used to designate temporary memory spaces that are employed in order to execute an application while leaving no legacy when the program and its corresponding process have ceased to run.
In terms of this strand of organizational theory, “virtualism” translates into ad hoc agencies being formed to commit governmental functions, as opposed to permanently restructuring the bureaucracy (Fountain, 2001). The reason the term, “virtualism,” is apropos as a reference for ad hoc, interdepartmental agencies is that such teams leave no footprints upon the system spaces in which they operate after they have been executed. There is no employment related legacy since there are no permanent changes to the human resource composition of the firm.
The emerging technologies associated with digitization and the Internet have arguably created a condition in which the Weberian “Iron Cage,” has been nullified. Consequently, man’s existence has been “re-enchanted,” (Dalton, 2004, p. 16).
The expression, “re-enchantment,” is, of course, an allusion to Weber and his disenchantment thesis (Kalberg, Ed., 2005): The socio-cultural homogenization of populations – a condition conducive to industrial capitalism – resulting in a state where everything becomes blasé. Standardization was crucial in order for populations to be disposed to behave in a manner reflecting the organizational imperatives associated with industrial capitalism. It was during this period of the Human Condition – the onslaught of industrialization – that clocks became prevalent. They were placed on walls; they were tethered to belts using chains and then nestled into trouser pockets; and they came to be worn on the wrists of individuals. The use of hours and seconds – as opposed to agrarian life, which could model its daily routine according to sunup, noon, and sunset – was a necessary measure if counterparts were to synchronize there activities with a level of precision necessary for the functioning of bureaucracy and the operation of machineries tended to on the factory floor. As the new organization of time indicated, industrial production called for the pronounced homogenization of the behaviors instantiated by individuals contributing to economic production.
In opposition to the logic undergirding industrial capitalism, a new economic order has taken hold (Lazonick, 2005) and – rather than conformity and predictability – it promotes counter-conformity and creativity, (Castells Ed., 2004). We can call this new Zeitgeist the, “Hacker Ethic,” (Castells Ed., 2004) – a culture in which eccentricity is associated with innovation. Conversely, that which has been customized into “standard operating procedures,” is perceived with apprehension and by executives with an eye toward managerial interdiction, because its “habitualized” (Berger & Luckmann, 1967) procedures are interpreted as the curtailment of innovation.
The encouragement of unpredictable creative impulses is related to the logic forming this mode of production. In the “informational economy” – what marks an epochal departure from industrial capitalism – the primary mode of production involves the generation of new information management technologies and strategies; commodities that are intellectual in nature. These knowledge constructs can be exploited for various purposes, such as electronic media design, for which firms, such as Adobe, have released software packages; i.e., Adobe Creative Suite 5: a bundle of applications that includes InDesign, which can be used by publishers of print materials for the purposes of page design. The important thing to keep in mind is that this form of production cannot always be scheduled. It is difficult, in certain occasions, to even predict what the creative event will ultimately produce.
This form of production calls for creativity and individuality. Therefore, the charisma associated with genius – and all of its other connotations, such as eccentricity – have become desirable behavioral attributes for knowledge-workers to possess. Unlike the cultural condition associated with industrial capitalism, such traits are now cultivated by employers (Castells, Ed., 2004). If we look to the moguls who currently possess celebrity in the culture associated with the tech sector, we can find instances of the “genius” that are exemplary of success. Steve Jobs serves as a prototype of this type of persona. He is considered eccentric and innovative. Further, he has learned how to exploit these public perceptions in order to create an allure for his products. He has constructed a persona that allows him to be an insider and an outsider, contemporaneously. In other words, he is the nonconformist who works in the establishment. As a result, he has amassed a cult of personality evidenced in rituals consisting of technology enthusiasts waiting hours in line for the release of a new Apple product, such as the I-phone or the I-pad.
The New Economy has expanded the heterogeneity among producers. The production line has been replaced by the industrial consortium, which is charged with devising industry standards that ensure interoperability (Lazonick, 2005). Therefore, many producers can participate and compete when supplying parts that will be assembled into finished products. Consequently, no single firm will hold a monopoly on the standards of the industry. For example, when it came to putting together my computer, I chose a motherboard manufactured by ASUS that possesses an AMD3 Socket (the place in which the processor is fitted). However, I could have elected to build upon an NVIDIA, MSI, Gigabot, or any number of motherboard manufacturers as an alternative, but I elected to use ASUS due to its reliability and my familiarity with its products. My motherboard has an on-board graphics card built by ATI, which was recently purchased by AMD. Nevertheless, I elected to use a more powerful NVIDIA graphics card, instead, since it was already in my possession. The reason why these different manufacturers can offer competing parts for the same assembly line is due to the existence of the open standards that are established in order to allow for interoperability.
Neoliberalism. Organizational theory is not in and of itself the embodiment of the re-enchantment thesis. Nevertheless, in this context, organizational theory’s emphasis upon non-traditional, ‘virtual’ forms of employment bares resemblance to some of the themes expressed by the re-enchantment discourse. Re-enchantment celebrates the fracturing of the traditional workspace. One is no longer the “organization-man,” (Whyte, 1956). Rather, he is an intellectual laborer who must work according to his or her own creative impulses. Therefore, firms no longer impose rigid environments, (Florida, 2002); instead, they attempt to foster loose, flexible working spaces that stimulate intellectual creativity, often blurring the distinction between work, on one hand, and domesticity and leisure, on the other. Google, for instance, allows employees to bring their pets into the workplace and the firm provides on-site daycare for parents with young children. In particular, the organizational theories that I have covered are related to re-enchantment’s tendency to celebrate many of the implications that are attributable to the proliferation of the neoliberal model of political economy: A form of life that emphasizes individual self-reliance, which goes hand in hand with virtual employment because under this condition the laborer is detached from the firm. His employment is now ad hoc and contingent and he must tend to matters, such as health insurance, through his own devices.
There is an insidious aspect to this. The use of contingent labor – or, ‘virtual employment’ – has become, despite its name, a permanent aspect to the human resource management strategies implemented by firms in “the New Economy” (Lazonick, 2005). The defenders of the, “casual labor market,” persistently fail to mention that the institution of seniority – and the correlative rise in compensation – is not necessarily an aspect belonging to this new system of reciprocity. Apologists for the New Economy claim that employees are “leapfrogging” to better occupations. However, they lack longitudinal data – related to career trajectories – which can be used to justify such claims by demonstrating that people are earning more and more as they continue to, “leapfrog,” from one contract to the next. Decentralization. Manuel Castells considers decentralization a necessary condition if a society is to effectively compete in the Information Age. In support of this conclusion, he rendered an interesting argument against many popular narratives depicting the series of events which led to the demise of the Soviet Empire. According to Castells, it was not Reagan’s rapid military buildup coupled with his artful back-channel diplomacy that ultimately incited the Soviet collapse. Rather, the implosion of the communist empire primarily resulted from the structure of its communications infrastructure. Historically, the Soviets, in order to promote ideological homogeneity, concentrated on the development of technologies such as the loudspeaker, through which party doctrine could be rendered audible throughout the spaces inhabited by its public. The United States, contrarily, directed its efforts toward innovations in telephonic technologies: A medium of mass communications that is relatively decentralized, where the ability to initiate communications is distributed throughout society.
Drawing attention to the different trajectories of technological innovation was designed to illumine larger social processes. The United States, on the one hand, permitted communications and the transmittance of information to occur, largely, in the absence of centralized control; thus, allowing all societal sectors and social standpoints to contribute to the dialecticism through which divergent knowledge streams are synthesized into new orders of knowledge. The Soviets, due to their attempt to manage the flow of information, could not leverage as effectively its population’s creative potentials. Therefore, the Soviet Union could not innovate with as much rapidity, leading to the economic stagnation that proved fatal for the communist empire.
Castells and re-enchantment.
Although not exactly a neoliberal apologia, the work of Castells in the 1990s and early 2000s has romanticized the casual labor market. I refer to this genre of literature as re-enchantment because Castells believed that the diffusion of Internet technologies – or “Informationalism,” as he calls it – would lead to a “Network Society,” which would go hand in hand with multiculturalization: A condition where a dominant group, as it constructs its majority identity, takes on facets belonging to various cultures associated with minority identities. The protrusion and profusion of multiple forms of life – the cultural practices belonging to minority identities– would re-enchant the existence of the organization-man. He would have more from which to choose when consuming. Additionally, since he has been liberated from the firm and its insistence upon conformity to the standards structuring the organization, he has been provided the socio-cultural space necessary to reinvented himself economically – conversions that he must make time and time again. The reinvention of oneself involves autodidactic undertakings, so that this self-modeling, amorphous agent can re-skill himself before entering into markets competing for more abundant, better compensated, or emergent types of work. This will allow the economic agent to continually adapt to the shifting states instantiated by an economy that will undergo constant reconfigurations resulting from the collapse of spatial distances; a convergence of geographies incurred by the diffusion of “Informationalism” (Castells, 1997), resulting in the acceleration of social process.
Castells, early on, offered a positive assessment of the changing cultural and socioeconomic conditions, transforming as a result of the digital technologies connected to the expansion of the Internet (Castells, 1997). As touched upon above, Castells, (1997), characterized this emerging social condition as the Network Society: Associational relationships that could form, dissolve, and reform according to different morphologies while adapting to the needs of a rapidly developing economy whose vitality is depended upon the creativity harnessed from manifold cultural enclaves. The ideas emanating from the diversity of cultures, belonging to this embodiment of multiculturalization, can now be synthesized due to the availability of Net based interconnectedness. From this short description, one might already suspect that Castells had fallen victim to the rhetoric associated with neoliberal Greenspan-speak (Greenspan, 2007). In defense of Castells, however, he wrote during the “Clintonian Era of Good Feelings.” This was a time when we were duped by analytic devices, such as the implementation of the econometric function, “the hedonic deflater,” (Freidman, 2003) into thinking that we were becoming increasingly wealthy; a change that was impacting all of America’s socioeconomic sections. The hedonic deflater adjusts inflation in order to reflect the gains in productivity had by industrial niches, such as computer manufacturing. Since the prices of computers have remained relatively stable despite the fact that they have been enhanced greatly in terms of their use-value, inflation is adjusted, according to the hedonic deflater, in order to reflect the increased purchasing power of the consumer, who pays the same amount for products that incite greater pleasures. This adjustment is probably in good order. However, it can distort one’s perception of economic well-being because other historical periods can no longer be compared with the current state-of-affairs without skewing. One economic condition will be calculated using the hedonic deflater while another might not have had such an adjusted, leading to erroneous comparisons when it comes to economic vitality.
In reality the economic boom was mostly a projection of distorted conditions. In addition to the hedonic deflater, family income (Freidman, 2003) was invoked in order to obfuscate stagnating wages; a trend suffered by the middle-class and working-class during the majority of the past thirty years. Family income was stated as rising since households were increasingly drawing upon the incomes of both male and female adults; thereby, increasing the income of households despite the stagnation, or decline, of real wages in the American economy. Castells and social theory. Castells is not a postmodernist (2004). Nevertheless, he counters the global democracy thesis – as it has been propounded by Habermas (Scheuerman, 2008), and others – with an argument contending that the collapse of geographic spaces will result in a global community of divergent cultures. Culturally unique groups will be compelled to exploit Web technologies in order to express their uniqueness in relation to other cultures, and they will be motivated to participate in this globalized forum out of a curiosity regarding the differences they possess in juxtaposition to other cultural forms. However, the global forum for communications – created from the expansion of Informationalism – should not be interpreted as the reduction of social differences, eventually forming a cosmopolitan culture. Instead, groups will retain their differences; however, the differences among groups will be examined in relation to one another out of a general drive for cultures to express themselves.
Castells and community. From what has been stated about Castells, it appears that he does not have a concern with community and the impact that the emerging Network Society is having upon communal life. Instead, he seems preoccupied with the increased individualism that has been made possible by the proliferation of the Network Society. He emphasizes this new social space – the personal room for self-differentiation that is allowed within social networks – at the expense of Gemeinschaft (Tonnies, 2005). This conclusion, however, is not entirely accurate. Castells (1997) theorizes that emotively absorbing interrelations, which define communities, will be simulated by the Network Society due to the proliferation of the social relationships in which an actor is entangled. These associations, which are often transient in duration, incite within individuals affective sparks that provide glimmers of Gemeinschaft. When multiplied, these networking relationships can culminate into a feeling that approximates community. Granted, any single network tie will fail to give the emotional satisfaction that one associates with embodied intimacies – a deficiency that results from the ephemeral nature of networking ties. However, when compounded these social bonds generate a sense of communal membership.
Castells and economic inequality. The rising tide of inequality (Freidman, 2003), was not lost upon Castells. Castells did happen to embrace the casual labor market that is endorsed by neoliberalism as a positive social development. Castells interpreted the move from traditional employment to one of contractual labor as a transition entailing the emancipation of the American worker from the confines of corporate organization. However, Castells insisted that such an economic transformation should be coupled by adequate expansions to the welfare state, (2004). He pointed to Finland as a model that could be followed in such a transformation. Finland has a vibrant technologically-driven economy that is accompanied by an extensive welfare state. Therefore, as the Finnish economy indicates, there is no reason why America could not compensate for the loss of employment benefits and security by extending the social safety-net, despite the polemics put forth by neoliberals.
Taking from Castells, one can extrapolate a number of properties attributable to the organizational archetype that he refers to as the, “Social Network.”
The epistemic nature of the network.
The epistemic qualities of the network are largely byproducts of its decentralized structure. The corporate hierarchy and centralization, in which information is commonly encoded and transferred according to “read and write privileges,” restricts the flow of communications according to preconceived organizational planning. In open-systems, (Waterman, 1994), which are networked and largely deregulated, the communicative limitations imposed by conventional information-management designs are negated; thus, facilitating the exchange of information among all of the nodes forming the organization. This allows for the unabated syntheses of existing knowledges that are distributed throughout the system into new knowledges that enable functions which engender previously undisclosed agential possibilities.
The diversity of the network.
Additionally, decentralization acts against the homogenization of the network. In a hierarchical corporate system – in which decisions are rendered by an executive capacity – the command structure can affect the organization in its totality. Conformity is conducive to mass culture, which can precipitate an intellectual morass, stifling social and technological inventiveness. In a decentered organization, with no hierarchy imposing doctrine, the social components are not subjected to homogenizing forces, leaving space for the emergence of knowledge generated from agents, whose actions are responsive to varying local contexts; thus, providing for the cultivation of manifold perspectives. Intellectual heterodoxy is crucial if knowledge is to be generated by the dialecticism occurring from the convergence of contrasting ideas.
Marketplace of social-action knowledge.
Of course, not all forms of knowledge are equal. Some conventions and practices are pragmatically superior, depending upon the circumstances in which the organization or components of the organization are situated and upon what objectives the collection, or sub-collection, of actors are attempting to accomplish. A decentralized dialogical condition fosters an open-system; a morphology in which communications flow uninhibitedly. Consequently, inter-communications among all the nodes in the network, forming the organization, manifest a marketplace of alternative and sometimes competing best-practices; “recipes of knowledge” (Schutz, 1960) that can inform the successful enactment of various types of social-action. The fact that alternative conceptualizations and methodologies can disseminate throughout the network increases the likelihood that recipes for efficacious social-action will be selected according to their suitability for the contingencies arising from the local setting in which network agents are immersed, as opposed to decisions that are rendered from afar by an executive positioned on top of a corporate command structure, who is personally unfamiliar with the particularities belonging to the settings in which the work is performed.
Networks and adaptability.
Another significant attribute of networks, which is related to their propensity to generate social-action knowledge, is their adaptability. The extensions of the network are less inhibited from reacting to local contingencies. There-fore, networks can more easily reconfigure because their inner-relationships are less recalcitrant, allowing nodes to form new relationships with other nodes in the network, reflecting new environmental contingencies and new states of social-action knowledge. Consequently, networks can be more responsive to present circumstances, because they can adopt best practices on an ad hoc basis. They are not encumbered with standardized-operations that have been devised in a temporally distanced past; projections that potentially fail to anticipate the whole range of facts – what can amount to unaccounted for externalities – instantiated in future states-of-affairs.
Decentralization, integration, and smart-communities.
The Localism I espouse is not a luddite ideology. Although it might appear romanticist in the sense that it valorizes cultural institutions that had a more complete, robust expression in previous historical periods, it is by no means a call to reenact what has transpired. I recognize that digital communications have transformed human geography. The instantaneous transmissions of digitally encoded messages have, in certain respects, collapsed physical spaces. One can interact with a collaborator positioned on another continent with as much rapidity as one can exchange verbal cues with a colleague occupying an adjacent cubical.
Changes to mass communications have helped to usher in a new economy; what Castells refers to as “Informational Capitalism” (Castells, 2004). Economies and the commodities that they produce are no longer regional. Advances in distributive technologies have contributed to this condition. Additionally, however, the modes of production – while still built upon the industries required to harness the potentials of natural resources – which are central to this stage of capitalism, can now be characterized as generative of knowledge. Participation in the knowledge economy requires interconnectedness. Due to socioeconomic pressures, localities will be driven to adopt information management and communicative technologies that facilitate commerce and other forms of exchange with other local communities. In short, local populations will be compelled to construct and maintain a technological infrastructure that effectively renders them, “smart-communities” (Eger, 2002, p. 1).
The Internet – in its current level of diffusion – has already generated forums through which identities and interest groups have coalesced and communed; i.e., support groups; hyper-localized communities; artists who have, in some instances, formed guilds; and political action committees. There is no reason not to suspect that this trend will continue as the Internet becomes even more integrated into our social practices and routines. In an inter-networked Localism, interlocutors can externalize experiences, using Internet-based forums, and build upon the intersections among their autobiographic narratives when they problematize identity: The characteristics that constitute the quintessence of the social standpoint that they will discover or reaffirm by interrelating their reflections, emotions, and concerns. Additionally, for those, who do not share a common history but are, nevertheless, drawn together as a result of a common social agenda, can interact in Internet virtualism and forge the relationships structuring the Social Movement Organization, which will channel their efforts and allocate their resources, as they collectively endeavor to achieve the teleology of their movements. Both of these processes will contribute to the integration of the manifold communities scattered across America.
When concretizing this abstract conceptualization, I compare the network’s organizational properties to the features exhibited by a Hellenic league of city-states. The Greek poleis were physical territories that often possessed urban centers in which the local inhabitants converged for various purposes, not least of which involved participation in the political processes of the state. Additionally, as a result of military-economic interests, the poleis from time to time formed systems of alliance, or leagues, which were designed to leverage resources for the purposes of defense and imperial conquest. Therefore, similarly to the networking and inter-networking entailed by Localism, the relationships created by the league constituted a network of networks.
Networked social relationships.
Finally, Castells recognizes the criticality of the Internet and the kinds of communications it facilitates when accounting for the proliferation of networks in contemporary society. The Internet is generative of communications that embody a “distanced immediacy,” between and among the interlocutors who communicate through devices that interface with the Internet:
Individuals interacting in the digital matrix experience relation-ships as intimate in the familiarity of address, the amount of information attainable about the other, the rapidity of response, and/or the involving nature of the interactivity (it is difficult to simply “be in one’s presence” online). They experience relationships as distant through the interruptions of the communication media, the narrow channeling of non-verbal or extra-textual clues about states of thought and feeling, and the ease with which contact can be lost or terminated. This distanced intimacy additionally creates a sense that the actor is interacting with only portions of the other and that he or she is willingly or unwillingly selecting and presenting facets of the self instead of generalized impression (Dalton, 2004, p. 12).
It is the position taken in this paper that the “immediacy” and the “distance” instantiated during Internet communications make New Media ideal for the facilitation of successful sociopolitical movements. On one hand, Computer Mediated Communications can incite the affective bonds necessary for communalization, as the term, immediacy, suggests. On the other hand, the, “distanced,” state of such communications allows one the space to discontinue an interaction in order to initiate different relationships with other actors constituting the nodes forming the network. Previous relationships among nodes can be reformed under different circumstances in ways that reflect altered environmental conditions. The, “Distanced Immediacy,” among the nodes in the network allows for inventive approaches to be developed by those who are positioned most proximately in relation to the situations in which such innovations are applicable.
Empirical Concretion of the Argument.
I have conducted ethnographic research on two American third-parties, the Green Party of the United States and the Populist Party of America. The comparison of these case studies illumines the following conclusion: It is not the mere presence of New Media that will determine the viability of third-parties in American politics. It is the ways in which New Media are adopted and integrated into the practices of third-parties that will be determinative. The decentralized mass communications fostered by the Internet should not be amalgamated into a form that is pre-structured by the conventional American-party corporate-organization. Rather, the morphology of the third-party should resemble the decentralized communicative infrastructure that the Internet permits.