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Home > Books & Journals > Journal Abstracts Last Updated: 14:23 03/09/2007
Journal Abstracts #93: April 9, 2003

Information, Communication & Society

Journal Name: Information, Communication & Society: Volume 5, Number 3, 2002


Community networks in a generational perspective: the change of an electronic medium within three decades
Herbert Kubicek and Rose M. Wagner
Since the inception of electronic community networks in the USA in the 1970s, their goal has remained the provision of support to help the organization of communities at a local level. Despite major commonalities, the authors of this paper identify three generations that coincide roughly with the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. They are clearly differentiated in terms of technology, applications, organization and key actors. This analysis of the US experience of community networks draws on Karl Mannheim's sociological concept of generations to help understand change and adaptability in sociotechnical systems. It is the combined influence of the respective zeitgeist, the advent of a new technology, the influences of technical predecessors, and the appearance of new groups of actors that lead to a generational change. Options for the future of not-for-profit community networks and the possible emergence of a fourth generation are presented which, in the opinion of the authors, lie in a return to their roots. A brief overview of community networks in Europe is also provided.

Information technology, gender segmentation and the relocation of back office employment: the growth of the teleservices sector in Ireland
Proinnsias Breathnach
The movement of routine back office activities from the central business districts of metropolitan regions in advanced economies to remote locations is leading to a distinctive global division of labour in office employment. While facilitated by the development of information and communication technologies, this process of relocation is primarily driven by the desire to reduce operating costs, mainly by moving to sources of cheap female workers. This reflects a classics gender segmentation process in patriarchal societies whereby back office work is mainly done by women and, accordingly, involves relatively low levels of remuneration. This provides direct parallels with the offshoring of routine manufacturing work associated with the new international division of labour. Ireland has been to the forefront in acting as a host for internationally-mobile routine office work, initially involving mainly data processing and, more recently, teleservices. As elsewhere, teleservices employment in Ireland is characterized by a combination of female predominance, low pay, difficult working conditions and high turnover rates. However, the Irish teleservices sector is unusual in its foreign language requirement, the high education levels of workers and its concentration in a prosperous metropolitan location. The resultant labour shortages, combined with growing use of Internet-based business-to-consumer transactions, are likely to place the sustainability of the sector under increasing pressure. Plans to upgrade the types of back office functions being located in Ireland may pose further challenges for women workers due to male dominance of the higher-level jobs involved.

The myth of the computer hacker
Reid Skibell
The seriousness of computer hacking is not exaggerated, it is far worse than that. The computer hacker has attained the status of myth; society associates all computer crime with a mythical perpetrator that bears no resemblance to reality. This paper will argue that in the early stages of the myth the computer hacker was regarded as a highly skilled but mentally disturbed youth who has an unhealthy association with computers. The new reality of electronic commerce resulted in pressures that culminated in the computer hacker becoming regarded as a dangerous criminal. A thorough analysis of the statistics will demonstrate that the majority of computer intruders are neither dangerous nor highly skilled, and thus nothing like the mythical hacker.

Critical theory, information society and surveillance technologies
Tony Fitzpatrick
This article offers an account of information and communication technologies (ICTs) that draws upon the tradition of critical theory, arguing that an application of the latter to the former can be categorized as a theory of 'cyber criticalism'. Its aim is not to provide an exhaustive theoretical analysis or any kind of literature review, but to suggest that such a theorization is possible because cyber criticalism (1) offers an account of social power and (2) suggests how and why alternatives to existing social practices and institutions can be formed. The first section relates the debate about information society to that concerning globalization and argues that two main theories square off against each other in the race to explain that society: one which, in Castells's terminology, emphasizes the power of flows and the other which emphasizes the flows of power. If the former is inadequate in crucial respects then the way is clear for critical theorists to explore the latter. Cyber criticalism is then sketched in outline and the article proceeds to identify information systems, the flows of power, as potential sites of resistance. The final section focuses upon biometrics and argues that the way forward for cyber critical theorists lies in exploiting the cultural insecurities of informatic capitalism. Ultimately, then, cyber criticalism is critical theory updated for the information age. Unlike those such as Castells it identifies flows of power and intensification of those flows around the dominant nodes of the informational net. It insists that information systems constitute potential sites of resistance. Nevertheless, acts of resistance are still relatively marginal and fragmented events due to they way in which social problems are pathologized and criminalized.

Privacy, as a common good in the digital world
Priscilla M. Regan
This article seeks to broaden our understanding of online privacy in three ways: first, by drawing out the differences between the physical world and the digital world as those differences affect privacy; second, by exploring how the concept of the 'commons' might help us to understand social and economic relationships in cyberspace; and third, by analysing two contrasting views of privacy: privacy as a private or individual good and privacy as a common good. In order to analyse similarities and differences in privacy in the physical world and the online world, each is assessed in three ways: the obvious level of privacy available; the possibility of modifying that level of privacy to create or choose more or less privacy for oneself; and the degree to which the, prior or contemporaneous, privacy decisions of others affect the amount of privacy that is available to all. Applying an analysis based on the 'tragedy of the commons', the article concludes that at least part of cyberspace can be conceived as a 'commons' and that personal information flows could be considered a 'common pool resource' within that commons. Based on the likely calculations that individuals and organizations will make about collection and uses of personal information, the article next evaluates what would be the most effective policy approach to ensure that the common pool resource of personal information is not overused and degraded. The article concludes that a policy approach of providing individuals with a private means, either through property rights or some means of redressing their grievances, is unlikely to provide an effective means of protecting the common pool resource of personal information. A policy approach that acknowledges the common good basis of privacy and views personal information as a common pool resource provides an alternative view of the policy problems and offers suggestions in terms of rules and institutions that may be effective in addressing those problems.

Negotiating the digital closet: online pseudonymity and the politics of sexual identity
David J. Phillips
Online surveillance interferes with the individual's ability to control their expressive identity to determine the scope of the social context in which their activities are to be seen and interpreted. Entrepreneurs have responded to these concerns by offering pseudonymizers, which employ cryptographic techniques to allow users to create several unlinkable personae and choose among them when engaging in various online interactions. This article investigates the tension between pseudonymity as a design paradigm for privacy technologies and as a lived practice for users. Because coming out strategic revelation and the claiming of identity has been at the core of the gay liberation movement, this article posits a politically and sexually active gay professional man as an ideal user of pseudonymity software, and places the design logic of pseudonymity within that particular set of social understandings. It reveals the conflicts, contradictions and trade-offs inherent in that use. Pseudonymity permits a very strong control of identity. It permits the user to segregate his public performances, and to engage in public debate without fear of bodily retribution. However, it is all but useless as a means of controlling the social context of those performances. It requires that decisions about self-presentation in certain contexts be made in ignorance of who is sharing that context, and with what resources or purpose. While it promotes the production of multiple selves, those selves are not easily lent to practices of intimacy or community. Pseudonymity also facilitates profiling practices that define and reify classes of people, even as it protects the individual from some of the repercussions of being defined as part of that class. In short, pseudonymity software is informed by a politics of heroics rather than of community.

A 'technological idiot'? Raymond Williams and communications technology
Des Freedman
Raymond Williams was a prolific cultural commentator and historian and his writing on communications technology provides a particularly relevant framework for understanding contemporary information-society innovations. Williams sought to distinguish questions of technique and technical invention from their realization in the fundamentally social organization of technologies themselves and emphasized the importance of agency and intention in structuring the uses to which technologies are put. Far from technology having an inescapable internal logic of development, innovation takes place within specific social and economic contexts. For Williams, this meant that there was no pre-determined outcome to the evolution of communications innovations but a series of complex interactions between innovations and the world into which they emerge. This article will provide an assessment of Williams' work on technological innovation, his critique of determinism and his commitment to democratic communications. Williams helps us to challenge the simplistic proposition that 'the Internet has changed our world' and enables us to understand instead the ways in which contemporary social relations set limits on the development of the Internet as a democratic medium.

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