Duality cubed: People, practices, technologies and institutions of internet governance
Dmitri Epstein, University of Illinois at Chicago
13/12/16, 12:15-13:45, Terrace Building, Room 4026
With the growing dependency of contemporary communication systems on internet protocols and
infrastructures, questions of internet governance move to the forefront of communication research. The
internet, however, poses an interesting challenge to established notions of governance. While internet
as a socio-technical system builds on existing institutions, it claims a narrative that (slightly paraphrasing
David Clark) rejects “kings, presidents and voting,” and believes “in rough consensus and running code”
(Hoffman, 2012). One of the challenges for the study of internet governance is the need to
compartmentalize aspects of governance mechanisms. Research on internet governance has
traditionally drawn on theories of international relations thus taking either state-centric or institutional
approaches. Recently, there is more research into “things that regulate” (Lessig, 2006, pp. 120–137),
such as the architecture of information systems or the role of algorithms in shaping online experiences
including freedom of expression, identity, and so on. In my work I argue that understanding internet
governance – both its mechanisms and its repercussions - requires a more holistic approach. While
governments of national states are still the main holders of informational power and are getting more
sophisticated in exercising it (primarily through regulation), they are no longer the ultimate holders of
that power. Innovation in technology design and innovation in technology adoption and use, both
involve “decision-making with constitutive effects” (Braman, 2009, p. 3) for informational power.
In this talk I want to delve into the mutually influential relationships between social structures, policy,
technology, and actors that shape those policies and technologies. I will unpack internet governance as
an interaction between three interrelated dualities: information technology design, regulation, and use.
Conceptually, I will build on the theory of structuration and recent research on internet governance (an
earlier version of this argument can be found in Epstein, 2015). A key element of this exercise will be
articulating the role human agency plays in the design, regulation, and use of information technologies
(Epstein, Katzenbach, & Musiani, 2016). Practically, I will draw on examples from my past research and
will use this framework to discuss my broader research agenda. I invite you to review Epstein (2015) and
Epstein, Katzenbach, & Musiani (2016) as a background for this talk. Both articles are accessible through:
Braman, S. (2009). Change of state: Information, policy, and power. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Epstein, D. (2015). Duality squared: On structuration of Internet governance. In R. A. Lind (Ed.),
Produsing Theory in a Digital World 2.0 (pp. 41–56). New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing.
Epstein, D., Katzenbach, C., & Musiani, F. (2016). Doing internet governance: How science and
technology studies inform the study of internet governance. Internet Policy Review, 5(3).
Hoffman, P. (2012, August). The Tao of IETF: A novice’s guide to the internet engineering task force.
Retrieved September 7, 2016, from https://www.ietf.org/tao.html
Lessig, L. (2006). Code. Version 2.0. New York, NY: Basic Books.