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Expressions and embeddings of deliberative democracy in mutual benefit digital goods


Serracino Inglott, Philip

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Abstract Since democracy is so desirable and digital technologies are so flexible and widespread it is worth asking what sort of digital technologies can, through use, enhance democratic practice. This question is addressed in three stages. First, the notion of Mutual Benefit Digital Goods (MBDGs) is developed as a tool for discerning the digital goods that hold a potential for nurturing democratic virtues. MBDGs are those digital goods that allow a user to make such goods one’s own and to put something of oneself into them. This can be achieved either directly, by working at creating a derivative of a digital good, or by engaging a community of production for digital goods. The second stage is the identification of a theory of democracy that is adequate for discussing democracy in relation to cyberspace. Deliberative democracy, particularly as presented by Dryzek, is put forward as the most appropriate conception of democracy to be used. This conception makes it possible to overcome the difficulties posed by the notions of citizens and borders as presented in other conceptions of democracy. In relation to cyberspace, such notions are particularly problematic. In the last stage, MBDGs and deliberative democracy are brought together by means of the theory of technological mediation and Feenberg's theory of technological subversion. The theory of mediation holds that the use of technologies modulates our moral landscape. Because of mediation, subversion of digital technologies is always self-expressive to some extent. Therefore it exhibits the same grounding characteristics as deliberative democracy: mutual respect, reciprocity, provisionality and equality. Since MBDGs are most open to subversion, they are also the digital technologies with the most potential for fostering democracy. This claim is corroborated by looking at iconic MBDGs (Free/ Libre/ Open Source Software and Wikipedia) and revealing how the virtues necessary for deliberation are manifest in some of the activities surrounding these digital goods. The ideas presented, if accepted, have practical implications for institutions desirous of enhancing democratic practice. Such institutions ought to evaluate their choices on digital technologies also on grounds of democratic potential, reduce obstacles to alternative appropriation of digital goods through regulation, and foster MBDGs.
Keywords deliberative democracy; virtual reality; technology; digitalization; web 2.0; democratization
Classification Political Process, Elections, Political Sociology, Political Culture; Interactive, electronic Media; Technology Assessment; Philosophy, Ethics, Religion
Document language English
Publication Year 2010
City Enschede
Page/Pages 102 p.
Status Preprint; not reviewed
Licence Creative Commons - Attribution