Digital technologies and democracy: a minimalist, practice-oriented, and institutionalist approach

28.09.2015 - 12:00 bis 13:30
A 5,6 Raum A 231
Art der Veranstaltung: 
AB B-Kolloquium
Dr. Rasmus Kleis Nielsen
Zugehörigkeit des Vortragenden: 
Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism University of Oxford

The accelerating spread of digital technologies over the last twenty years is one of the defining features of our time, a development that has been compared to steam power, electricity, and the rise of broadcast media in terms of its scale, scope, and social significance. Understanding the consequences is a central challenge for the social and human sciences. In this presentation, I will present a minimalist, practice-oriented, and institutionalist approach to assessing the democratic implications of this development. On the basis of examples from research on political communication and news media, I will argue that much of the discussion around the relationship between digital and networked information and communication technologies and democracy has focused too little on the question of what connections exists between digital technologies and actually existing democracy (what I refer to as a minimalist vision for democracy) and too much on extensive discussion of the possible connections that might potentially be established between digital technologies and alternative, maximalist visions for democracy. This is a problem in two ways. First, emphasis on alternatives at the expense of the actual limits our understanding of the world we live in. Second, abstract discussions of what digital might do for democracy seems to sometimes be allowed to serve as a stand-in for what it does do in and for democracy, in turn distorting and exaggerating its role. We need to find a different starting point if we wish to understand the relationship between digital technologies and democracy. Actually existing liberal representative democracy and a focus on practice and institutional change over potential might provide such a point, and thinking along these lines I will suggest that digital technologies have so far had (1) modest, (2) mostly internal, and often (3) indirect and institutional implications for democratic and democratizing practices. The advantage of understanding the relationship between digital information and communication technologies through the lens of the practical use and institutional implications of digital technologies in actually existing democracies and democratizing practices is that it, in a way, puts digital in its place, as an important transformation of some of the stage props and parts of the setting of the great drama of popular government, but not as a main character.