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Digital Formations

Digital Formations: IT and New Architectures in the Global Realm

Robert Latham
Saskia Sassen
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 456
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  • Book Info
    Digital Formations
    Book Description:

    Computer-centered networks and technologies are reshaping social relations and constituting new social domains on a global scale, from virtually borderless electronic markets and Internet-based large-scale conversations to worldwide open source software development communities, transnational corporate production systems, and the global knowledge-arenas associated with NGO networks. This book explores how such "digital formations" emerge from the ever-changing intersection of computer-centered technologies and the broad range of social contexts that underlie much of what happens in cyberspace.

    While viewing technologies fundamentally in social rather than technical terms,Digital Formationsnonetheless emphasizes the importance of recognizing the specific technical capacities of digital technologies. Importantly, it identifies digital formations as a new area of study in the social sciences and in thinking about globalization. The ten chapters, by leading scholars, examine key social, political, and economic developments associated with these new configurations of organization, space, and interaction. They address the operation of digital formations and their implications for the development of longstanding institutions and for their wider contexts and fields, and they consider the political, economic, and other forces shaping those formations and how the formations, in turn, are shaping such forces.

    Following a conceptual introduction by the editors are chapters by Hayward Alker, Jonathan Bach and David Stark, Lars-Erik Cederman and Peter A. Kraus, Dieter Ernst, D. Linda Garcia, Doug Guthrie, Robert Latham, Warren Sack, Saskia Sassen, and Steven Weber.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3161-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction Digital Formations: Constructing an Object of Study
    (pp. 1-34)

    Computer-centered networks and technologies are reshaping social relations and constituting new social domains. These transformations assume multiple forms and involve diverse actors. In this volume we focus on a particular set of instances: communication and information structures largely constituted in electronic space. Examples are electronic markets, Internet-based large-scale conversations, knowledge spaces arising out of networks of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and early conflict warning systems, among others. Such structures result from various mixes of computer-centered technologies and the broad range of social contexts that provide the utility logics, substantive rationalities, and cultural meanings for much of what happens in these electronic...


    • Recombinant Technology and New Geographies of Association
      (pp. 37-53)

      Forms of social organization trade on the illusion of permanence while constantly renegotiating their relationships; their stability rests in part on their ability for transformation. The global state system is a famously reified form of social organization, its defining doctrinal characteristic of state sovereignty based on an increasingly anachronistic single-point perspective (Ruggie 1993: 159). Today the social ordering functions of state sovereignty are under duress, global issues exist beyond the control of any one state, and the global political system is undergoing a significant transformation. Global political space is increasingly defined by networks that operate fluidly; enhance flows of money,...

    • Electronic Markets and Activist Networks: The Weight of Social Logics in Digital Formations
      (pp. 54-88)

      Interactions between digital technology and social logics can produce a third condition that is a mix of both. When this mixed domain gets structured in electronic space, we call it a digital formation (see Latham and Sassen, this volume). This chapter focuses on two such formations: the global market for capital and global electronic activist networks. In both cases my organizing question concerns the operation of social logics and how they shape and are in turn shaped by these technologies. The focus is, then, on both the transformative capacities of these new computercentered technologies and their conditioning by social logics....

    • The New Mobility of Knowledge: Digital Information Systems and Global Flagship Networks
      (pp. 89-114)

      Digital information systems (DIS) are electronic systems that integrate software and hardware to enable communication and collaborative work (Chandler and Cortada 2000). These systems are not developed in a vacuum. They are a response to transformations in economic institutions and structures that determine industrial dynamics. “Globalization” is a widely used shorthand for those transformations.

      How does globalization interact with DIS? To answer that question, we need to open the black box of “globalization.” I define globalization as the integration, across borders, of markets for capital, goods, services, knowledge, and labor. Barriers to integration continue to exist, of course, in each...


    • Cooperative Networks and the Rural-Urban Divide
      (pp. 117-145)

      The positive role that networked information technologies can play in fostering economic development is now widely recognized.¹ These technologies have proven extremely useful not only in promoting and sustaining economic activities of all kinds, but also in enhancing human potential—a key ingredient for the success of any development strategy. The value of these technologies will likely loom even larger in the future, given both their enhanced capabilities as well as a more service-oriented global economy in which production and marketing activities are networked worldwide. In preparation, many developing countries are currently looking to communication and information technologies to help...

    • Networks, Information, and the Rise of the Global Internet
      (pp. 146-177)

      Should fields like international relations provide theories for the formation of global infrastructures? Although such infrastructures, from communication and transport to financial systems, are fundamental to globalization and the nature of the global realm, such theories hardly exist. Such theories may help us understand how global systems emerge and take a certain form. This chapter will probe the outlines of one for a system essential to our world, the Internet.

      Why have such theories not come into being?¹ In the first place, the long history of infrastructure, such as communication systems, has mostly been a national one. Industrialized states have...

    • The Political Economy of Open Source Software and Why It Matters
      (pp. 178-212)

      Open source is an experiment in building a political economy—that is, a system of sustainable value creation and a set of governance mechanisms tied to it. It is a system that holds together a community of producers around a counterintuitive notion of property. I mean property in a broad sense—not only who owns what, but what it means to “own” something, what rights and responsibilities property confers. The conventional notion of property is built around variations of a simple claim, the right to exclude you from using something that “belongs” to me. Property in open source is configured...


    • Designing Information Resources for Transboundary Conflict Early Warning Networks
      (pp. 215-241)

      This chapter reviews and reflects on design considerations related to the development of partly computerized information resources intended to be useful for early warners of impending, potentially violent, intergroup conflicts.¹ The early warners in question—most typically those associated with the London-based Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) International Alert (IA) and the Forum on Early Warning and Early Response (FEWER)—were, and are, committed to transboundary cooperation in the prevention, or amelioration, of violent intergroup conflicts. To this end, the design and prototype development of a set of information systems was undertaken by the Conflict Early Warning Systems (CEWS) research project² of...

    • Discourse Architecture and Very Large-scale Conversation
      (pp. 242-282)

      Historically, new spaces for public discussion have been invented every few centuries (the agora, plaza, town square, town hall, café, newspaper). The introduction of electrical and electronic technologies in the twentieth century accelerated the rate of change in public spaces to a pace measured in decades (film, radio, television). Now with the increasing ubiquity of computer networks, new spaces for public discussion and exchange are invented, introduced, and updated on an almost continual basis (e-mail, newsgroups, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), weblogs, instant messaging, Napster, Gnutella).

      This exponential increase in the rate of change has reached the escape velocity of the...

    • Transnational Communication and the European Demos
      (pp. 283-311)

      Digitization is triggering a global communication revolution that has the potential to constitute new social domains. Emerging at the intersection of technological and societal processes, digital formations are creating new political topologies and reconfiguring existing networks and organizations. The European Union (EU)is often thought of as such a border-transcending communicative space. Since the heady pioneering days of Jean Monnet, technological advances have inspired the architects of the European integration project. Today, information technology plays a prominent role in the debate about how to promote a closer union of Europe’s peoples.

      In this chapter, we focus on the question whether digitization...

    • Information Technology and State Capacity in China
      (pp. 312-338)

      Inasmuch as it is fashionable to claim that information technology will allow liberal ideals to enter formerly closed societies, thus hastening the fall of authoritarian regimes, China is an interesting case within this discussion. Where the first decade-and-a-half of China’s economic reforms have been organized around the development of an export-led economy and the transformation of industrial organizations, since the mid-1990s the focus has shifted to the realm of technology. It is widely believed among experts and Chinese leaders alike that technological development will play a key role in China’s continued economic expansion. As China’s Minister of Science and Technology...

  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 339-340)
  10. Index
    (pp. 341-368)