Geert Lovink on Fri, 28 Sep 2007 14:28:56 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> ICT&S Researchers: Towards Critical Internet Theory

Towards Critical Internet Theory	
ICT&S Center at the 8th Conference of the European Sociological 
Association (ESA)

ICT&S Researchers Wolfgang Hofkirchner (professor for internet &
society) and Christian Fuchs (assistant professor for internet &
society) participated in the 8th European Sociological Association
Conference that took place in Glasgow from September 3-6, 2007.

The theme of the conference was ?Conflict, Citizenship and Civil
Society?. With approximately 1600 participants the conference was the
largest-ever sociological conference having taken place in Europe thus
far. The overall impression that the discussions at the conference
and the plenary talks by Donatella della Porta, Margaret Archer and
Nicos Mouzelis conveyed was that due to the rise of the movement for
democratic globalization the dominant global focus on neoliberalism
has been heavily challenged and a new focus on conflict and social
struggles, that challenges neoliberalism, has emerged in civil
society. Hence conflict, social struggles, and alternative paradigms
would have to become a central focus of sociology.

The two presentations given by Fuchs and Hofkirchner at the conference
reflected this overall theme.

Christian Fuchs conducted a talk on ?Informational Capitalism:
Commodity- or Gift-Economy?? in a panel organized by the Research
Network on the Sociology of Communications and Media Research.
His basic argument was that the Internet economy is shaped by to
contradictory models: The open source and open content model that
is based on the idea of information as a gift. And the proprietary
model that is based on the idea of information as commodity that
yields profit. This contradiction would be an expression of the
reactualization of the antagonism between the productive forces and
the relation of production and would require a critical political
economy approach in scientific analysis. Web 2.0 platforms such as
MySpace and YouTube would be examples that show the antagonistic
entanglement of the Internet gift economy and the Internet commodity
economy ? they give gifts (free access) to users in order to achieve
profit by advertisement. Fuchs in this context coined the notion of
the Internet gift commodity economy and showed how the economy of Web
2.0 has to do with what critical political economist Dallas Smythe has
termed the commodification of audiences.

The paper presented by Fuchs is an extract of an approach on Critical
Internet Theory that will be published as a book in October 2007 by
Routledge (Christian Fuchs: Internet and Society: Social Theory in the
Information Age).

Wolfgang Hofkirchner gave a talk with the title ?A Critical Social
Systems View of the Internet? in a panel of the Social Theory-Research
Network. Hofkirchner argued that evolutionary systems theory is a
dialectical framework that allows solving the foundational problem
of sociology how actors and social structures are related in an
integrative way. This solution would differ fundamentally from
Luhmann?s social systems theory and would take up motives from
Critical Theory. He furthermore showed how Critical Social Systems
Theory can be applied to the Internet. He showed that like any
technological system the Internet is basically a social system and
that it is a subsystem of the larger and overarching system of the
whole society and that the Internet can be perceived as a possible
trigger for societal developments bringing about fundamental change in
the nature of society.

For futher information please visit the ESA 8th Conference.

Fuchs, Christian (2008, forthcoming) Internet and Society: Social
Theory in the Information Age. New York: Routledge.

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