Political technologyan empirical approach on the causality of digitalisation

unter der Leitung von:
  1. Ramón Máiz Suárez Doktorvater

Universität der Verteidigung: Universidade de Santiago de Compostela

Fecha de defensa: 20 von Dezember von 2016

  1. Fernando Vallespín Oña Präsident/in
  2. Erika Jaráiz Gulías Sekretärin
  3. Sebastian Haunss Vocal
  1. Departamento de Ciencia Política e Socioloxía

Art: Dissertation

Teseo: 445541 DIALNET


Global panopticon" or "liberation technology"? Few questions can be found more relevant today. The digital technologies could be facilitating collective action in autocratic regimes towards democratization but, at the same time, they could be also increasing the intelligence gathering capacity of the challenged governments. That duality can be found at every dimension of digitalisation: while it can automate tasks increasing the quality of jobs, it can also cause labor unemployment; while digital tools can improve democratic deliberation, they can also increase polarization and conflict. And the relevance of the question gets raised when considering the growing adoption of those technologies, because the massive deployment of the Internet has turned them into a pervasive component that increasingly mediates the most relevant dimensions of contemporary societies, from global markets to national politics, passing through an increasing share of personal relationships. As a result, the transformative capacity of the digital technologies can be compared with the most influential developments in human history, like the water mill, the printing press or the steam machine, or electricity. An initial discussion about the relevance of the topic and the associated academic literature, unveils the need to review the notion of technology to identify the causal mechanisms governing the phenomenon of dititalisation. This conceptualization is performed developing a historical genealogy that unveils the political dimension of technology, the prominence of the dynamics of contentious politics, and the dual behavior of the economic features of digitalisation. The theorization provides the building blocks for a theory of /political technology/[fn:68], which is then formalized as a computer model to perform an empirical validation of the resulting predictions on digital discrimination and indiscriminate violence on the basis of a new method to estimate Internet penetration at high spatial and temporal resolution. In a nutshell, the theory states that the causal mechanisms of digitalisation are determined by (i) the characterisation of the digital technologies as an excludable good, (ii) the cybernetic foundation of the underlying informatics, and (iii) the dynamics of conflict in the political system. Instead of an external phenomenon produced by some objectively neutral scientific production, the genealogy of digitalisation depicts technology as the outcome of a process determined by political goals. The potential of digitalisation for emancipatory activism gets limited by the direct dependency on resources like copyright regulations and physical infrastructures directly controlled by the power cliques of the political system. As the causality of technology is determined by political goals and economic features, technological determinism is refuted, opening a solid ground to challenge the hegemonic perspectives on the topic. In order to identify the predictions of the theory, the inquiry proceeds following the methodological approach of mathematical sociology as a prior step to evaluate the empirical leverage of the theory using the tools of statistical inference. In the second step of the research design, the theory is formalized expressing the causal mechanisms as algorithms, and implemented as a computer model using a simulation software. The dynamics of the model are simulated, registering the values of the input and the output parameters that describe each case. The resulting values are analyzed using quantitative statistical methods to identify patterns describing the relation between the parameters of the model. Since those parameters are the elements of the previously theorized causal mechanisms, their relations are formulated as directed hypothesis that represent the predictions of the model. The final step of the research design is the empirical evaluation of those theoretical predictions. Taking the theoretical framework as reference, the hypothesis are explored to identify implications observable in the empirically realm. First, the theory predicts that governments will discriminate oppositional groups from access to the economical and political benefits of the digital technologies. The case of countries composed by competing ethnic groups provides a natural way to empirically test this prediction, as differences in the access to the digital infrastructures should be found between the ethnic settlements according to their support or rejection of the power coalition. Second, the theory expects that lower levels of connectivity will lead to more indiscriminate violence in armed conflicts. The case of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen offers a real-case scenario to explore this prediction.