Internet Technology & Nonviolent Struggle : Introduction

Below is the very first draft of my article (on going writing) in relation to my PhD dissertation, with similar to the title of this post as “Internet Technology and Nonviolent Political Struggle : A Case Study of Thailand”. I decide to put it in the blog to get people to discuss to me. Here’s the introduction part. Other parts, in developing, is coming soon.

I. INTRODUCTION

This article’s topic on internet technology and nonviolent struggle was popped up from two isolated sub-discipline of studies: peace studies and technology studies. During its popular period around past twenty or thirty years, peace studies had touched some of technological issues, but mostly are weapon or military-related technologies. It stopped its boundary of research at, I would call, ‘violence studies of technology’. There was almost none of the study that keeps forward to what I might entitle as ‘nonviolence studies of technology’. Similarly, for technology studies, most of their territories were bounded up at such issues as political value, prejudice or social injustice of technology. Though these issues are important, but to my knowledge and from my point of view, there was almost none of them that went further to the most tangibly moral position, which is the topic on violence and nonviolence of the technology. So, this article intends to connect both fields and outreach to the topic of so-called ‘nonviolence studies of technology’.

Let consider peace studies first. Among various theories of them, the article chooses Gene Sharp’s theory of nonviolent action (1973) as it intends to study the political struggle in practical and actual situation. His theory is fundamentally based on so-called ‘consent theory of power’ in which reverses our ordinary though about the power as monolithic power that ruler’s power can be self-sustained at above and determine the ruled in the society. Instead, he proposed other version of power as pluralistic that the ruler can hold the power just by gaining supports from the consent of the ruled. This means that the people indeed control the ruler, not the ruler control the people. So, the point is that a repressive regime can be changed without violence by the mass people just withdraw their consent from the regime so much that it can not function and have to accept the demand of the mass, or sometime the ruler can no longer hold its legitimacy to govern the people so that the regime must be changed.

Based on this fundamental concept, Sharp provided a variety of ‘method of nonviolent action’ that had happened around the world. Another of his important point is that he insisted that nonviolent method is higher efficient than the violent means. In actual struggling situation, he proposed the concept of the ‘dynamic of nonviolent action’ that the regime may possibly adopt violent measure to keep control the movement back into the order. The nonviolent practitioners have to maintain the ‘nonviolent discipline’ so steady that finally they can gain the achievement. This is because of what he called ‘political jiu-jitsu’ in which the more violence the regime uses, the more it strike back to lose the legitimacy of the regime to the degree that it breakdown.

Sharp’s innovatively consent theory of power in nonviolent action—that both brought him to the frontier of this field and gained popularity to this field—was criticized by Brian Martin (1989) and Robert J. Burrowes (1996) as the theory was too simplified and it dichotomize between the ruler and the ruled. Martin gave a lot of example that power is not just giving people’s consent to the ruler, but there are varieties of structural manipulation—such as bureaucracy, capitalism, masculinity, hegemony, technology and so on.

Burrowes argued that the rulers can maintain their power not only directly by gaining consent from people. There are a number of sub-structures of power that support the central power of the rulers. These sub-structures in themselves can be sustained also by taking consent from the ruled. So consents should not be withdrawn only from the central structure, due to it would still be able to maintain itself, but also from the sub-structure. Both critiques of Martin and Burrowes are based on what might calls ‘structural theory of power’, which covers various categories of power, including technology. And that bring us to another field of this article, technology studies.

Among diverse schools in technology studies, this article stands on the ground that there is no neutrality in technology. Every artifact and technological system have more or less some sorts of what Langdon Winner (1986) called ‘political inheritance’. It means that there is power embedded in every kind of technology, both in term of effecting people’s life and being derived from some sorts of political attitude. In other words, the structure of power relationship in a society can be studies from its technology. Technological structure, once it was designed and implemented, can give advantage to some people while take from the other. To more extreme, technologies can even kill someone, or some state, as an expense of the existence of the other one, or other state.

This kind of technological violence, in Galtung’s word, is the direct violence of technology such as obviously weapons and military technology. This article reaches further to, to use Galtung’s concept (1969), the structural violence of technology as there is no tangible perpetrator, but violence still occurs from technological structure of society. For example, railway system would have been constructed in order to transport the natural resource from the remote to central industry, which resulted in increasing the natural scarcity or degradation and pollution so much that bring an epidemic and death to the locals. Or the communication system was designed to be so centralized that a repressive government can hide their massacre—or even can campaign some prejudice or hatred propaganda—without the alternative voices. Clearly, both example of railway and communication system can not be solved by just change the government, because the sources of violence are not only from it, but also embedded in the technological structure.

As alternative to these kinds of technological structure of violence and to the intention of this article, what is called ‘technological structure of nonviolence’ can be found, to my knowledge, in the only one work in this topic, entitled ‘Technology for Nonviolent Struggle’ of Martin (2001). He explored various sorts of nonviolent technology, such as namely livelihood technology, intermediate technology (according to E.F. Schumacher’s concept), and decentralized communication system. The fundamental ground of these kinds of technological structure, in my opinion, is that it is small, non-hierarchic and decentralized enough (also interactive and cooperative enough, in such technology as communication) for being in people’s controls. Though there is still some limitation about the small-scale, distributed and non-hierarchical technology can be used to commit the violence like modern terrorism—waiting to be solved as a theoretical problem—this article maintain that it is worth to go beyond violent studies of technology to nonviolent one along the line of his argument.

Concerning the focusing technology of the article, the internet is also similar to other kind of technology which is political inherited. It is a kind of communication technology dealing with people’s idea, ideal, and especially in Sharp’s term, consent submitted to the rulers. As mention above, the internet, as communication technology, could also be used as violent or nonviolent instruments depended on its structural conditions.

So, the article aims to study the using and the conditions of internet technology in related to nonviolent struggle (and along with violent repression). In sociological terms, it attempts to investigate the ‘agency/action’ of and ‘structure’ of violence and nonviolence of internet technology. However, it’s worth to note here that the approach of this article is a bit different from so-called ‘media studies’ or ‘communication studies’, as it does not focus only on the content of communication or its psychological/sociological/political effects, but also the structural condition and the struggle to shape its structural development, that recurrently enable using it violently or nonviolently.

Therefore, two key questions of the article are as follow. (1) Action or agency dimension: how is internet technology dynamically used for nonviolent struggle and violent repression? (2) Structural dimension: how come can they use it in such way? Or other word, what are the structural conditions, which had been competitively struggled to allow them to do like that? The answer to both questions will be conducted in two forms: the study of experiences around the world and the theoretical workout to propose a theoretical framework of further studies.

Reference

  1. Burrowes, Robert (1996) The Strategy of Nonviolent Defense : A Gandhian Approach, Albany : State University of New York Press. [see Brian Martin’s review of this book]
  2. Galtung, Johan (1969), “Violence, Peace and Peace Research,” Journal of Peace Research. Vol.6 No.3
  3. Martin, Brian (1989), “Gene Sharp’s Theory of Power”, Journal of Peace Research, 22:2, pp. 213-22;
  4. Martin, Brian (2001). Technology for Nonviolent Struggle, London: War Resisters’ International, 2001.
  5. Sharp, Gene (1973) The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Boston: Porter Sargent.
  6. Winner, Langdon (1986) “Do artifacts have politics?” in The whale and the reactor : a search for limits in an age of high technology, Chicago : University of Chicago Press

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