The Privatized State


Book by Chiara Cordelli: “Many governmental functions today—from the management of prisons and welfare offices to warfare and financial regulation—are outsourced to private entities. Education and health care are funded in part through private philanthropy rather than taxation. Can a privatized government rule legitimately? The Privatized State argues that it cannot.

In this boldly provocative book, Chiara Cordelli argues that privatization constitutes a regression to a precivil condition—what philosophers centuries ago called “a state of nature.” Developing a compelling case for the democratic state and its administrative apparatus, she shows how privatization reproduces the very same defects that Enlightenment thinkers attributed to the precivil condition, and which only properly constituted political institutions can overcome—defects such as provisional justice, undue dependence, and unfreedom. Cordelli advocates for constitutional limits on privatization and a more democratic system of public administration, and lays out the central responsibilities of private actors in contexts where governance is already extensively privatized. Charting a way forward, she presents a new conceptual account of political representation and novel philosophical theories of democratic authority and legitimate lawmaking.

The Privatized State shows how privatization undermines the very reason political institutions exist in the first place, and advocates for a new way of administering public affairs that is more democratic and just….(More)”.

Government Lawyers: Technicians, Policy Shapers and Organisational Brakes


Paper by Philip S.C. Lewis and Linda Mulcahy: “Government lawyers have been rather neglected by scholars interested in the workings of the legal profession and the role of professional groups in contemporary society. This is surprising given the potential for them to influence the internal workings of an increasingly legalistic and centralized state. This article aims to partly fill the gap left by looking at the way that lawyers employed by the government and the administrators they work with talk about their day to day practices. It draws on the findings of a large-scale empirical study of government lawyers in seven departments, funded by the ESRC. The study was undertaken between 2002-2003 by Philip Lewis, and is reported for the first time here. By looking at lawyers in bureaucracies the interviews conducted sought to explore what government lawyers do, how they talked about their work, and what distinguished them from the administrative grade clients and colleagues they worked with….(More)”.

Custodians of the Internet


Book by Tarleton Gillespie on “Platforms, Content Moderation, and the Hidden Decisions That Shape Social Media…Most users want their Twitter feed, Facebook page, and YouTube comments to be free of harassment and porn. Whether faced with “fake news” or livestreamed violence, “content moderators”—who censor or promote user-posted content—have never been more important. This is especially true when the tools that social media platforms use to curb trolling, ban hate speech, and censor pornography can also silence the speech you need to hear.

In this revealing and nuanced exploration, award-winning sociologist and cultural observer Tarleton Gillespie provides an overview of current social media practices and explains the underlying rationales for how, when, and why these policies are enforced. In doing so, Gillespie highlights that content moderation receives too little public scrutiny even as it is shapes social norms and creates consequences for public discourse, cultural production, and the fabric of society. Based on interviews with content moderators, creators, and consumers, this accessible, timely book is a must-read for anyone who’s ever clicked “like” or “retweet.”…(More)”.

(Successful) Democracies Breed Their Own Support


Paper by Daron Acemoglu et al: “Using large-scale survey data covering more than 110 countries and exploiting within-country variation across cohorts and surveys, we show that individuals with longer exposure to democracy display stronger support for democratic institutions. We bolster these baseline findings using an instrumental-variables strategy exploiting regional democratization waves and focusing on immigrants’ exposure to democracy before migration. In all cases, the timing and nature of the effects are consistent with a causal interpretation. We also establish that democracies breed their own support only when they are successful: all of the effects we estimate work through exposure to democracies that are successful in providing economic growth, peace and political stability, and public goods….(More)”.

Abundance: On the Experience of Living in a World of Information Plenty


Book by Pablo J. Boczkowski: “The book examines the experience of living in a society that has more information available to the public than ever before. It focuses on the interpretations, emotions, and practices of dealing with this abundance in everyday life. Drawing upon extensive fieldwork and survey research conducted in Argentina, the book inquiries into the role of cultural and structural factors that mediate between the availability of information and the actual consequences for individuals, media, politics, and society. Providing the first book-length account of the topic in the Global South, it concludes that the experience of information abundance is tied to an overall unsettling of society, a reconstitution of how we understand and perform our relationships with others, and a twin depreciation of facts and appreciation of fictions….(More)”.

Perspectives on Digital Humanism


Open Access Book edited by Hannes Werthner, Erich Prem, Edward A. Lee, and Carlo Ghezzi: “Digital Humanism is young; it has evolved from an unease about the consequences of a digitized world for human beings, into an internationally connected community that aims at developing concepts to provide a positive and constructive response. Following up on several successful workshops and a lecture series that bring together authorities of the various disciplines, this book is our latest contribution to the ongoing international discussions and developments. We have compiled a collection of 46 articles from experts with different disciplinary and institutional backgrounds, who provide their view on the interplay of human and machine.

Please note our open access publishing strategy for this book to enable widespread circulation and accessibility. This means that you can make use of the content freely, as long as you ensure appropriate referencing. At the same time, the book is also published in printed and online versions by Springer….(More)”.

Off-Label: How tech platforms decide what counts as journalism


Essay by Emily Bell: “…But putting a stop to militarized fascist movements—and preventing another attack on a government building—will ultimately require more than content removal. Technology companies need to fundamentally recalibrate how they categorize, promote, and circulate everything under their banner, particularly news. They have to acknowledge their editorial responsibility.

The extraordinary power of tech platforms to decide what material is worth seeing—under the loosest possible definition of who counts as a “journalist”—has always been a source of tension with news publishers. These companies have now been put in the position of being held accountable for developing an information ecosystem based in fact. It’s unclear how much they are prepared to do, if they will ever really invest in pro-truth mechanisms on a global scale. But it is clear that, after the Capitol riot, there’s no going back to the way things used to be.

Between 2016 and 2020, Facebook, Twitter, and Google made dozens of announcements promising to increase the exposure of high-quality news and get rid of harmful misinformation. They claimed to be investing in content moderation and fact-checking; they assured us that they were creating helpful products like the Facebook News Tab. Yet the result of all these changes has been hard to examine, since the data is both scarce and incomplete. Gordon Crovitz—a former publisher of the Wall Street Journal and a cofounder of NewsGuard, which applies ratings to news sources based on their credibility—has been frustrated by the lack of transparency: “In Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter we have institutions that we know all give quality ratings to news sources in different ways,” he told me. “But if you are a news organization and you want to know how you are rated, you can ask them how these systems are constructed, and they won’t tell you.” Consider the mystery behind blue-check certification on Twitter, or the absurdly wide scope of the “Media/News” category on Facebook. “The issue comes down to a fundamental failure to understand the core concepts of journalism,” Crovitz said.

Still, researchers have managed to put together a general picture of how technology companies handle various news sources. According to Jennifer Grygiel, an assistant professor of communications at Syracuse University, “we know that there is a taxonomy within these companies, because we have seen them dial up and dial down the exposure of quality news outlets.” Internally, platforms rank journalists and outlets and make certain designations, which are then used to develop algorithms for personalized news recommendations and news products….(More)”

The A, B and C of Democracy: Or Cats in the Sack


Book by Luca Belgiorno-Nettis and Kyle Redman: “This is a learner’s guide to a better democracy. Sounds ambitious? It is. The catalyst for publishing this book is obvious. There’s no need to regurgitate the public’s disaffection with politics. Mired in the tawdry mechanics of political campaigning, and incapable of climbing out of cyclical electioneering contests, representative democracies are stuck in a rut.

As Dawn Nakagawa, Vice President of the Berggruen Institute, writes, ‘Democratic reform is hard. We are very attached to our constitutions and institutions, even to the point of romanticising it all.’

This handbook is an introduction to minipublics – otherwise known as citizens’ juries or assemblies – interspersed with a few travel anecdotes to share the momentum behind the basic methodology of deliberative democracy.

As the world accelerates into its digital future, with new modes of working, connecting and living – our parliaments remain relics from a primordial, ideological and adversarial age. Meanwhile urgent challenges are stumbling to half-solutions in slow-motion. Collaboration amongst us humans in the Anthropocene is no longer just a nice-to-have….(More)”.

Systemic Mapping and Design Research: Towards Participatory Democratic Engagement


Paper by Juan de LaRosa, Stan Ruecker, Carolina Giraldo Nohora: “This article presents an argument to extend possibilities and discussions about the role of design in democratic participation. We ground this argument in case studies and observations of several grassroots experimental participatory design workshops run with the intention of producing spaces for community deliberation and a tangible transformation of these communities. These cases show how systemic mapping and prototyping are used to increase community understanding of how potential futures represent values systems that should correspond to the values the community would like to see in place. The methodologies used on these workshops are presented it here as an opportunity to question the role of design in democratic deliberation and policy making….(More)”.

Shock to the System: Coups, Elections, and War on the Road to Democratization


Book by Michael K. Miller: “How do democracies emerge? Shock to the System presents a novel theory of democratization that focuses on how events like coups, wars, and elections disrupt autocratic regimes and trigger democratic change. Employing the broadest qualitative and quantitative analyses of democratization to date, Michael Miller demonstrates that more than nine in ten transitions since 1800 occur in one of two ways: countries democratize following a major violent shock or an established ruling party democratizes through elections and regains power within democracy. This framework fundamentally reorients theories on democratization by showing that violent upheavals and the preservation of autocrats in power—events typically viewed as antithetical to democracy—are in fact central to its foundation.

Through in-depth examinations of 139 democratic transitions, Miller shows how democratization frequently follows both domestic shocks (coups, civil wars, and assassinations) and international shocks (defeat in war and withdrawal of an autocratic hegemon) due to autocratic insecurity and openings for opposition actors. He also shows how transitions guided by ruling parties spring from their electoral confidence in democracy. Both contexts limit the power autocrats sacrifice by accepting democratization, smoothing along the transition. Miller provides new insights into democratization’s predictors, the limited gains from events like the Arab Spring, the best routes to democratization for long-term stability, and the future of global democracy.

Disputing commonly held ideas about violent events and their effects on democracy, Shock to the System offers new perspectives on how regimes are transformed….(More)”.