The (evolving…) Futures of Power in the Network Era

As Edward Snowden spends yet another night in the limbo of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport (as I write this), one flight away from returning to his homeland to be drawn and quartered, one flight away from potential asylum with a country ready to risk the wrath of Imperium, and Julian Assange remains holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London one step away from a US Grand Jury, it is indeed a good time to reflect on the evolving nature of power in the modern world.

Contemporary societies are undergoing fundamental transformations and disruptions related to the emergence of the network form. Following on the back of my thesis work, my interest in the circulation of power, and the evolution of power in the modern era,  still incomplete…  I wanted a way to understand and articulate how the network form transforms and disrupts power dynamics, and to tease out some of the emerging threats, opportunities and strategic issues that we are all facing.

The culmination of this is an article in the Journal of Futures Studies titled “The futures of power in the network era“.  It is an exploration and analysis of evolving power dynamics related to the network form across two critical axes of change: network politics and network economics. As such it is a kind of futures oriented exploration of political economy, with the emphasis squarely on the influence and dynamics of the network form.

More critically, I posit 2 struggles for power across these axes of change. For network politics: Will wikileaks and the anonymous millions tame governments, breaking through the veils of secrecy, forcing these institutions to reckon with a knowing public? Or will governments with sophisticated surveillance apparatus tame citizens, using big data to neutralize dissent before citizens even know they oppose the state? For network economics: will the netarchical giants like Google and Facebook capture all the potentials of the postindustrial sharing and making  economy, or will citizen driven peer-to-peer enterprises prevail?

While I am squarely on the side of an empowered public creating transparent institutions and the victory of community driven peer-to-peer enterprises, my own estimate of their chances is tempered by the magnitude of the challenges and by history. While the National Security Agency (NSA) and other bureaus and departments practice widespread surveillance of citizens (which has been known and documented for many many years), countries like China already use such surveillance technology (sometimes aided by US internet companies) to repress those in their own country who aim for nothing more than social justice.

This is my very small contribution to this ongoing challenge and process. If we are to find a way to overcome power with impunity, and reclaim our capacity to come together in dynamic and strategic solidarities, then we really do need some strategic understanding of the landscape of change that we inhabit. These 4 scenarios offered here: Caged Chickens, Peer-to-Peer Patriots, The Republic of Google, and finally…  The Federation of the Commons, each have their attendant strategic pathways and indicators.

But my real intention here is to start a debate about the futures of our society and the evolution of power in the network era. I by no means think that I have the futures figured out! Indeed I think exploring and understanding the futures is about fostering collective intelligence among peoples and citizens in every part of the world, so let the conversations begin!

I hope you enjoy the article and feel free to post comments on twitter @actionforesight

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The article “The Futures of Power in the Network Era” can be found HERE.

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