It is our pleasure to inform you that the 'Best Paper Award' of the Communication Policy and Technology (CP&T) section was handed out at the recent IAMCR 2015 Conference in Montréal (Canada). The award went to the paper entitled 'Interests or ideas? Unmasking early policy discourses on universal access and the Internet’s contribution to social justice' by Julia Pohle (WZB Berlin Social Science Center) (see abstract below). The jury appreciated her well-written full paper for its theoretical and empirical quality, the integration of both, the interdisciplinary perspective and the way it fits in with the CP&T research mission.
The CP&T section wishes to formally congratulate the author for her award!
Interests or ideas? Unmasking early policy discourses on universal access and the Internet’s contribution to social justice
Julia Pohle, Research Fellow
WZB Berlin Social Science Center
julia.pohle [at] wzb.eu
The discussion and reflection about the relationship between hegemony and the empowering forces of communication and technology is not a new one. An organisation which, since its inception in 1946, has been dealing with this often very political and controversial question is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). While the peak episode of the organisation’s involvement in the debate about hegemony and communication ¬— its support of a New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) in the 1970s ¬— has been thoroughly scrutinized by academics, its more recent endeavours have not attracted much scholarly attention. This is surprising as they lend themselves to studying, in an exemplary manner, competing perspectives regarding the impact of new information and communication technologies on the economic, social and political status quo. The proposed paper aims at closing this gap in research by analysing UNESCO’s first attempt to translate its member states’ positions on the Internet’s societal consequences into an intergovernmental instrument. It therefore assesses the discursive and political struggles encountered during the contentious preparation of a recommendation on multilingualism and universal access to cyberspace, adopted by the organisation in 2003. Taking a critical stance on market-liberal policy positions, that dominated international debates at that time, the recommendation’s first drafts challenged an economy-dominated vision of an information society and called, instead, for a more participatory model that would reflect the ‘global public interest’ and the idea of information being a common good. Yet, this perception was fiercely opposed by member states and observers which saw these endeavours as a threat to their own political and commercial interests. Theoretically, the analysis is led by the question whether these competing discourses and political controversies were simply the result of divergent interests, or rather derive from deep-rooted ideological differences. The paper therefore takes a political economy perspective to discuss UNESCO’s ideas about information commons and the public domain (Benkler, Kranich) and draws on Mansell’s concept of social imaginaries of the information society to explain the conflicting positions as a result of the paradoxical nature of information and technology in times of digitalisation. The paper thereby contributes to the fundamental understanding of the ideas and interests underlying early international policy debates about the cultural, social and economic challenges of the Internet — ideas and interests that still shape policy discourses on the Internet until today. Methodologically, the paper is based on a conceptual framework that links the analysis of discursive struggles with the assessment of the concrete processes in which they occur. Therefore, it takes an interdisciplinary perspective by combining the method of Argumentative Discourse Analysis (developed by Hajer and Gottweis, drawing on Majone, Fischer and Forester) with selected elements of Actor-Network Theory (mainly concepts introduced by Latour). Empirically, the analysis of both discursive and performative aspects is based on extensive archive research, document analysis and interviews with UNESCO actors. It is part of a larger research project about UNESCO’s policy discourse on the information society which aims at challenging traditional policy analysis by proposing a more argumentative approach to the study of communication policy-making.