Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2002

Information and Knowledge Societies:
An Interdisciplinary Perspective

Lecturers: Professor Robin E. Mansell, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK,
and Professor W. Edward Steinmueller, Science and Technology Policy Research (SPRU), University of Sussex, UK
Dates: 29. July - 2. August 2002

This course uses interdisciplinary social science perspectives to examine and analyse the social, organisational and economic processes accompanying the growing use of advanced information and communication networks including the Internet. This investigation is conducted within, and will refer to, the larger context of the increasing centrality of information and knowledge to the prospects of both rich and poor nations.

The course employs three major themes that encompass a major share of social science research on the Internet and new media - technological and market developments, social organisation and co-ordination, and governance systems and regulatory oversight. While the respective and principal disciplinary domains of these themes are economics, sociology, and political economy, a full understanding of each theme requires important insights from other disciplines. One of the key ideas of this course is that social science research on the Internet exposes how existing social science disciplines embed presumptions based on existing patterns of social and market organisation that were developed following the industrial revolution.

Our principal objective for the course is to assist participants to develop critical perspectives on developments like the 'new economy,' 'the digital divide,' 'electronic democracy,' and 'electronic commerce.' In meeting this objective we plan to focus on some of the leading recent research related to the Internet and to provide a 'user's guide' for further study of the topics considered as well as the larger field of Internet and new media studies.


Lecture 1: Information and Knowledge Societies: Origins, Definitions, and Overview
The proliferation of terminology as well as the ubiquity of the 'e-' prefix suggests both the range of impact and the extent of hype associated with the growing variety of Internet and other new media and communication applications. This lecture examines the foundations for understanding these developments in the policy and academic literatures, which also serves to introduce the course.


Theme One: Technological and market developments

Lecture 2: Internet Market Dynamics
The effective operation of markets is necessary for information and communication technologies (ICTs) to come into use. This lecture examines the peculiar properties of ICTs as economic goods and services, which include their low marginal cost of reproduction or extension and the effects of 'network externalities' that are produced by their use. The implications of these properties for the organisation and international location of production as well as the strategies of individual firms are analysed in this lecture.

Syllabus readings:

Lecture 3: Re-Intermediation and Electronic Commerce
The dot.com mania was fuelled by the belief that institutions such as 'value chains' could be arbitrarily re-configured using electronic communication networks such as the Internet. This belief ignored the substantial history of electronic trading networks as well as the essential contributions of intermediaries in markets. This experience does not, however, spell the end of e-commerce developments. The nature and significance of 're-intermediation' and the institution-building processes underlying sustainable e-commerce are analysed in this lecture.

Syllabus readings:

Lecture 4: Information and Knowledge Codification
One of the very basic promises of the ICT revolution was that it would ease the process of capturing and transferring knowledge. (A second was that it would contribute to productivity by enhancing co-ordination and control, the subject of Theme Two of this lecture series.) Economics regards information and knowledge as being the same, most other social science disciplines do not. The experience of technology transfer, multi-plant operations, and merger and acquisition management all indicate that vitally important knowledge is embedded in organisational routines and individual knowledge. At best such routines and knowledge are difficult to 'codify' as information and, at worst, they are impossible to 'codify.' This lecture examines this idea and explores the contributions of ICTs to knowledge codification. The readings summarise the current debate.

Syllabus readings:

Theme Two: Social organisation and co-ordination

Lecture 5: The Internet Space
Advanced communication networks create distinctive 'spaces' in which individuals engage in social interactions as well as being 'served' information. This lecture draws upon ideas from the study of architectural design to develop the relationship between information and physical spaces. It also examines some of the early 'ethnographic' work on specific network communities in an effort to identify basic principles governing social behaviour on the Internet.

Syllabus readings:

Lecture 6: e-Worlds: Services for Citizens
This lecture examines the conditions that must be in place if electronic services are to be responsive to the needs of citizens. The discussion focuses on whether e-services of various kinds can be empowering for individuals within geographically bounded communities and for those who are geographically dispersed. Although e-government services play a role in this context, this lecture emphasises concerns about the sustainability of services provided in the public sphere and whether new services enable or disable democratic processes within the nation-state.

Syllabus readings:

Lecture 7: The Internet and Voluntary Association
Howard Rheingold's examination of virtual communities was a pioneering evocation and social commentary on the forms of co-ordination and community that were possible using computer-mediated communication. This lecture will attempt to extend and move beyond some of Rheingold's ideas to a more general analysis of voluntary social organisations emerging on the Internet including the open source software movement.

Syllabus readings:

Theme Three: Governance systems and regulatory oversight

Lecture 8: Internet Governance: Order or Cyber-Libertarianism
What does it mean to talk about controlling or governing the Internet? This lecture examines the libertarian and policy interventionist stances towards cyberspace in terms of whether there is a need for policy or regulation at the national or global level to protect the interests of citizens and other stakeholders. Is it feasible to implement policies or regulations in on-line spaces? The lecture takes up the issue of whether the largely US-centric views expressed by Lawrence Lessig have broader applicability beyond the borders of the United States and whether the arguments about governance are the same for both private and public digital spaces.

Syllabus readings:

Lecture 9: Intellectual Property in the Electronic Age
Polar opposite views exist on the extent of the application of intellectual property rights to information produced and exchanged using the Internet and other networks. At one extreme, a variety of individuals advocate the idea that information that can be exchanged, should be exchanged regardless of copyright or other intellectual property rights. At the other extreme, an emerging 'cyber-police' activity is developing to suppress Internet 'piracy'. The aim is to preserve the 'natural rights' of authors (or other rights holders) to receive payment for the reproduction and distribution of their work. This lecture re-examines the justification for intellectual property right protection, its feasibility in a digital age, and the possible institutional and technological solutions to the perceived problem.

Syllabus readings:

Lecture 10: Digital Divides
There is much debate about the causes and consequences of the so-called digital divides within countries and between the wealthier and poorer countries. This lecture emphasises the need to consider the issues of inclusion (and the terms of inclusion) and exclusion from a social perspective. It is not appropriate to assume that various expressions of the digital divide can be addressed simply by ensuring that people have access to digital technologies and services. Since the majority of the content of the preceding lectures focuses on the development of new media and the Internet in the context of industrialised countries, this lecture considers the issues specifically from the standpoint of poorer countries.

Syllabus readings:

Core readings

* Books available in local bookstores in paperback editions.

Further topical background readings

The lecturers:
In 2001, Robin E. Mansell became the first Dixon's Chair of the Internet and New Media at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She was previously a Professor at SPRU - Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Sussex where she held several leadership positions including Research Director and where she co-founded the Information, Networks and Knowledge Research Centre and, from 1988, directed the earlier Centre for Information and Communication Technologies. Dr. Mansell is an internationally recognised authority on regulatory and governance issues in the field of telecommunication and the new media. She is a Fellow of the Institution of Electrical Engineers and holds postgraduate degrees in Social Psychology and the Political Economy of Communications.

W. Edward Steinmueller is Professor of Information and Communication Technology Policy and Director of the Information, Networks and Knowledge Research Centre at SPRU - Science and Technology Policy Research at University of Sussex. He was previously Professor of the Economics of Innovation and Technological Change at the University of Maastricht and Deputy Director, Center for Economic Policy Research at Stanford University where he received his PhD in economics. Steinmueller is an internationally recognised authority on the economics of several information and communication technology industries and on science, technology and industrial policy.