Theorising the internet and its governance

Baloch, Fuad Khan
Cusack, Brian
Narayanan, Ajit
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

The assumption found in the literature that the Internet is a well-defined entity is challenged in this study. It is argued that despite apparent agreement on aspects of the Internet, such as the technological components, the Internet remains ambiguously conceptualised, inappropriately addressed and often misrepresented. Consequently, it is asserted that the underlying opacity results in the construction of auxiliary theories that increasingly arrive at incommensurate positions, and thus exacerbate problem areas. The case is supported by a careful review of the literature on the prevailing ontology and subsequent constitution of the Internet.

The argument is developed by starting with the bigger philosophical question; what is reality? This question pushes the scope of the research wider than the Internet artefact and into a context of its emergence and visibility. The Internet is subsequently established as a problematic within many points of view, interpretations and appreciations. The problem of conceptualising the Internet as a physical or a real space or both is elaborated so that the complexity of the artefact and its appearance in reality are made apparent. Underlying the debate is the central concern of the thesis, the Governance of the Internet.

The Governance of the Internet is a contested issue that has moved from governmental avenues to commercial and now to the United Nations forums for resolution. There are no simple answers and this thesis elaborates not only the complexity but also the difficulty in the gaining of consensus. The primary motivation of the study is to understand why governance attempts on the Internet continue to be ineffective. The primary premise is that the Internet is poorly defined and consequently isomorphic correspondences fail to engage the actual reality. The mix and match definitions deliver fallacies and fictions that prevent serious attempts to construct models, protocols and negotiating guides for resolving Internet related issues. The multiple incommensurate theories developed around the definitions further confuse constructive attempts to agree on core shared positions. Subsequently, three substantive questions are asked:

1- What is the Internet? 2- Is it possible to develop an authority tasked with governance of the Internet? 3- How could such an authority tasked with governance of the Internet enforce its decisions? The thesis concludes by asserting that aspects of the Internet can be governed by a weak form of authority that derives codes of conduct, laws, regulations, and presents them to the stakeholders as recommendations or guidelines. Furthermore, it is argued that such an authority tasked with governance of the Internet cannot rely on any foundational support for its continued existence and legitimacy except through continual acts of legitimating that justify its mandate of governance and existence as a respected arbitrator at times of discord. Additionally, it is proposed that the composition of the Internet makes it impossible for an authority to coerce its will over stakeholders without destroying the underlying interconnectivity of sovereign networks based on consensual co-operation and guided by motives of self-preservation and advantage. The work concludes by summarising the previous analysis into a Framework of Effective Governance (FoEG).

The method of philosophical argument is applied to dissect the literature and the relevant assumptions found in the literature. No attempt is made to collect empirical data or to stray from theoretical research. Second order appeals are made to core positions in the disciplines of metaphysics, ethics, and political theory to sustain the discussion. Furthermore, relevant literature from fields such as Information Systems, sociology, and political theory is utilised to present the arguments. The contribution of the research is for the re-thinking of current assumptions about the Internet and to advise potential solutions for conflict resolution and governing bodies.
Internet , Governance of internet , Cyberspace , Philosophy of science
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