Feb 12, 2010

Sustainable information society

Christian Fuchs offers an interesting approach to sustainable information society - dialectic sustainability through cooperation [Fuchs, C. (2010). Theoretical foundations of defining the participatory, co-operative, sustainable informaiton society. Information, Communication & Society, 13(1), 23-47.)

He uses the concepts of base and superstructure to classify various approaches to sustainable information society (SIS). Base is constituted by labor, technology, and nature that are used in the production of goods to satisfy human needs. Superstructure is the interaction between the political and the cultural systems that facilitate collective decisions and value structures. Base and superstructure are recursively linked and produce each other.

He analyzes various notions of the participatory, co-operative, sustainable information society (PCSIS) and classifies them into four types: reductionistic, projective, dualistic, and dialectical approaches. Reductionistic approaches reduce sustainability to the economic base. For example, the concept of eInclusion focuses on access to ICTs (technological element of base). Or the i2010 initiative of the European Commission focuses on economic goals of growth and employment. Projective approaches consider political or cultural aspects as the sole determining factors of sustainability (e.g., eParticipation). Dualistic approaches assert the existence of a variety of dimensions of sustainability, but they consider these dimensions as being independent. Dialectical thinking conceives sustainability as, on the one hand, multidimensional and, on the other hand, interdependent.

How can such dialectical thinking (the integration of base and superstructure) be achieved? Fuchs' answer is - through the logic of co-operation instead of the logic of competition. Competition means that there is an unequal access to structures of social systems. It creates asymmetric distribution of resources and domination and exploitation. Cooperation means sharing resources so that new systemic qualities emerge. Competition is exclusive, cooperation is inclusive.

Cooperation would allow for the development of various dimensions of sustainability that are interconnected: ecological preservation, human-centered technology, economic equity, political freedom (absence of domination), and cultural wisdom (unity in diversity).

At the end Fuchs argues that future empirical research would need to quantify all these qualities of a PCSIS and measure them. But first it is necessary to determine whether this approach is going to be employed in practice. How can this dialectical thinking be encourages and disseminated among the decision-making agents that exert pressures or simply predict, prefigure, and control the systems of base and superstructure?

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