Mot en digital demokrati? : Teknik, politik och institutionell förändring
Sammanfattning: New information and communication technologies are today put forward as one possible solution to the perceived problems of democracy. Seeing that the Internet enables new forms of communication and eases information gathering, one view says that the Internet will open up new participatory avenues and radically transform patterns of political participation. Another view says that nothing will change because the new technology will be embedded within power structures that are not likely to change. The aim of this thesis is to discern the causes and consequences of the Swedish local governments´ use of the Internet in the democratic process, and also to use variation and similarities in the response to new technology to illuminate answers to fundamental questions about politics and institutional change. On the one hand, the analysis reveals that the Internet has raised high expectations of vitalisation and change of political democracy. The major documents stating the central government´s current intentions with regard to developing are all in favour of placing the new technology in the service of democracy, and in the municipalities a majority of the most important political decision-makers - the chairs of the municipal executive boards - are in favour of many of the proposals put forward in the debate. Political action, on the other hand, often speaks a different language. To a great extent, the step from intentions to actual initiatives may be described as a development from two-way communication to one-way information; from early information to late information; from active end users to passive end users; and from ideological arguments of an interactive or direct democracy to a limited modernisation of indirect democracy. The study recognizes several constraints that institutions impose on action. Local governments trying to make full use of their new digital opportunities are faced with a series of strategic dilemmas or tensions: between different democratic ideals as well as local government ideologies. The way in which local governments seek to balance these compteting pressures or resolve dilemmas is, however, often characterized by limited comparison and ad-hoc processess, without arousing any particular attention at the higher reaches. Without political involvement and strategic decision-making, developments towards digital democracy becomes less a matter of big changes stemming from explicit choices and reforms, and more one of gradual evolution restricted by previous decisions and institutions. Despite many grounds for caution, this study gives some evidence suggesting that "politics as usual" may be altered in a longer time perspective. Reciprocal effects between technology and institutions are not sequential and direct but complex and highly interdependent, forming a new kind of dynamics. Digital technologies are creating new opportunities, pressures and incitaments; influencing attitudes and preferences; and they alter the balance of resources and power among individuals within local governments. This indicates that new technologies may reshape the goals that animate political action, weaken the constraints that institutions impose on action, and thus become a contributory cause for institutional change.
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