A Socially-Just Internet: The Digital Divide, Cybercultural Agency, and Human Capabilities

David Toews

Abstract


This article argues that while modes of scholarship stressing structural insights into the digital divide and ethnographic insights into online communities each give us important information about current uses of the internet, for the sake of a unified social justice principle it is necessary to interpret these forms of knowledge in terms of what could be. Marx’s formula ‘the development of each as a condition for the development of all’ is put forward as the principle of a socially-just internet actualized from the ground up. It is argued that the most rapidly emerging and important form of constraint upon ‘the development of each’ is the for profit online social media industry in which moments of human communicative creativity become packaged as commodities for commercial purposes. Creative, cultural agency becomes an imposition rather than a liberation as represented in the industry ideology. It is argued therefore that groups that use the internet for serious play – the use of avatars in virtual worlds is discussed as an example – present us with a form of online subjectivity that is rising in importance as a form of cultural agency inasmuch as the play component is premised upon the rejection of pre-packaged forms of agency. Support for a socially-just internet would thus mean supporting the online communities formed in this process. Thus the argument is put forward that the importance of serious online play groups is not due to their potential for forming communities per se but is rather due to their potential for resisting the imposition of agency. Inasmuch as online communities in the midst of such groups can bolster that goal, they can represent the development of human capabilities in a way that expands the theme of social justice.

Keywords


internet; social justice; online communities

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