Mapping the Internet Terrain

The rise of the Internet has had a marked effect on how we view political power. Around the turn of the millennium, the nation-state as a political factor seemed to be in retreat, and was described as being “under siege”. Giving individuals instant and affordable access to vast amounts of information, the Internet “has collapsed the world, transcending and blurring political boundaries.” As everyday lives have been perceived as being significantly transformed by the Internet, so, too, were traditional concepts of territoriality and state sovereignty. It was even claimed that “[t]he new technologies encourage noninstitutional, shifting networks over the fixed bureaucratic hierarchies that are the hallmark of the single-voiced sovereign state.”

However, while there is no doubt “that significant deterritorialisation has taken place in human affairs, territory remains a crucial factor for many key aspects of humankind’s social, economic and especially political structures.” In our near future, the pre-eminence of the state will thus very likely continue to outrange that of non-state actors, but states today will find it much more difficult to maintain their accustomed degree of control. The information revolution has, in fact, triggered a considerable diffusion of power among a broad variety of different state and non-state actors. In such an environment, “[p]olitical leaders will enjoy fewer degrees of freedom before they must respond to events, and then they will have to share the stage with more actors.”

The present paper looks at one of the most relevant fields reflecting the ongoing power shifts between state and non-state actors. This field – really a collection of different processes or regimes – is most commonly referred to as “Internet governance”. Essentially, Internet governance deals with the management of the global resources that effectively make up the Internet. Perhaps one of the most significant features of this field is the multi-stakeholder concept, which has been instrumental in bestowing legitimacy on a number of different actors and institutional arrangements that are key to the functioning of the global Internet.

Download PDF