It is an honour to be here and to speak on this panel.
I would like to talk about geographies of the network society that are excluded – geographies typically characterised as 'bottom of the pyramid' by non-inhabitants – geographies that are home to those who we are told are waiting to be empowered by the telecoms.
These are communities in the margins, who matter all too little to the networks of value.
I would like to speak to the question of the governance of digital spaces, from the standpoint of these vast regions, these communities.
Of everything I have heard in the highly elevating forums of discussion in these couple of days here, I have been most intrigued by Prof. Castells' assertion that – all theories we are taught about cultural imperialism are no longer true, since we see a cultural domination of multiple, competitive business networks.
The intellectual import of the redundancy of cultural imperialism agitated my limited wisdom, setting off a series of thoughts .. and making me wonder, if we are to feel somewhat better, somewhat relieved that the multiplicity of cultural hegemonies was not as bad as the era of cultural imperialism....
I was then reminded of a discussion I was witness to on a mailing list that I am part of.. this was a discussion on grassroots communities and why a special lens on the 'local' may be needed, as we debate digital dispossession.
As we know, these are times when categories can be really elusive....So, someone on the list stepped in and said, - the 'local' need not be the 'geographic' local. Local is about locus. The locus of control.
And this seemed to somehow make epistemic sense. Going from here, and reclaiming situatedness in these times of mobile society, I would like to focus a bit more on the local.. a region that we are told by scholars of globalization – is that in which the global is appropriated and reproduced.
I will like to come back to the question of cultural imperialism a bit later.. For now, I would like to ask if the local – even as a heuristic, can be treated as a prior category, one that we may want to examine closer.
In our politics and practices, we seem to take globalism as an inherent value. We like to see ourselves as 'global' citizens. I think, we need to unpack globalism – examine if this indeed is a neutral value, or if it is a world view that locates people differentially – in hierarchies of social, economic and political locations.
Gandhi professed localism.. he was not a bigot, but he conceptualized local living as intrinsic to social belonging and political agency. For Gandhi, the local was important; localism was not nationalism. In Gandhi's notion of 'swaraj', the local was the 'autonomy' of people, the locus for self-determination. Today the apparatuses of the network society seem to annihilate those with no claim to globalism. The Internet has emerged as the unitary force behind the creation and proliferation of contemporary media. It is the new organizing force – enabling the centralization of power and holding the promise of emancipation, for the unfree.
The material-semiotic underpinnings of the Internet are very important to understand. Today, 13 of the 30 largest publicly traded corporations in the US are Internet-related companies, and most are monopolies. Their power beyond the jurisdiction of the US is immense.1
An analysis of the relationships between 43,000 transnational corporations has identified a relatively small group of companies, mainly banks, with disproportionate power over the global economy. This web of ownership, the research tracked back to a "super-entity" of 147 even more tightly knit companies - all of their ownership was held by other members of the super-entity - that controlled 40 per cent of the total wealth in the network. "In effect, less than 1 percent of the companies were able to control 40 per cent of the entire network," 2