Electronic networks are considered potentially important technological tools for involving citizens in the political arena. Many initiatives embracing this objective have been undertaken across Europe and North America, just as many predictions – positive and negative – have been made on the net effect of this labour. Some of these initiatives have been subject to empirical investigation; some have been supported through forms of action and participatory research. Whatever the source of data, evidence is accumulating, and a tentative assessment of the value of electronic network for democratic life is now possible.
The European Institute for Communication and Culture (Euricom) is hosting a colloquium concerned with the relation between electronic networks and democracy. The central objective of this seminar is to provide opportunity for theoretically grounded empirical studies to be presented by scholars active in this area in order to collectively consider the present state of knowledge and make proposals for new investigative inroads. Contributions are welcome which examine aspects of community networks, digital cities, and other virtual arenas employed for supporting politically based information, debate and action.
Although interest in and experimentation with electronic networks has been ongoing at least since cable television infrastructures were constructed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, this concern intensified with development of opportunities for computer-mediated communication in the 1980s and with popularisation of the Internet in the 1990s. A milestone in scholarly attention to these developments transpired in 1996 when the European Institute for Communication and Culture sponsored a colloquium on “virtual democracy.” This event was followed by theme issues of journals and publication of edited volumes. Taken as a whole, this work reflects increasing concern about the possible contribution of electronic networks to democratic life. One of the questions central for much of this work can be formulated as follows: In what manner and to what degree do electronic networks contribute to a more informed and politically active citizenry? This Euricom Colloquium is intended to extend exploration of that question.