The Utopia of the Knowledge Society and new opportunities (or risks) of Citizenship

The Knowledge Society is an extraordinary utopia founded on concrete and unprecedented opportunities for access to knowledge, its production and distribution, as well as on transparency. There are, however, numerous problematic aspects linked to the digital divide and to informative and cognitive asymmetries. The Internet’s netlike structure -with the strategic role of social media – and the intensity of the flow that can simplify this allows the definition of a more direct relationship between the public and private spheres, between the power system and civil society, and between individual and collective responsibility. Consequently, systems and complex organizations will be increasingly forced to establish their own strategies based on the values of transparency, access and simplification. New architectures of the communicative processes and the emergence of new, more autonomous and responsible[1] forms of subjectivity could –  to some extent paradoxically – create the basic prerequisites for the development of a democracy that’s truly “deliberative” and not merely “procedural”. In other words, the proliferation of opportunities and of the forms of the social production of knowledge is destined to bring with it a renewed awareness of the strategic value of the new public sphere and, therefore, of the urgent need for a comprehensive reform of (complex) thought and knowledge[2], which itself implies an education to the citizenship. From the specific point of view of scientific research, and given the complexity of the subject, we get an increasing sense of the the importance of a comparative approach in the study of the new social ecosystem, democracy, of social and political systems and in the analysis of communication systems.

We shouldn’t forget that underlying everything is a complex process of anthropological and social transformation (Dominici,1996,1998), which regards Internet and all the new electronic media (Lévy 1997; Ferrarotti, 1997; Van Dijk, 1999; Sunstein, 2001; Rheingold, 2002; Rodotà, 2004,2014;Tapscott,1996, 2009; Lovink,2011; Morozov 2011, 2013, Castells, 1996-98, 2001, 2012; Zuckerman 2013) – and, in particular, the Web 2.0 – as undisputed “rulers”. This process directly concerns individual and collective action – power, (tele-)work, creativity (science and art), knowledge, production – revealing glimpses of possible scenarios linked to the triumph of a media democracy (tele-democracy or e-democracy) or an electronic republic (Grossman, 1995) perhaps based on new pressure groups and/or virtual communities which, acting as carriers of social and political issues that formerly remained hidden, set the political agenda.

The global risk society requires us – taking the concept to its extremes – to globalise the possible solutions to the risks and uncertainties of the world-system.

The social actors of the new transnational public sphere, particularly those that were previously excluded, seem destined to act an increasingly strategic role in the political dialectic within a new geography of power relations and new processes of disintermediation and re-intermediation. And the sole reason for this is that they have become “producers” of a constant and extremely articulate flow of information and knowledge (culture), which breaks the monopoly of the traditional industrial model[3]. The new forms of social production generated from the bottom will also increasingly challenge the maintenance of the power systems which, paradoxically finding themselves having to manage different forms of conflict, could find different ways of structural configuration, allowing themselves to be “contaminated” by what was previously outside of the system[4].

On the other hand, with the advent of the global public sphere and greater opportunities for knowledge sharing, the new ethical subjectivities[5] seem destined to invade and overwhelmingly reconquer the political space. This means entering the system and, in helping to readjust the power relations, having an increasingly concrete influence on the delicate mechanisms used to set priorities and take political decisions. It’s a strategic element that immediately brings with it a strengthening of the social structures of cooperation capable of limiting the risks arising from individualistic, antisocial or deviant behaviour. It’s the revolution of information, which is not only a paradigm shift (Dominici 2005; Floridi 2010: De Biase, 2013).



[1] Which in fact arise as new stakeholders = carriers of  interests.

[2] On these topics we would like to mention some of Edgar Morin’s works: see in particular E. Morin (1999a), E. Morin (1999b), and E. Morin (2002), a volume which also contains an interesting interview by  Antonella Martini of the  intellectual theorist of complexity and “complex thought”. In addition, on the issue of “complex thought”, an issue we regard as fundamental, we’d refer you to E. Morin (1990) and E. Morin, É.-R.Ciurana, D.R.Motta (2003).

[3] Consider, for example, movements fighting for the opening and diffusion of knowledge.

[4] R.A. Dahl (1971) speaks of “Polyarchy” – and the indicators that characterise it – precisely in terms of inclusiveness and participation in the democratic praxis by the highest possible number of individuals.

[5] Those that I have defined here as new ethical subjectivities are obviously subjective carriers of values, issues, and a widespread relationality, which manifests itself in the act of generation and, subsequently, in the elaboration of linguistic and / or communicative acts which, as they take form, can’t help but refer to a system of rules, codes and culturally mediated procedures capable of defining new power relations.

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