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Imagining the Internet: communication, innovation, and governance

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Robin Mansell
Oxford University Press (12 July 2012)

This book is an impressive survey of our collective and cumulative understanding of the evolution of digital communication systems and the Internet. Whilst the information societies of the twenty-first century will develop ever more sophisticated technologies, the Internet is now a familiar and pervasive part of the world in which we live, work, and communicate. As such it is important to take stock of some fundamental questions - whether, for example, it contributes to progress, social cohesion, democracy, and growth - and at the same time to review the rich and varied theories and perspectives developed by thinkers in a range of disciplines over the last fifty years or more.

In this remarkably comprehensive but concise and useful book, Robin Mansell summarizes key debates, and reviews the contributions of major thinkers in communication systems, economics, politics, sociology, psychology, and systems theory - from Norbert Wiener to Brian Arthur and Manuel Castells, and from Gregory Bateson to William Davidow and Sherry Turkle. This is an interdisciplinary and critical analysis of the way we experience the Internet in front of the screen, and of the developments behind the screen, all of which have implications for privacy ,security, intellectual property rights, and the overall governance of the Internet.

The author presents fairly the ideas of the celebrants and the sceptics, and reminds us of the continuing need for careful, critical, and informed analysis of the paradoxes and challenges of the Internet, offering her own views on how we might move to greater empowerment, and suggesting policy measures and governance approaches that go beyond those commonly debated.

This concise book will be essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the challenges the Internet presents in the twenty-first century, and the debates and research that can inform that understanding.

  • Professor Robin Mansell is professor of new media and the internet in the Department of Media and Communications, LSE.

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'Imagining the Internet is a thorough and documented analysis of the political conflicts and policy debates surrounding the design and governance of the communication networks of our lives. Robin Mansell is an authority in the field of communication technology studies and this book brings together a coherent argument of her seminal contributions to the understanding of the Internet. Mandatory reading for communication, business strategists, and policy-making scholars alike.'
Manuel Castells, University of Southern California

'Imagining the Internet provides perceptive, technologically, and institutionally savvy perspectives on current socially shared conceptualizations of the evolving Internet and its implications for the lives of individuals, the fortunes of business companies, and the future of societies. Mansell's exposure and analysis of the contending particular interests that have embraced, and shaped alternative visions of the Web and the Information Society's futures makes this book "a must read" for students of contemporary social communications and thoughtful policy-makers in the public and private sectors alike.'
Paul A. David , Stanford University, and Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford

'Robin Mansell's Imagining the Internet comes at exactly the right moment. The world is being transformed by digital communication yet for many of us, it is difficult to understand what exactly is happening and why. Imagining the Internet cuts through the hot air, providing a valuable perspective as well as a sense of the great policy issues that will define the Internet going forward.'
Robert W. McChesney, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

'Imaging the Internet arrives at a critical moment in Internet timejust when breath-taking national policy initiatives are being introduced in ways that could reshape freedom of expression, privacy, and other core communication values that underpin the vitality of network societies around the world. Robin Mansell brings her critical insights on the social and economic roles of media, information, and communication technologies to bear on major issues for policy and practice. It is must reading for students, communication professionals, and policy-makers who will value her original synthesis of a wide range of multi-disciplinary research. The book effectively challenges and reconciles conflicting viewpoints in ways that can guide innovation in technology, governance, and policy for a good society in the coming Internet age.'
William H. Dutton, University of Oxford


Imagining the Internet