The net and the networks. Transformations of the Internet and the global digital order [in German]

Pohle, J. and Voelsen, D. (2022). Das Netz und die Netze. Vom Wandel des Internets und der globalen digitalen Ordnung. Berliner Journal für Soziologie, 32, 455-487.

To this day, the Internet holds the promise of uniting all people in a global communication network. However, in recent years both authoritarian and democratic governments have been trying to subject the Internet—from the level of its physical and technical infrastructure to its application layer—to their sovereign claims. Furthermore, “Big Tech” also tries to exert exclusive control over “its” digital realm. As a result, observers have raised concerns about a potential fragmentation of the Internet. Drawing on network theory, this article retraces the conflicts and developments that have shaped the Internet, from the exceptionalists’ visions in the 1990s to recent pursuits of digital sovereignty. It shows that states and companies have been trying for some time to bring about a fundamental reconfiguration of the global digital order. Their efforts to consolidate power over subnetworks are changing the structures of the global network. This change is accompanied by a strengthening of authoritarian ideas of order. Against the contrasting backdrop of the cosmopolitan-liberal vision of a globally united network, this dynamic can easily be interpreted as a beginning fragmentation. However, the network-theoretical approach makes it clear why the pluralization of the Internet is not yet synonymous with its fragmentation. [Article in German]