November 24, 2002

· Sociology

My survey article on Digital Technology and Cultural Goods [pdf] has just come out in the Journal of Political Philosophy. I have no pretensions to being an actual political philosopher, however. As befits a lowly sociologist∗, the article sticks pretty close to the ground. Go visit Chris Bertram, Jacob Levy, the Oxbloggers or Matthew Yglesias for self-subsistent web-spinning—- er, I mean, philosophical analysis ;-)

(Just rattling off those names, incidentally, reminds me of how many good political theorists and political scientists have weblogs. Together with economists and lawyers, they probably comprise a majority of the set of what Jacob Levy calls “scholar bloggers”. I’ve also seen a few historians. Psychologists seem thinner on the ground. And there are hardly any sociologists. This is a pity.)

Here’s a summary of the paper:

This paper reviews how digital technology, and the devices and broadband networks associated with it (the Internet, for short), can be expected to affect the ways in which books, music, the visual arts, libraries and archived cultural heritage (cultural goods, for short) distributed and consumed. The paper has four parts. First, I identify three sites where technical and social choices are being made—- in the infrastructure of the system, in its social organization and in its meaning to individual users. Second, I discuss a number of ways that information technology is changing our experience of cultural goods. As the Internet binds communications media together, the flood of content raises political questions in at least three areas: how to find and filter what is available, how much to censor it, and how to regulate access to archives. Third, I discuss recent developments in the legal regulation of cultural goods, focusing on copyright law in the United States. The Internet has expanded the scope and severity of copyright. I discuss some of the implications of recent law for freedom of speech, innovation and fair use of cultural goods. Fourth, I pick out some basic dichotomies that help us understand political regulation of the Internet’s infrastructure, social organization and individual users. I argue that, once set, standards may be difficult to change in each case. These dilemmas are worth facing up to explicitly, but despite their importance I argue that this has not really happened.

Probably not too much here that a reasonably informed technophile won’t have thought about. But it does try to draw together various strands of philosophical, sociological and policy-oriented commentary and data, which is really its only goal.

Very soon, I hope take the next step in this project—- viz, a first draft of a paper analyzing some new data on Open Source Software development.

∗Of course, I do not believe this.

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.



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