Insurgent Citizenship on the Internet: Pushing Back the Limits of the Public Sphere

I presented a few weeks ago at the International Congress of the Research Committee on Sociology of Law of the International Sociological Association. The congress was held in Toulouse on 3-6 September 2013 and its theme was “Sociology of Law and Political Action”. My paper was presented during a workshop on “Non-Compliance to the Rules and Disobedience Towards the Law“.

Abstract: This paper presents ongoing doctoral research on Internet-based movements of “insurgent citizenship” aiming to redefine the right to free expression and communication in contemporary democracies. Since its inception, the Internet has been perceived and lived as a space of free communication and democratic experimentations, withdrawn from state sovereignty and the sanction of the law. Today, these founding utopias are still alive in the militant practices of citizen groups undertaking the critical functions of the public sphere while operating at boundaries of legality, and more specifically of communications law (e.g. press law, copyright). Through such practices, these insurgent movements challenge the existing power balance between civil society and the state within the public sphere. By analyzing three instances of insurgent citizenship on the Internet – a French website documenting police abuse, WikiLeaks and peer-to-peer file-sharing – as well as the repression they undergo, the article assesses the ability of representative regimes to recognize de jure (in law) and de facto (in practice) the structural transformation of the public sphere brought about by the Internet.

Résumé: Cet article présente des recherches doctorales en cours sur les mouvements de « citoyenneté insurrectionnelle » sur Internet qui cherchent à redéfinir le droit à la liberté d’expression et de communication dans les démocraties contemporaines. Dès ses origines, Internet a été pensé et vécu par des mouvements de la société civile comme un espace de libre communication et d’expérimentation démocratique, à l’abri de la souveraineté étatique et de la sanction du droit. Ces utopies fondatrices structurent aujourd’hui encore les pratiques militantes de groupes citoyens qui reprennent les fonctions critiques de l’espace public en opérant aux frontières de la légalité, et en particulier du droit de la communication (droit de la presse, droit d’auteur, etc.). Ce faisant, ces mouvements « insurgés » mettent en cause le rapport de force entre l’État et la société civile au sein de l’espace public. En analysant trois exemples de citoyenneté insurrectionnelle sur Internet – un site de surveillance citoyenne de la police, WikiLeaks et une plate-forme peer-to-peer d’échange d’œuvres culturelles – ainsi que la répression que ces mouvements subissent, l’article interroge la capacité des régimes représentatifs à reconnaître en droit et en faits la transformation structurelle de l’espace public induite par Internet.

Suggested citation: Tréguer, Félix, 2013. Insurgent Citizenship on the Internet: Pushing Back the Limits of the Public Sphere. Non-Compliance to the Rules and Disobedience Towards the Law. International Congress of the Research Committee on Sociology of Law. Toulouse, France. Available at: http://www.wethenet.eu/wp-content/uploads/Tréguer-Insurgent_Citizenship_Pushing_the_Limits_of_the_Public_Sphere.pdf.

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