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Sovereignty and Territory on the Internet

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Next week, 23 November 2022, I will participate in an online panel discussion on the „Politics of (Dis)Connection“ organized by Niels ten Oever for the Amsterdam Centre for European Studies. The precis for the event is as follows:

The possible establishment of a sovereign internet in Russia, European initiatives on ‘Digital Sovereignty’, and the conflict between China and the United States over Huawei equipment are rekindling the discussion on splinternets and the limits to global interconnectivity. Can the internet, the original network of networks, resist the contemporary strain, or was it built to accommodate these differences?

That’s a big question and coming up with an answer will be difficult. Doubly so, because I will be sharing the podium not just with Niels but also with experts like Fernanda Rosa, Francesca Musiani and Milton Mueller. If I manage not to make a complete fool of myself next to them, then it’s Mission Accomplished.

We’re supposed to give a brief introductory statement not a full-length talk. I like that a lot, because it leaves more space for participation and discussion. The challenge now is to come up with a statement that is pointed and nuanced, because I think the question cannot be answered in a straightforward manner. That said, I will probably focus on two points:

  1. My ambivalence about the term digital sovereignty. I understand why it’s being used, especially in the EU, and I don’t think it’s particularly dangerous for the internet as a whole. However, I don’t think the term is analytically appropriate or helpful in terms of developing concrete policy.
  2. Why I would much rather talk about these issues in terms of territories: first, it moves conversations beyond the state-centric nature of sovereignty, and second we can talk about the tensions between the network character of the net and territorial frames, and discuss how networks shape territories and territories shape networks.

If that sounds like something you’d like to participate in, there will be a Youtube livestream of the event. Details available here. I will be sure to add a link to the recording afterwards.

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