Voice and e-quality : the state of electronic democracy in Britain
This dissertation is broadly concerned with the issue of electronic democracy, i.e. whether, under what conditions and how does the Internet strengthen democracy in advanced industrial polities. Specifically, this work applies the theory of participation to recent British data on online political engagement in order to understand: whether and how the Internet modifies the existing structure of political inequality; whether and how the Internet alters the context of traditional political action; whether the Internet holds a democratising potential and what is its nature. Data collected and analysed include a survey of British citizens' online political behaviour, and three smaller, in-depth surveys of citizens' online political activities within limited settings: a national online consultation forum, routine politics by young party activists and charity work by an elderly activist network. More generally, the dissertation contributes towards clarifying the ongoing debate on electronic democracy, by examining the discourse surrounding the evolution of the issue. It reviews a large portion of the existing literature on online political engagement, organised in three main approaches. It presents and analyses seminal data on British online political engagement to assess the state of electronic democracy in Britain. Importantly, it advances a theoretical framework for the understanding of the 'real' digital divide, drawing on the theory of participation. The theory is an ideal explanatory base from which to depart in order to find the factors shaping the structure of online political opportunities and the way in which preferences are voiced, and heard, through the Internet. This dissertation speaks directly to the electronic democracy debate by setting the agenda on the notion of democratic equality and by focusing on the structure of voice in the information polity.