Hyperlocal Online Deliberation and Civic Governance: A Sociotechnical Perspective

Van Der Merwe, Rean (2013). Hyperlocal Online Deliberation and Civic Governance: A Sociotechnical Perspective. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000f123


This dissertation concerns the role of online deliberation in hyperlocal governance, that is the self-governance of a small geographically bounded neighbourhood or community. The research has three closely related but distinct purposes: to assess the impact of online technology in terms of the emergent character of self-governance; to describe the social and technological relations that produced the observed impact; and to suggest explanations that link those socio-technical relations with the observed governance effects. The work draws upon concepts at the intersection of theories from human-centred computing, especially those that relate to online deliberation, and from political science, where direct deliberative democracy offers an evaluative benchmark for democratic governance.

This interdisciplinary theoretical framework provides the basis for a case-based analysis of empirical observations of online interactions relating to hyperlocal governance. The study describes and analyses patterns of "governance conversation" observed in interactions on local e-mail lists, and shows how they facilitate the pluralist deliberation required to manage complex local governance problems. The analysis suggests how geographic proximity presents both distinctive opportunities and constraints for online deliberation that aspires to support direct, democratic process and practice.

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