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Civil Society Transformation and Redefinition of Rights: The IGF Bourgeoisie


This submission builds on previous work by the author, conducted through a participant observation of the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process (2002-2005). A typology of involved civil society actors, of their respective positions taken during the WSIS discussions, and of tensions between them, allowed to analyze the evolution of the WSIS participants configuration. This analysis has revealed a process of delegitimation of organized social actors, starting from WSIS 2nd phase. This follow-up work has been conducted through the empirical analysis of exchanges on the mailing list of the Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus since the setting up of the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in 2006. Additional data have been gathered from the discussions among some thematic IGF Dynamic Coalitions, as well as during the IGF open consultation processes, and the IGF meetings themselves. We show that the establishment of the IGF, its advisory committees and its rules of procedure have reinforced the participation, in their individual capacity, of various kind of “experts” (academics, consultants, ...). Instead of NGOs, trade-unions and social movements, it is the figure of the “policy entrepreneur” that has thus found its “window of opportunity”, in a context of a weakened role of the State. There is a need to better understand these transformations of civil society presenting itself as one of the “stakeholders” of the triad formed together with government and the private sector. Our thesis is that it should be analyzed through the prism of the individualistic and liberal vision of the civil society, as theorized by the Scottish Enlightenment philosophers (most notably Ferguson and Smith) and then by Hegel. The Gramscian perspective - at least in its dimension identifying “civil society” as an organized sphere, independent from the market and the State spheres, and autonomous with respect to them – might indeed not fit anymore such evolution. Furthermore, we show that these transformations deeply impact the definition and understanding of human rights, and of how they could translate in the information society context. “Communication Rights” were at the heart of heated debates during the WSIS first phase (2002-2003), most notably due to the involvement of organized civil society actors with strong and diverging viewpoints on how they should be defined (CRIS Campaign members, Civil Society Human Rights Caucus members, Media Caucus members). Research findings on the WSIS second phase (2003-2005), and even more since the establishment of the IGF, show a regression of the concerns related to socio-economic and development (or collective) rights, while the consensus may only be reached on some civil and political rights, namely freedom of expression and privacy, i.e. individual rights. In conclusion, we relate these two sets of findings (on the one hand a more individualistic form of civil society participation; on the other hand the emphasis put on individual rights) to the crisis of the Nation State, at least in its understanding of a welfare State, in a globalization context.
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hal-01302299 , version 1 (13-04-2016)


  • HAL Id : hal-01302299 , version 1


Meryem Marzouki. Civil Society Transformation and Redefinition of Rights: The IGF Bourgeoisie. The 27th IAMCR Conference, International Association for Media and Communication Research, Jul 2009, Mexico city, Mexico. ⟨hal-01302299⟩
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