What would Samuel Huntington say about Dev 2.0?

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There is little question that the advent of technologies like the mobile phone have been a great boon to economic development around the world. But every new technology brings along with it the potential - or perhaps even the necessity - of disruption. Generally, this kind of disruption is usually a good thing, as it helps break up incumbent (and less efficient) firms, or at the very least forces incumbents to innovate. (I'm thinking, for example, of M-Pesa in Kenya.)

But there is no controlling this kind of process, and the disruptions are not limited to economic life. Social activism gets a boost from these kinds of technologies, and we see everything from an African bloggers conference to highly effective environmental activism. In other words, these technologies hold out a special democratic promise. But therein also lies the risk.

Samuel Huntington, perhaps the most noted political scientist of the 20th century, warns of the threat of political decay in his classic work Political Order in Changing Societies:

If a society is to maintain a high level of community, the expansion of political participation must be accompanied by the development of stronger, more complex, and more autonomous political institutions. The effect of the expansion of political participation, however, is usually to undermine the traditional political institutions and to obstruct the development of modern political ones. Modernization and social mobilization, in particular, thus tend to produce political decay unless steps are taken to moderate or to restrict its impact on political consciousness and political involvement.

If we blindly apply Huntington's line of thinking to Dev 2.0 technologies, then we arrive at the painful conclusion that these technologies threaten development because they increase political participation while doing nothing to increase the capacity of political institutions to handle these demands. But I am too much of a techno-optimist to agree with that. The crux of the issue is how these techologies can be used to help empower political institutions to better handle political demands. I am curious to hear readers' thoughts on this - are you a techno-optimist or a techno-pessimist?


Ryan Hahn

Operations Officer

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