Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. August 2005

3.3. Elektronische Kooperation und die Arbeit am Lebensraum
HerausgeberInnen | Editors | Éditeurs: Franz Nahrada (Wien) und Diana Ehrenwerth (Wien)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

Which New (or Reactualized) Forms of Cooperation Are Enabled by Electronic Technology? Some Hypotheses

Christian Fuchs (Institute of Design and Technology Assessment, Vienna University of Technology)


Cooperation is a form of human co-action that involves mutual dependence, benefits of all actors, shared goals, reaching of goals in a more quickly and efficient manner than on an individual basis, communication about goals and conventions in order to reach a common understanding, concerted use of existing structures in order to commonly produce new structures, mutual learning, the common production of new reality, interconnectivity, mutual responsibility and a high degree of networked, interconnected activity (Fuchs 2003a). Co-operation is the antagonistic counterpart of competition. Modern, capitalistic society is based on an antagonism between competition and cooperation/exclusion and inclusion/heteronomy and self-determination.

One of the main characteristics of ICT is that they increase the speed of delivery of data massively and hence are a medium of the dialectic of disembedding and reembedding of social relationships (this process has been described by various authors as e.g. time-space distantiation (Anthony Giddens), timeless time and spaceless space (Manuel Castells), time-space-compression (David Harvey), glocalization (Roland Robertson), deterritorialisation/supraterritoriality (Jan Art Scholte), action at a distance, or accelerating interdependence). ICT foster new networked forms of cooperation and competition. New electronic media that are based on digitisation, networking and computer technology are immersed in and embedded into the modern antagonism between competition and co-operation. Hence they don’t have clear cut, mechanically determined, one-sided effects, but result in a set of multiple antagonistic uneven economic, political, and cultural tendencies (Fuchs/Hofkirchner 2003a, 2003b; Fuchs 2003b). New media pose both great new opportunities and great risks (ibid.). The emerging new mode of capitalist development that can be described as global informational capitalism (Castells 1996, 2001; Fuchs 2002, 2003b) is based both on a new phase of societal globalization and the increasing importance of information as social product and property. These transformations have resulted in an economic antagonism between monopoly and open source, a political antagonism between control and agora, and a cultural antagonism between manipulation and noosphere (Fuchs/Hofkirchner 2003a, 2003b; Fuchs 2003b). The one side of each of these antagonisms represents competition, the other cooperation.


Antagonism 1 of Global Informational Capitalism: Global Monopoly VS. Global Open Source. The Globalization of Economic Competition and Cooperation

Networked social relationships are manifested in the economy both as informational monopoly and open source information. ICT support a networked and decentralized organization of corporations (lean production, semi-autonomous team work, outsourcing, just-in-time-production, participatory management, etc.) that aims at increasing profits and monopolising markets by making use of an instrumental rationality of economic network-building. The result is a global Empire that treats information as a commodity. The new media are dominated by large transnational corporations (TNCs) like AOL Time Warner, Microsoft, Disney, Viacom, Bertelsmann, Murdoch, AT&T, Sony, Seagram, etc. Corporations make use of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) in order to extract economic profit from information. Social movements like the Open Source community oppose the commodification of information and argue that information should be freely available to everyone. Information can be easily copied and distributed over the Internet. This makes it difficult for corporations to prevent the free sharing of information. All sorts of networked open source activities show the power of co-operation and the possibility of enhancing co-operation by making use of digital networks. This antagonism between information as open source and intellectual private property is characteristic for the situation we are facing today. On the one hand, there are progressive aspects of the productive forces that seem to speak in favour of a fully open, co-operative and participative character of the economy, on the other hand, this openness is challenged by closure and centralization of economic resources.


Antagonism 2 of Global Informational Capitalism: Global Control VS. Global Agora. The Globalization of Political Competition and Cooperation

The informatization and globalization of the political system puts forward another antagonism that poses the question whether the informatized polity will globally empower the political actors or will extend the interior and external control and surveillance over them. Aspects that could strengthen global democracy include the increase of access to information via the Internet, the provision of a polydirectional medium of interaction, the production of publicity and counter-publicity via new media, new forms of global interactive, many-to-many political communication, the immunisation of political communication against authoritarian structures due to the lack of control of decentralized complex technological networks, making the administrative procedures more transparent by using network technologies, improving information management by fast distribution of political information, pluralizing public opinion by furthering numerous digital sources of political information, producing new patterns of political perception and action by making use of the multimedia dimension of the Internet for presenting political issues. On the other hand the use of ICT also poses a threat to global democracy because they can be used as networked media of surveillance and hence for constructing rigid networks of control and disciplinary power, they maximize the potential of destruction of war technology, there is a marginalization of political issues in the Internet, the Internet to a certain extent restricts communication (there are no obligations, no binding character of communication, no social cohesion, no mimic and gestures, misunderstandings can easily emerge), alternative political voices are not efficiently represented in the Internet due to financial and hierarchical restrictions.

Political relationships today have an increased networked character (Fuchs 2003c). On the one hand, we find the dominance of global neoliberalism that is based on free trade associations and new dominating global political actors like TNCs and transnational political bodies (G8, World Security Council, NATO, Worldbank, IMF, WTO, etc.). Sovereignty takes on a new transnational form and the traditional nation state is being transformed into the competitive nation state. Economic logic permeates the state system to a larger extent and political decisions are frequently governed by economic interests (Fuchs 2003c). There is a tendency for privatization of the welfare system, i.e. parts of it are either shifted to the economic system or handled by and handed over to private or semi-public non-profit organizations. NPOs (non-profit organizations) and NGOs (non-government organizations) play an important role in the reorganization of the nation state.

On the other hand, international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) show that world domestic policy is not just simply the aggregate of national foreign policies, it is the globalization of official decision-making institutions and of civil society that transforms itself into a global network of organizations and informal connections. Many functions of the welfare state are today shifted to NPOs and NGOs, but these groups are not only or not simply the “vicarious agents of neoliberalism”, their modes of decentralized, networked self-organization also show that political globalization can be based on global cooperation.

NGOs increasingly address global political issues and problems such as global poverty, the global ecological crisis, global peace and disarmament, global estrangement, and global exploitation; they demand global solutions for global problems. Especially the new global protest movements play an important role in establishing new forms of political co-operation. Many of the new protest movements have a global character, their strategies reach beyond the nation state, and they represent a global civil society. Their form of organization is based on networking and coalition building, they are voluntary organizations that pursue progressive goals like global peace, global wealth, global justice, global environmental protection, and global human rights. These groups are multi-generational, multi-class, and multi-issue. They make use of new information and communication technologies in order to foster their self-organization and cooperative networks as well as for planning and coordinating practices. They embody the progressive principle of global political cooperation.


Antagonism 3 of Global Informational Capitalism: Global One-Dimensional Man (Manipulation) VS. Global Noosphere. The Globalization of Cultural Competition and Cooperation

New qualities of cultural globalization are due to the fact that global mass media have increased their reach, volume, and speed of cultural flows massively. There are certain mass cultural events and commodities that are shared, i.e. consumed, by an increasing number of people. An increasing number of people worldwide is confronted with distant cultural traditions, symbols and artefacts without direct presence in these cultures. Contemporary cultural globalization is largely connected to the emergence of global technological networks that allow cheap and fast transmission of digitized information.

Contemporary cultural globalization, on the one hand, means homogenization in the sense that culture has increasingly and worldwide a commercial character and is dominated by a few cultural TNCs. Monopolisation, i.e. the production of false consciousness, is an important aspect of the global mass media. The system of the mass media is technologically multidimensional (multimedia, many-to-many communication), but institutionally there is an increasing lack of plurality, it is controlled by a few large global players that engage in such different areas as software, Internet, film, broadcasting, music, etc. at the same time. The symbolic cultural contents that people are confronted with today (books, films, broadcasts, food, magazines, digital content, etc.) have an increasingly segmented global character in the sense that they reach consumers across the globe, but mainly stem from Western countries.

Fibre-optic cables and satellite transmission allow communication in real time. But these cultural flows are uneven and mainly stem from the most powerful parts of the world, this disparate cultural (and economic and political) geography is increasingly being recognised as unjust and as threatening national and traditional identities. This results in an increase of fragmentation, global conflicts, nationalism, and fundamentalism. But there is also a tendency of the formation of global consciousness and global wisdom that can especially be found in progressive social movements. Many people realize that the problems some face are globally connected with the problems others face, the formation of global consciousness means the emergence of – to speak with Raymond Williams – a progressive global “structure of feelings”.

The Internet has an ambivalent character. On the one hand, networked ICT provide new means of polydirectional cultural and political interaction and of linking social movements. The Internet is a field of experiment for new forms of art, politics, entertainment, and publishing, its inherent interactive character makes possible forms of communication that are not based on the principle one-to-many that is employed by traditional mass media, but on the more democratic form of many-to-many-communication. On the other hand the Internet is dominated by unambitious mass entertainment that furthers manipulation, there are restrictions for alternative forms of communication, politics, and publishing: e.g. the digital divide, restricted access, alternative voices are less heard or read on the Internet than Mainstream ones, web sites that are owned by institutions and persons that do not have a lot of political and economic power are only scarcely visible in the Internet because they can’t purchase a lot of attention, given a very low priority.

There are several possibilities of cultural interaction. First, the reductionistic form of unity without plurality: One culture sees and presents itself as the ultimate normative cultural standard that shall be realized globally. With the rise of global consumer culture, this position has sometimes been described as Americanization (Jameson), McDonaldization (Ritzer), CocaColonization (Wagnleitner ) , Disneyfication (Ayres, Giroux), or cultural imperialism (Jameson, Tomlinson). CNN, Coca Cola, and McDonalds are the main symbols of this development for both those who perceive homogenization as a threat and those who see it as the epitome of freedom, democracy, and human rights.

Second, there is the form of plurality without unity. This position has two distinctive forms. The first can be described as holistic or projective plurality without unity (fundamentalism). It projects the differences of a specific culture onto other cultures, and possibly onto all other cultures. Other than in the reductionist position of unity without plurality it argues in favour of a separation of cultures because it considers other cultures as dangerous and a specific culture as a higher value that most be protected from foreign influences. Fundamentalism is a separatist form of plurality without unity. This is a position of cultural relativism that sees all cultural interaction or mixture as dangerous and hence argues in favour of cultural difference.

In its second, dualistic form, plurality without unity is conceived in such a way that all cultures would be a mixture of different cultures, there would be no general standard of unity, only different cultural traditions. The emphasis in this postmodern version of cultural interaction is on the difference of cultures and on the opposition to cultural unity. This postmodern form puts forward concepts such as multiculturalism, cultural diversity, cultural plurality, cultural difference, hybridisation/global mélange (Pieterse), global ecumene (Hannerz), crossover culture, creolisation (Friedman, Hannerz), or multiple identities. Adherents of this position stress that cultural products like music, films, food, etc. would have an increasingly multicultural character.

The first position is insufficient because it doesn’t acknowledge the need of local self-determination, it is imperialistic in the sense that it fetishizes the One at the expense of the Many. The two forms of plurality without unity are insufficient because they don’t acknowledge the need of cultural interaction and a certain degree of unity and universal rights. They both fetishize locality, difference and the Many at the expense of unity and the One. All of these positions are an expression of cultural competition.

A third, dialectical form of cultural interaction seems feasible, namely unity in plurality. This position acknowledges the dialectical relationship of the global and the local, the One and the Many and argues that global dialogue and cultural contact is necessary in order to realize fundamental human values that shall apply for all human beings, but that at the same time there shall be no actor that can absolutely define these values. Hence global values shall be constituted consensually and in non-dominative dialogue (Habermas). Unity in plurality is a form of cultural interaction where different local values, identities, traditions and patterns are preserved and acknowledged, but where there is also an emphasis on a mixture of culture and the construction of a certain degree of global unity and identity in order to advance global peace and wealth for all. This dialectical form of cultural communication is an expression of cultural cooperation.



Today world society is dominated by economic, political, and cultural competition, there is an overall lack of cooperation although at the same time new cooperative forces that have latent progressive potentials emerge. The global social antagonism between competition and cooperation has been produced by the capitalistic world system and has culminated in the attacks of September 11, 2001 and its terrible aftermaths as well is in a new vicious cycle of radicalization and violence. The outcome is a highly dangerous and explosive situation that can’t be solved by military means, but only by mutual dialogue and global cooperation. Many groups see their identity challenged by global consumerism and are unsatisfied with the unequal opportunities for access and participation in global culture, they experience globalization as discontent and engage in efforts to resolve these feelings of unease. The problem is that the dominant solutions as well as fundamentalist alternatives are both competitive, heteronomous and exclusive in character, cooperative social dialogue and change is needed instead in order to solve the global problems.

The future is an experimentum mundi, the human being can actively intervene into society and design its future, i.e. it can realize potentiality into actuality. New forms of globalization and governance are needed, globalization is in need of global wisdom and global cooperation. We today experience both the Vorschein (shining forth) of global destruction and of global cooperation, we can and should actively transform the domination of global competition into the domination of global cooperation. The social forces have an increasingly cooperative character today, but they are largely shaped by overall competitive social relationships. This antagonism produces both great risks and great opportunities in all subsystems of society. We can and should act cooperatively in order to advance the opportunities and weaken the risks. Our future is conditioned by the necessity of the past, but it is open to possibility.

Christian Fuchs (Institute of Design and Technology Assessment, Vienna University of Technology)


Castells, Manuel (1996) The Rise of the Network Society. The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Vol. I. Cambridge, Mass./Oxford. Blackwell.

Castells, Manuel (2001) Internet Galaxy. Reflections on Internet, Business, and Society. Oxford.

Fuchs, Christian (2002) Krise und Kritik in der Informationsgesellschaft. Arbeiten über Herbert Marcuse, kapitalistische Entwicklung und Selbstorganization. Norderstedt. Libri BOD.

Fuchs, Christian (2003a) Co-operation and Self-Organization. In: tripleC. e-journal for cognition, communication, co-operation (, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 1-52.

Fuchs, Christian (2003b) Globalization and Self-Organization. In: tripleC. e-journal for cognition, communication, co-operation (, Vol. 1, No. 2 (forthcoming).

Fuchs, Christian (2003c) The Self-Organization of Politics, Power and the Nation State. HSIC Research Paper No. 15. In: Social Science Research Network eLibrary:

Fuchs, Christian/Hofkirchner, Wolfgang (2003a) Studienbuch Informatik und Gesellschaft. Norderstedt. Libri BOD.

Fuchs, Christian/Hofkirchner, Wolfgang (2003b) The Architecture of the Information Society. In: Wilby, Jennifer/Allen, Janet K. (Eds.) (2003) Proceedings of the 47 th Annual Conference of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS): Agoras of the Global Village, Iraklion, Crete, July 7 th-11 th, 2003. ISBN 0-9740735-1-2.

3.3. Elektronische Kooperation und die Arbeit am Lebensraum

Sektionsgruppen | Section Groups | Groupes de sections

TRANS       Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu  15 Nr.

For quotation purposes:
Christian Fuchs (Vienna): Which New (or Reactualized) Forms of Cooperation Are Enabled by Electronic Technology? Some Hypotheses. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW:

Webmeister: Peter R. Horn     last change: 16.8.2005    INST