The Normative Crisis of the Information Society


The information society thesis, as a set of sociological propositions pertaining to a range of advanced nations, is now widely accepted. Attention, therefore, should increasingly be focused upon the normative dimensions of that thesis. The article claims that the information society is subject to multiplied, acute modes of confusion amounting to nothing less than a normative crisis. Symptoms of the crisis can be observed in such areas as: copyright, whose foundations are breaking down; privacy, under unprecedented threat in cyberspace; and the woefully-misunderstood phenomenon of the digital divide. The article argues that what is required is a new normativity to orientate the social and political framework of the information society. What should be its content? A good answer would be an updated theory of distributive justice anchored in progressive thought. While difficult to prove philosophically, such a normative theory of the information society seems more attractive than its chief rivals, critical theory and neo-liberalism. Normative thinking at any rate provides an antidote to the pervasive influence of technological determinism.

information age; cyberspace; normativity; crisis; realistic utopianism
Author biography

Alistair Duff

Author photoAlistair Duff is an affiliate, Centre for Social Informatics, School of Computing, and senior lecturer in information management, School of Creative Industries, Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh. He has published many journal articles, reviews and book chapters on the information society, plus a research monograph, Information Society Studies (Routledge, 2000). He is currently working on a second manuscript entitled Towards a Normative Theory of the Information Society. He has organised public lectures, seminars and symposia on information society-related themes. Other research and teaching interests include communication theory, freedom of information and political journalism. Dr Duff has held visiting positions at the Universities of Zurich and Oxford.

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