Abstract - The Information Society 15(4)

Tocqueville in Cyberspace: Using the Internet for Citizen Associations

Hans K. Klein

Political theorists like Alexis de Tocqueville have long recognized the importance of citizen associations for the practice of democracy. Through participation in associations, citizens both receive an education in public affairs and create centers of political power independent of the state. Essential to participation in an association is participation in a forum, a communication space that allows for many-to-many communication in which citizens can Atreat of public affairs in public (Tocqueville, 1945: 109). Participation in forums suffers from numerous barriers, however, such as the need to meet in one common place, the need to meet at one common time, and the potentially high costs of participation. On-line forums on the Internet avoid many of these barriers, and thus they hold the promise of facilitating the formation and operation of citizen associations. This was confirmed in 1995 by the experiences of a Boston-based citizen association, the Telecommunication Policy Roundtable -- Northeast (TPR-NE). TPR-NE's uses of the Internet suggest that on-line forums may allow associations to be more responsive, more robust, and able to unite more members.

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