The Internet Policy Field
Mail: patricia [dot] loeffler [at] wzb [dot] eu
The Internet is changing modern societies in fundamental ways. It lies at the center of the digital transformation, which is gradually affecting all areas of social life and is challenging established institutional settings of policy making. On a national and international level, this ongoing transformation has led to the development of new regulatory capacities for policy issues such as access to the Internet, the regulation of content on the net, cyber security and criminal prosecution, fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and privacy, and consumer protection. This observation gives rise to the question whether we are witnessing the emergence of a new policy field. Since October 2013, the project group at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center has started to investigate the mechanisms and dynamics of the emerging "Internet policy field".
Building on sociological field theories, the project group defines policy fields as semi-autonomous spaces in which actors, jointly but antagonistically, produce meaning, competences, and policy options. The group's research focus lies on two different, yet interconnected, dimensions of field formation: First, a semantic dimension that is articulated in the form of discourses about Internet policy; secondly, a regulatory dimension that is expressed in the form of an institutionalised capacity for regulatory action and responsibility.
By investigating the dynamics of Internet policy the project group offers both a conceptual and an empirical contribution to policy analysis. With its international research programme the group contributes to the area of Internet studies which is a relatively young but growing field of research.