By the end of 2013, 618 million Chinese people, i.e. 45.8 per cent of the population, now has access to the Internet. China has also embarked on an extensive strategy of informatization, applying information and communication technologies (ICT) in different realms, including governance, education, communication and media, as well as economic development and commerce, while exercising strict control and censorship. How should we understand the Chinese puzzle, where rapid informatization, digitization and innovation in ICTs are the result of both heavy state investment and rapid market developments that co-exist with censorship and lack of freedom of expression?
This inter-disciplinary project aims to unpack the many dimensions and paradoxes of networked authoritarianism and the impact of ICTs on Chinese society. Our premise is a socio-constructivist understanding of technological developments that emphasize social processes, power relations, and agency among ICT producers, regulators, and users. ICT development, in other words, is not a zero-sum game, but the state and society can be empowered in different areas, to different extents, and with different consequences. The project studies the complex negotiations that take place between individuals, different groups of people, companies, and the Chinese state at different levels and in different areas, the processes through which ICTs are developed and embedded into society, how both domestic and global forces are shaping the development of ICTs in China, and how and to what extent ICTs in their turn are shaping the Chinese society and the state, as well as state-society relations.