Virtual Governance: New State Spaces and Economies of Convergence
The emergence of Internet-based virtual worlds brings forth questions on the virtualization of governance and new processes of rescaling. As such, this essay explores the political-economic implications of technological transformation and the social effects of producing, communicating and existing in virtual space. In particular, this study examines the growth of online communities in relation to market capitalism’s requirement for spatial and scalar expansion. While social networking as a general concept is nothing new, the recent dramatic increase in attention to the virtual community called “Second Life” provides for a unique opportunity to examine changing trends in: political life and the various forms of governance; economic organization and modes of production; and social relations in terms of the variegated identities and norms that are produced. Drawing on various schools of economic and socio-political thought, this essay argues that a new period of virtualization is emerging, following the era of flexibilization and post-Fordism, bringing about a new regime of accumulation and new modes of social regulation. While remaining in the Age of Information and Telecommunications, the relativization of scale in favour of virtualization marks a transition towards a new socio-political and economic paradigm. Virtual worlds are a result of rescaling processes in terms of governance, economics and the social. Virtual governance is becoming simultaneously centralized and despatialized, while economies of scale and economies of scope are merging into economies of convergence. This new mode of production is accompanied by the capacity for limitless spatio-virtual expansion, giving rise to new perspectives on expansionary capitalism. Privacy is also in a process of transformation, shifting from the domain of rights to a political economic discourse of privacy as currency. The rescaling of the social largely marks a new mode of becoming human through the extension of the virtual panopticon, and shifts towards auto-regulation and intensified self-customization.
Keywords: Virtualization, Governance, State, Economy, Virtual Space, Scale
Researcher, Institute of Political Economy, Carleton University