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The Electronic Journal of Communication / La Revue Electronique de Communication

Volume 12 Numbers 3 & 4, 2002

Nerdy No More:
The Culture and Politics of Cyberspace

Tim Jordan
Open University

Abstract. An overall understanding of the Internet and cyberspace from an integrated sociological, cultural, political, and economic perspective would be a key resource for understanding and developing virtual life. This paper proposes such an understanding by defining the nature of power in cyberspace. Cyberpower has three intertwined levels, each of which is permeated by a different type of power. First, when cyberspace is understood as the playground of the individual, then cyberpower appears as possessions individuals can use. Here can be found the obvious and typical forms of cyberpolitics such as privacy, encryption, censorship, and so on. Second, when cyberspace is understood as a social place, a place where communities exist, then cyberpower appears as a technopower in which greater freedom of action is offered to those who can control forms of cyberspatial and Internet technology. The three linked figures of Kevin Mitnick, Bill Gates, and Linus Torvalds exemplify this form of cyberpower because they are all, in different ways, "powerful" because of their ability to manipulate virtual technologies. The conclusion of this form of cyberpower is that what appears from the individuals' perspective to be an empowering medium is, from the social perspective, dominated by a technologically empowered elite. Third, when the Internet and cyberspace are understood as being a society or even a digital nation, then cyberpower appears as an imagination through which individuals recognize in each other a common commitment to virtual life. This imagination is structured by opposed obsessions with the heaven that cyberspace may bring, with immortal, godlike life on silicon as its ultimate goal, and the hell cyberspace may bring, with the total, minute surveillance of all lives made possible by cyberspace. These three forms of cyberpower are closely interrelated because the imagination is the medium in which cyberpower of the individual and of society exist and because these two powers feed each other through individuals' demands for better tools which leads to greater elaborations of technology and so feeds the power of a technopower elite. The final conclusion from this analysis is that cyberspace and the Internet are driven by a sociological, cultural, economic, and political battle between the individual and a technopower elite.


The patterns of virtual lives are clear enough to be mapped. The virtual world and its social order can be traced now in its entirety, from pole to pole. This does not mean all areas are perfectly known. Sometime in the future we will probably look back at this map and see where it has equivalents to the dragons and sea monsters faithfully represented on early maps of the world. However, we can produce a cartography of the powers that circulate through virtual lives, a chart of the forces that pattern the politics, technology and culture of virtual societies. These powers set the basic conditions of virtual lives. They are the powers of cyberspace and together they constitute cyberpower. The aim of this paper is broad and to achieve it a certain amount of detail must be left to one side. Examples will be used where appropriate but in this paper the mapping of power in cyberspace remains largely a theoretical exercise.[1]

Power is a complex notion in social theory and discussion of it will be necessarily short. Here will be taken to mean the various ways in which different individuals have different possible actions they may be able to take. Such an interpretation is open to a voluntarist reading (an individual initiates social actions) and a structuralist reading (certain networks enable an individual to act); it is also open to different interpretations of the moral or ethical meaning of power around the two poles of power as the name for that which creates social order and power as a form of domination. This interpretation of power is derived principally from theories developed by Max Weber, Barry Barnes and Michel Foucault. The legitimacy of this interpretation rests on this paper's aim of defining power in cyberspace, not the nature of power itself. Having taken a definition of power from a broad reading of social theory, it is the utility of this definition in helping to define cyberpower that is most important and not an answer to the complex question 'what is power?' (Barnes, 1988; Clegg, 1989; Lukes, 1986; Foucault, 1977).

An important caveat to the following arguments is that they are couched within the power relations of cyberspace. What follows is an attempt to explore what might be specific to power relations within virtual lives, not within all life. Such a limitation is important as issues of differential access within and between nations is not discussed within this paper. Such undoubted and important inequities are explored elsewhere but for present purposes the problem is to explore structures of power relations that have developed within cyberspace (Jordan, 1999, ch. 2; Jordan, 2000a).

To begin this mapping, it is useful to start with a mundane, everyday and universal experience of all who enter cyberspace: logging on. Here will be found some of the most liberatory aspects of online life, though these hopeful often libertarian views will be complicated and contradicted when looking at cyberpower of the social and the imaginary.

The Individual

We usually begin our journeys into cyberspace as individuals. In front of a computer screen, reading the glowing words we confront our singularity before building a sense of others in the electronic world. There is a double sense of individuality here. First, people must simply connect to cyberspace by logging in, almost certainly involving the individual entering their online name and their secret, personal password to be rewarded with their little home in cyberspace (usually consisting of elements like their email or list of favourite web-sites). The first moment in cyberspace is spent by nearly everyone in his or her own individualised place. Second, moving from this little home to other virtual spaces usually involves further moments of self-definition; for example, choosing an online name, choosing a self-description or outlining a biography. The experience of logging on occurs not only when entering cyberspace but is repeated across cyberspace as we enter name and password again and again. The two key areas where being an individual in cyberspace allows different actions to be taken than in offline life can be called identity fluidity and renovated hierarchies. These will be briefly explored in turn.

Identity fluidity is the process through which online identities are constructed. It remains true that in all sorts of online forums an individual's offline identity cannot be known with any certainty. With the reasonably well-documented instance of a conservative Jewish, teetotal, drug-fearing, low-key, sexually awkward, male, abled, psychiatrist convincingly posing as an atheistic, sexually predatory, dope smoking, hard drinking, flamboyant, female, disabled, neuropsychologist we are in the presence of a potential disconnection between online and offline identities (Stone, 1995; Turkle, 1995). However, it would be a misconception to draw the conclusion that identity disappears online. Identities that constrain us, define us and categorise us exist online, but these identities are made with different resources to offline identity. Broadly online identities are constructed out of two types of indicators: identifiers and style. Neither of these mandate that someone's offline identity must reappear within their online identity, though there are many ways in which a repressed offline identity may return in the midst of online fantasy.

Identifiers are the addresses, names, self-descriptions and more that designate contributions to cyberspace. Email addresses are the most common form of identifier and can illustrate the resources provided by identifiers for the construction of virtual identities. Imagine receiving one morning, emails from the following two addresses:, and

Before you even read the content of the email, certain preconceptions will be forming. Perhaps you are informed enough to know that the Hack Tic is a group of Dutch hackers, as confirmed by the .nl top level domain name for the Netherlands. BillG from a company (indicated by the top level domain name .com) called Microsoft, perhaps also indicates someone special. The point for the present context is that the content of any message from such addresses would be understood differently depending on the reading of the identifier, even if an identical message were received. The identity of the sender of an email can be constructed, in part, from their email address. All sorts of identifiers abound in cyberspace and there is no restriction on only having one, in fact there is almost a compulsion to creating several. Identifiers include the signatures people place at the bottom of their email, the often lengthy self-descriptions Muds and some discussion groups allow, the various names we might choose or have imposed on us for various lists, newsgroups and so on and even the visual avatars some are developing for three-dimensional shared virtual places. All these function as long or short, more or less freely chosen names; they are the virtual equivalent of seeing someone's face and being able to think male or female, black or white, old or young, and so on. The second type of resource for identity is style.

Many virtual places have resident celebrities whose styles are instantly recognisable to other participants and anybody who participates repeatedly will eventually come to have their style recognised. Groups also provide certain stylistic resources. Abbreviations are common in the typed world of online discussions, such as 'btw' for 'by the way' and groups sometimes generate their own specific abbreviations. Donath notes from that “onna” stands for 'oh no not again' (Donath, 1999). These abbreviations can then be used to establish not only individual but group styles, marking those who do not use or understand the abbreviations as outsiders. Style constitutes the way someone interacts online and though styles usually go hand-in-hand with an identifier that helps stabilise the belief that certain interactions are coming from the one identity, they can become well-established enough to be recognised no matter what the attaching identifier says.

Online personalities are constructed through resources that are different to offline, preventing the use of many offline tactics for identifying identity. Online characters are constructed and judged through a number of markers that replace offline ones; addresses, handles, signatures, self-portraits and styles. Where we might look at someone's face and think 'old', online we look at their address and think '.edu, student or teacher?'. Where we might examine clothes, online we look at what is written and learn a personality from a style. Identity is both present in cyberspace and is different to non-virtual space, the only mistake here would be to assume that the powers the flow around offline identities-such as those around gender or race-are absent online, instead of identifying the particular forms of identity which exist in cyberspace and on which power takes hold.

Renovated hierarchies are the processes through which offline hierarchies are reinvented online, with many online resources undermining offline hierarchies while also defining new hierarchies. The second component of online life that appears obvious to the individual online is that it seems anti-hierarchical. Attempts to censor or restrict access to parts of cyberspace can often be by-passed. Further, communication from many people to many people is close to the norm in cyberspace. This opens participation in decision-making, creating the potential for conclusions to be reached in more egalitarian ways than offline. Three ways in which hierarchies are affected will be noted; identity, many-to-many communication and anti-censorship.

Identities are one of the key building blocks in offline hierarchies, but if no-one knows you are black or disabled online then you cannot be placed in a hierarchy on that basis. This seems undoubtedly true, and to the extent that someone can keep their offline identity separate from their online then offline hierarchies based on identity can be dislocated. However, identity does not disappear online but is remade according to the rules of identifiers and styles. This means that specifically online hierarchies can be expected, such as that noted by Branwyn who was told be an online sex enthusiast that 'In compu-sex, being able to type fast or write well is equivalent to having great legs or a tight butt in the real world.' (Branwyn, 1993, 784) All the various resources available for the construction of online identities will also function to create online hierarchies. Someone's witty and knowledgeable posts to a newsgroup, their style, may mean their claims are treated more seriously than a newcomer and we can be reasonably certain that many may treat an email from billg as being of higher importance than many other emails we receive.

The second way hierarchies are dislocated is through many-to-many communication and its ability to include people in decision making. The inclusion of people in offline decision making is limited by the need to meet together, to only speak one at a time, to overcome the hierarchies of identity and so on. The work of Sproull and Kiesler is fundamental here, and seems to be confirmed in more recent work, in establishing that electronically mediated discussions have distinct characteristics to one-to-one or one-to-many discussions, in that they are more inclusive, more equal, longer to reach decision and more prone to abuse (Sproull and Kiesler, 1986, 1993). Second, offline hierarchies can be undermined through the broader access to information that cyberspace offers. In the UK in 1999-2000 there has been a debate over the ability of patients to research their illness and treatment over the Internet and whether this is undermining the authority of physicians. Without entering into this particular debate, we can note that it is one sign of the way the hoarding of information as a means of generating a more powerful position in society, particularly by professional bodies, can be undermined by cyberspatial communication.

The third way offline hierarchies are undermined in online life is by the censorship evading properties of the Internet. Not only is there a greater pool of expertise available but information that governments or courts might have restricted is almost impossible to hold back once it is free in cyberspace. The global nature of cyberspace is important here, as it only requires one country connected to the net to allow the publication of some information for that information to be let loose in cyberspace. Information restricted in an offline nation-state will then be available in cyberspace, subverting the national boundaries that have helped in the past to control access to information. A global informational space undermines regional or national attempts to restrict access to information.

While it is untrue to say that hierarchies are absent in cyberspace, it is also true to say that hierarchies there are made according to different rules than online hierarchies - rules that at their most hopeful make someone's ability to write creatively and knowledgeably the basis of higher positions in a hierarchy - and that many offline hierarchies are undermined by cyberspace's powers. Taken together identity fluidity and renovated hierarchies can also be seen to rely on the third component of cyberspace from the individual's viewpoint, because both rely on cyberspace's nature as an informational space. Sharing information allows the construction of identities; self-descriptions, signatures, styles are all constructed out of the words that pass between people. The renovation of hierarchies in offline life by cyberspatial communication results from different methods of sharing information and different access to expertise in cyberspace. When individuals experience cyberspace they come to the third recognition that life in cyberspace is fundamentally constituted by information.

If identity fluidity, renovated hierarchies and informational spaces constitute cyberpower from the viewpoint of the individual then power at this level must be understood as the possession of individuals, who can utilise the various abilities offered by these three to impose their will. If we pause and reflect on what it seems that cyberspace and the Internet offer us as individuals, then the ability to remake our identity and to renovate the hierarchies we are caught within make cyberspace appear as a place that offers various powers. These powers can used by individuals to take various actions they had not previously been able to; whether it is the desire of a woman to have gay sex with men or of a parent to understand the treatment their doctor is recommending for their child. From this conclusion we can understand the enormous hopes and commitment cyberspace sometimes draws from people, because viewed as a space based on individuals the main effects of cyberspace seem to be to offer various powers to act. It is from this perspective that the most hopeful visions of cyberspace derive. It is also a perspective based on the repeated and ongoing experience everyone has that entering cyberspace marks us as an individual, it is not a perspective that is simply naïve but it is one reinforced by the daily experience of millions who have virtual lives.[2] Cyberspace is here understood as the land of empowerment of individuals, of reinventing identities out of thought.


Many people report a transformation, often slow, in their perception of online life. From an initial combination of bewilderment, glee and skepticism many come to accept the online world as normal - from MUD dragons to email. With stable online identities, in whatever forum they exist, people begin to have ongoing conversations, to meet the same people and learn their peculiarities. The particular rules of different corners of cyberspace become clear and normal, but then it is often realised that the individual is no longer the final cause of online life, for communities have emerged. The transformation is not magical but sociological. Even communities that begin by assuming the sovereign individual is primary soon come to realise that collective responsibilities and rules appear, created by many and over which no one person has control. The idea of one person constituting a language or creating a society is strictly speaking absurd; anyone can invent a word but to have it understood means having a community. This transformation to seeing cyberspace as inhabited by collective bodies is not a simple opposition between individuals and collectives but an inversion of the relationship between these two. Individuals possessing cyberpowers can produce collective bodies, but individuals are here understood as being the fundamental constituent of community in cyberspace. What is often realised in contradiction to this individualism is that collectives may create the conditions under which certain forms of individuality can be realised. The collective becomes the fundamental cause. At both levels of cyberpower both virtual individuals and virtual communities exist, but their relations are reversed. Cyberpower of the social derives from the belief that individuals have their possible actions defined by the collective bodies they are part of.

All of us who use the Internet and enter cyberspace rely on a range of technologies. Any action we take in cyberspace, from changing a gender in a Mud to buying and selling stock, can occur only because we have entered an electronic space created and maintained by various technologies - IP, routers, personal computers, optic fibres, modems and so on. Our individual powers in cyberspace will be defined by the technology we are using and the capabilities this technology offers. The fundamental realisation that cyberspace is not just about powers individuals can use but also about the things that create those powers for all users, is essentially the same realisation as that there are collective bodies in cyberspace that both create and restrain the nature of individuality in cyberspace. This is because the communities that provide the basis for virtual individuals are essentially constituted by technologies. For example, the conditions for Usenet communities are primarily defined by the fact that Usenet technologies create discussion group made out of posts. The nature of individuality in Usenet is constrained by the nature of its discussion group software and hardware. Different forms of individuality are possible in Muds, such as building virtual homes, and on the Web, such as use of graphics. All these powers that cyberspace offers the individual are based on communally created and experienced technologies.

If you assume cyberspace is the realm of societies and collectives, then a form of technopower becomes visible. Technopower is the constant shifting between objects that appear as neutral things - keyboards, monitors, email programmes - and the social or ethical values embedded in these objects by their designers and producers. Each questions the other. If email software allows many-to-many communication, we can ask why?, who made the software do this?, what results come from this? and in asking we may open up the inhumane appearance of the programme to find humans who embedded their ethics or ideals in a programme. Technopower underpins the social structures of cyberspace through a constant shape-shifting between seemingly inert technology and seemingly alive values. This does not mean that every piece of technology was created with a form of technopower in mind. Not every technological thing we encounter or rely on has been purposefully designed to constitute the social life it actually constitutes. The unexpected result is always possible, like the emergence of teflon from the space race. But what will be found behind each thing will be humans in social spaces, making decisions within institutional and technological contexts. Dead technology always opens on the living, just as it is the living who create technology. Technopower is constituted like an infinite series of Chinese boxes, each opening onto another little model of itself, and each layer composed of the same elements, inert seeming technology and alive seeming values. Technopower can also be seen in offline life; from car engines (why are they made so powerful?) to ice cream, we live surrounded by technological artefacts that leak social values from every crevice. The difference between online and offline here is that online social forms are constituted fundamentally, if not totally, from technopowers. When we adopt the perspective of the social in cyberspace, we lose sight of individuals and their powers and bring into focus these impersonal technopowers that constitute the very possibility of cyberspace in the first place.

At the level of the social, cyberpower is a technopower. However there is more to say, as a particular direction to technopower can be defined. Technopower in cyberspace is governed by the ever increasing reliance by users on technological tools, that time after time appear as neutrally pointing the way to greater control over information but time after time result in different forms of information constituted by the values inherent in the new tools. Information is endless in cyberspace and creates an abstract need for control of information that will never be satisfied. The direction of technopower in cyberspace is toward greater elaboration of technological tools to more people who have less ability to understand the nature of those tools. Control of the possibilities for life in cyberspace is delivered, through this spiral, to those with expertise in the increasingly complex software and hardware needed to constitute the tools that allow individual users to create lives and societies.

What can be called the technopower spiral is constituted out of three moments. First, there is the ongoing and repeated sensation of information overload in cyberspace. Cyberspace is the most extreme example of a general acceleration in the production and circulation of information. For example, cyberspace encourages people to produce more information rather than passively consume it. Information moves faster and in greater quantities in cyberspace than in other space. Most powerfully, cyberspace increases information by releasing it from material manifestations that restrict its flow and increase its price. Ideas embodied in books have inherent costs and restrictions on the number that can be produced and the speed at which different people can obtain them. Information is largely freed of its material form in cyberspace. This constant increase in the sheer amount and speeding up of information leads to the experience of information overload. While the notion of having too much information might seem paradoxical, it is also the case that only a certain amount of information can be dealt with at one time. As early as 1985, Hiltz and Turroff estimated that computer-mediated communication resulted in what they call superconnectivity, whereby individuals' connections to each other increase ten-fold and this is a result reinforced by recent work (Hiltz and Turroff, 1985; Shenk, 1997). Too much information or information too poorly organised leads to information overload. How many of us know the feeling of signing up to an email list and then finding the constant flow of emails means messages have to be deleted before being read and the group resigned from? How many of us search the Web for a particular topic only to end up with megabytes of files or piles of print-outs destined never to be read because there is simply too much? Cyberspace increases information's velocity and size to such an extent that information overload is a constant experience of virtual lives.

The second moment in the spiral in technopower is the attempt to master whichever moment of information overload has occurred. This can be done simply by switching off, but doing so removes all the powers the individual might feel they benefit from. Instead, information overload is constantly addressed with new technologies. Various solutions to the glut of information that cyberspace produces have been created, from news services that email news bulletins once a day to ticker tapes that produce a constant flow of stock prices or news flashes across a browser. Maes lists intelligent agents that schedule meetings, filter Usenet news and recommend books, music and other entertainment (Maes, 1994). All these share a number of traits. First, they interpose some moment of technology between user and information. This is always simultaneously a moment in which technopower is manifested and articulated because some technological tool, appearing as a thing yet operating according to values, is the method of controlling information overload. Second, the devices themselves produce information problems because they need to be installed and used properly. No matter how sophisticated such a device is the user will need to understand how to manage the device or risk being controlled by it. Third, new tools nearly always make more information available and cyberspace easier to use, tending to create a new overload. This seems too paradoxical to be true, as the goal of many tools is to reduce the amount of information received by focusing or managing it in some automated way. However, the very success of any such tool tends toward the production of more information because it makes gaining information more efficient and there is always more relevant information waiting out there in the infinite reaches of cyberspace. Problems can be expected to re-emerge with the devices that have become essential to information management themselves producing too much information.

The technopower spiral is completed and re-initiated with the emegence of a new problem of information overload. This spiral of overload, tools, more overload and more tools is fundamental to technopower in cyberspace. It means that as individuals pursue their powers in cyberspace, they constantly demand more technological tools to master the seemingly infinite amount of information at their disposal. Technopower is constantly elaborated to meet the demand to control and manage information in cyberspace, thereby ensuring cyberspace constantly becomes more and more technologically complex. This, in turn, means that the ability to act in cyberspace is constantly elaborated by those who have technological expertise, either personally in figures such as hackers or by managing those who have expertise, as Bill Gates or Linus Torvalds do. Accordingly, cyberpower of the social is a power of domination, through which an elite based on expertise in the technologies that create cyberspace increasingly gain freedom of action, while individual users increasingly rely on forms of technology they have less and less chance of controlling. If the cyberpower of the individual was a hopeful form of power, pointing as it does to the increasing range of actions cyberspace can help an individual to take, then cyberpower of the social is pessimistic because it reveals networks of interactions that increase the ability to act of an expertise-based elite.[3]

Cyberpower encompasses both the perception that cyberspace offers power to the individual and that societies are defined by an expertise-based elite whose class power is ever-increasing. To complete this mapping of cyberpower, a third level needs to be outlined, for cyberspace exists not just in virtual lives and communities but also in dreams.


People are part of imaginary relationships that define societies and nations. A nation can be thought of as 'an imagined political community-and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign' (Anderson, 1991, 6). It is imagined because it is impossible for all members of the community to meet, they must hypothesise their commonality. It is limited because there are always borders and beyond those borders there are other nations. Finally, it is a community because, regardless of actual inequalities between members of a nation, it is always conceived as a 'deep, horizontal comradeship' in which all are equal as members of the nation (Anderson, 1991, pp. 6-7). A further recurrent characteristic of imaginaries is that they offer hopes and fears that appear as real projects just one or two steps away from completion. Much of the urgency people draw from imaginaries stems from this sense of being nearly but not quite completed, meaning people feel a need to act quickly to either prevent the imagined disaster or bring on the imagined benefit. A similar imagined community exists in cyberspace and cyberspace's imaginary is driven by this compelling feeling that change is near (the future is in beta). The content of cyberspace's imaginary is structured by a twinned utopia and dystopia that both stem from the claim that everything is controlled by information codes that can be manipulated, transmitted and recombined through cyberspace.

On the one hand, cyberspace gives rise to many hopes, including or especially the oldest human fantasy of immortality. Certain people believe that within our lifetime we will be able to separate our 'consciousness' from our body and upload it onto silicon. If the essence of our self can be made virtual, then what better home than cyberspace, where all the immortals would be able to meet (Moravec, 1988; Hudson, 1997). In a related way, some believe cyberspace is becoming the one organic mind that will constitute a higher consciousness akin to god; a hope that has haunted the hippy mind at least since John Lennon declared everyone to be a god (Barlow, 1994; Kelly 1994). On a less metaphysical plane, many see the cyberspace-based cyborg as the figure who will lead us beyond the oppressions of this world - gender, class, race, sexuality and other - because the cyborg transgresses the oppositions between nature/culture, human/animal, and man/machine and in doing so helps to destroy the binary oppositions oppression is based on (Sandoval, 1995; Haraway, 1991). Whether the heaven is a selfish one of personal immortality, a spiritual one of god-like hive mind or a materialist one of post-revolutionary utopia, cyberspace offers the possibility that this heaven is coming into existence.

On the other hand, cyberspace gives rise to many fears. Cyberspace is seen by many as the ultimate tool of surveillance. If repressive power operates according to the principle 'visibility is a trap', then cyberspace may make even our smallest interactions visible. A world is foreseen in which all interactions with the government, in education, in shops or any other institution will be carried out by electronic means and cyberspace will allow all these interactions to be linked, collated and examined. People will be considered guilty until proven otherwise because all interactions will be examined to see if they meet the expected pattern and if that pattern is not met (such as a welfare recipient banking large sums of money) then an investigation will be triggered. More insidiously, information will be collected from everyone in the guise of serving their interests, such as with supermarket reward cards that offer special deals or money back in exchange for connecting the nature of our purchases to our socio-economic identity. We might also be implanted or tagged, cameras on public streets now constantly survey facial heat images looking for a wanted suspect and the USA and UK governments currently record and examine all fax, telephone and Internet communication in Europe and elsewhere. All these nightmarish possibilities can be made real because cyberspace provides the perfect medium for collecting and transferring the phenomenal amounts of information that are necessary to this hellish vision of the totally supervised society (Poster, 1990; Davies, 1996; Lyon, 1994; Wright, 1998).

Both radical hopes and fears in cyberspace result from a belief that everything can now be manipulated through information codes. We may become immortal by turning our 'self' into an information code that can live in cyberspace or we may become prisoners in an open society because our 'self' can be defined by the information cyberspace draws together. Certain particular visions are collectively imagined from the realisation that everything, even life itself in DNA, is an information code. This form of power operates not, as might seem obvious, to create or resist the imagined heavens and hells but by providing some of the unifying thoughts that allow individuals in cyberspace to recognise each other as members of the same community. As different people come to grasp some parts of both sides of the imaginary, they come to recognise themselves as part of something larger than the individuals they meet or communities they participate in. People come to see they are part of a project, like a nation, in which they will never meet everyone else but in which they can be sure there are people they will never meet who are also part of the same project (Anderson, 1991). Whereas cyberpower at the level of the individual offers possessions that enable people to act more widely and cyberpower at the social is a network that creates increasing power for a techno-elite, cyberpower at the imaginary constitutes the broad social order of cyberspace by providing dreams and nightmares through which individuals and communities come to recognise they are part of something greater than themselves.


Power is the condition and limit of politics, culture and authority. Cyberpower aims not at the immediately obvious forms of politics, culture and authority that course through cyberspace but at the structures that condition and limit these. A certain complex form of power that operates on the three levels of the individual, the social and the imaginary now careers through the virtual lands, directing conflict and consensus towards certain distinctive issues and social structures.

No one level of cyberpower determines or dominates the others. In particular, the powers of the individual and the social are in constant battle. The powers the individual gains in cyberspace, such as cryptography, may contradict the domination of a technical elite, just as the technopower spiral may lead individuals to increasing reliance on technological tools whose metaphorical bonnet they cannot hope to open. We can expect these two levels to swing back and forth, with individuals gaining powers against an elite only to find they have given birth to another part of the elite.

Informational libertarianism or anarchism gains its special place as the political discourse of cyberspace here because it emphasises both individual liberty, speaking to individuals and their powers, and that cyberspace produces the best possible outcomes through free markets, speaking to the elite as a justification for their growing control. Libertarianism on the net has at its core a doubly articulated concept that connects individual liberty to free markets, allowing the one ideology to speak to both the elite and the grassroots. This does not mean libertarianism, or the sort of informational anarchism that permeates hacking, will be universally celebrated on the net but that it is a uniquely equipped ideology through which politics on the net will be played out. This analysis does not endorse libertarianism, it tries to identify why variants of libertarianism and anarchism have formed such a powerful political language in cyberpolitics. For example, even such dedicated anti-libertarians as Barbrook and Cameron must yet enter cyberpolitics by confronting libertarianism (Barbrook and Cameron, 1997). And many politically motivated hackers will be found endorsing sentiments of freedom of information flows in anarchistic language (Jordan, 2000b).

Cyberpower points not to the ultimate dominance of elites, though it clearly identifies the burgeoning power of an elite, nor does it predict the ideal of individual empowerment, though it makes conspicuous the ongoing creation of powers for individuals in cyberspace. Cyberpower points to these processes continuing, driven by dreams and nightmares. When examining cyberpower we must always be aware of the roar of battle and the complex conflicts that define virtual lives, elites and dreams.


[1] However, an exercise that has been pursued in ample empirical detail in Jordan (1999a). While this empirical support cannot be offered in this paper, anyone questioning any of the claims being made should address themselves to this lengthier version of the same argument.

[2] It is also an explanation for the main forms of cyberpolitics as practised by organisations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation or the Centre for Democracy and Technology, because this politics focuses on the rights of cyberspace users. (Jordan, 1999b) If cyberspace offers power to the individual then protecting and enlarging those powers in cyberspace, through the typical cyberpolitical issues of privacy, censorship, encryption and so on, is the obvious political priority. The second axis is the constant concern for access, as access opens up the possibility of using cyberspace's powers.

[3] I have told this story as being one where the daily perception of online life leads from individuals to the collective. However, it is not so much the direction of this change from individual to communal that is essential to my argument, as the recognition that there are at least two powers in cyberspace one of which leads to understanding of cyberpower as the possession of individuals and one of which leads to understanding cyberpower as a technopower fuelling the dominance of elites.


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