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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Cyberspace and the Dynamics of Identity Formation: A Tocquevillian Perspective

Jonathan Mendilow.

This paper considers the capacity of cyberspace to serve as turf for the formation of communities based on the rejection of offline democratic societies and on the dynamics of alternative identity construction. Analyses of the Internet's social ramifications often take Marshal McLuhan's well known vision of a 'global village' as their starting point. However, this hinged on the uni-directional potentialities of the radio and TV. The Internet differs from them in that it is interactive, providing nodes where individuals sharing common interests can come together. The argument offered here is that a better frame of reference is offered by the observations made by Alexis de Tocqueville on the America of the 1830's. It was there, he argued, that geographical size enabled persons to freely join communities of like minded citizens in which they could collaborate in getting things done. Truly voluntary local communities thus represented the nature and concerns of their members, rendering the nationwide government superfluous in many spheres of life? On the face of it, the cyberspace cannot be considered as analogous to the geographical extent of the New World. Internet users do not actually converse in the "real world" and consumer-supplier networks or even 'chat rooms' are not productive of stable affect -bearing relationships based on shared values and future visions, all of which we associate with the term "community".


Jonathan Mendilow  (United States)
Political Science
Rider University

Professor Jonathan Mendilow (Ph.D, Hebrew University) is a Professor of Comparative Politics and Political Theory at Rider University. He is a former Fulbright Fellow at Yale University. He has published three books, his most recent title "Ideology, Party Change, and Electoral Campaigns: Israel, 1965-2001" with New York University Press. He has also published over 40 articles in such journals as American Journal of Political Science, Political Studies, Political Theory, and Comparative Politics.

  • Cyberspace
  • Social Change
  • Identity Formation

(30 min Conference Paper, English)