Unmaking of a digital world? Major power rivalry and global system evolution

Image credit: KIT conference website


In recent years, we have witnessed the emergence of three main poles of digital network modes and governance: a US-based system based on hegemonic state-backed private market power dominance; a Chinese-based state-controlled neo-mercantilist system; and a European standards-based liberal markets model. Some commentators have identified the emergence of the “splinternet” as a signal of the unraveling of a global digital commons and a reversal of the globalization process. This paper argues that rather than signaling an end to globalization, these developments are indicative of a continued long-term global system formation, pulsating in repetitive and dynamic waves. The core driver of its dynamics are technology-driven economic short-term processes that manifest themselves in political institutions, furthermore establishing global cultures. Each successive wave builds on technology and networks established in previous ones, extending both space and place in both physical dimensions and the establishment of a new habitus. Empirically tracing the core of today’s digital backbone over 3000 years, the paper argues that the shift from a hegemonic, single-state dominated global system to a multi polar one is a regular feature in the pulsating global system developmental process and proposes scenarios for its likely future development. It also highlights the core differences that mark digital technologies in contrast to previous technologies in the unfolding of this process and why they constitute a necessary technological foundation for the establishment of a truly global, that is to say fully planetary system.

20 Mar 2022 — 23 Mar 2022
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Kaiserstraße 12
76131 Karlsruhe

Keynote (Online)

Joachim K. Rennstich
Joachim K. Rennstich
Professor International Social Work and Research Methods

My research interests include the development of digital capitalism, digital literacy and teaching-methodologies.