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UBC Theses and Dissertations

States and societies in the digital arena : ICT, state capacity, and political change in Asia Wand, Itay


How does adoption of information communication technology (ICT) alter the balance of power between state and society in Asia? There is no question that these tools – the Internet, mobile phones, and social media – are transforming the political communications landscape across the region. Since political science views power as zero-sum, a central question is how its distribution is altered between digitally-strengthened states and digitally-empowered societal actors. On the one hand, societal actors are empowered through increased information access and dissemination, as well as decreased costs of mobilization and organization. At the same time, the state's digital capacity is greatly enhanced through increased information collection, monitoring, and control. This study hypothesizes that adoption of ICT in Asian states empowers societal actors over time enhancing non-electoral democratic processes subject to regime legitimacy and the digital state capacity governments build and apply. It first develops a theory for how ICT empowers both societal actors and states before testing this across Asian states through a quantitative analysis. The results suggest that Asian state policy determines whether and how ICT empowers societal actors and net political change. It then develops this policy concept through the lens of digital state capacity - how states control and manage digital information. Finally it conducts a qualitative analysis for China on the interaction of ICT adoption, regime legitimacy, and digital state capacity policy to determine net political change. The results demonstrate that while ICT adoption has strengthened the Chinese state through digital state capacity this has come at the loss of state control over a range of political issues. For these issues, the net result in China has been empowered-societal actors and enhanced transparency and accountability.

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