A Democracy of Groups by Beth Simone Noveck (First Monday)


In groups people can accomplish what they cannot do alone. Now new visual and social technologies are making it possible for people to make decisions and solve complex problems collectively. These technologies are enabling groups not only to create community but also to wield power and create rules to govern their own affairs. Electronic democracy theorists have either focused on the individual and the state, disregarding the collaborative nature of public life, or they remain wedded to outdated and unrealistic conceptions of deliberation. This article makes two central claims. First, technology will enable more effective forms of collective action. This is particularly so of the emerging tools for “collective visualization” which will profoundly reshape the ability of people to make decisions, own and dispose of assets, organize, protest, deliberate, dissent and resolve disputes together. From this argument derives a second, normative claim. We should explore ways to structure the law to defer political and legal decision–making downward to decentralized group–based decision–making. This argument about groups expands upon previous theories of law that recognize a center of power independent of central government: namely, the corporation. If we take seriously the potential impact of technology on collective action, we ought to think about what it means to give groups body as well as soul — to “incorporate” them. This paper rejects the anti–group arguments of Sunstein, Posner and Netanel and argues for the potential to realize legitimate self–governance at a “lower” and more democratic level. The law has a central role to play in empowering active citizens to take part in this new form of democracy. (MORE..)