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Research and interdisciplinary assessment on the information society: networks, uses and roles of the State

Research project P4/31 (Research action P4)

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Description :

The generalization of advanced communication technologies and services is nowadays a highly debated topic on the European political scene: in addition to questions as to its political significance (a.o., is it beneficial or detrimental to democracy? does it reinforce or dilute cultural identities? what are the object and the means of public intervention?) it gives rise to various declarations of intent based on its expected economic consequences and potential effects in terms of job creation. Moreover, people speak increasingly of redefining company boundaries and of new institutional arrangements between economic agents. Finally, the development of information highways raises questions about how the law should intervene and regarding the role of the State in market regulation, protection of public welfare, and defence or promotion of liberties.

The project aims to constitute a pole of interdisciplinary research on and assessment of the development of information highways in Belgium, and to increase our basic knowledge of the effects of information technologies on society.

The IAP extends and amplifies a well-established collaboration between the participating centres, collaboration based on a common concern about technology assessment and reinforced through national and international research projects.

This collaboration is further facilitated by the complementarity that exists between the disciplines studied by the various centres (law - economics - political science - organizational sociology) and the cultural viewpoints of the participants (utility of a Belgian "North/South" dialogue).

Around the general "Information Society" theme, 3 research lines are pursued.

- the first line involves identifying development scenarios for communication networks within the information society and assessing their respective benefits and drawbacks. This will be done through empirical analysis (network identification and description), theoretical analysis (development of a conceptual tool for understanding the economic rationality of the different operators), and prospective analysis (elaboration of scenarios and recommendations).

- in the second line of research, the empirical work relies on monitoring and analysing user-creator communities (in the business and non-business sectors) and actual communication modalities and services serving as prototypes of future ones. The analysis, which will use the tools of the sociology of usages and innovation, should shed light on the process of innovating uses either inside or across organizations.

- the third line of research studies changes in the role of the State in defending general welfare. In particular, the aim is first to show how the agent "State" should behave when faced with international networks, then to analyse the purpose of State intervention and public interest, together with universal service which is one of its component, and finally, to examine in detail the new means and places of ethical and legal regulation, their purposes and relationships. Another item to be examined in depth will be how to negotiate acknowledgement of these new concerns of public interest.

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