Citizenship in the electronically networked city

  • Jenni Cauvain

Student thesis: Phd


This research contributes to the debate about the impacts of ICTs on the business of local government. It conceptualises the city as a site of local governance where ICTs have an impact on the social, political and economic complexities. Indeed, the starting point of this research is the widely held view that technology holds promise to alleviate both economic and democratic challenges faced by local government today. The conceptual framework combines Manuel Castells' Network Society with theories of democracy, governance and citizenship, as well as the so-called 'new economy'. Furthermore, the role and purpose of e-government is explored from the citizen/user perspective. Technology implementation in local government is contrasted combining the 'top-down' perspective of policy-makers with 'bottom-up' experiences of frontline officers and citizens. The research design is a case study of the City of Manchester with European benchmarking perspectives.The research found that whilst technology offers promise in theory, its implementation in a real context rarely fulfils that potential from an economic efficiency or democratic engagement perspective. It is concluded that ICTs are often used to trigger a desired behaviour related to the local government modernisation policy agenda. However, a lack of clarity and shared understanding between managers, users and citizens about the purpose of that technology lead to patchy implementation and poor take-up. Furthermore, the justification for new technology is often based on managerial and narrow values steeped in assumptions about rationality, economic efficiency or competitiveness. These managerial priorities are often camouflaged with a broader discourse of empowerment or inclusion, or sold as 'must haves' for which there is no alternative. Overall, in Manchester it is found that ICTs tend to increase the distance between the local government service provider and the user (citizen) as access channels are made 'corporate'. Moreover, the fragmented and atomised nature of communites is highlighted through the use of modern ICTs when the primary motives are to do with the interests of the private consumer-citizen. However, the benchmarking case study discovered that there can be alternatives and that citizens are more likely to adopt online access channels if they have higher levels of trust towards local government. The research concludes that local government should take their democratic governance role equally seriously as its economic governance role in designing and implementing technology. Incorporating broader democratic values into ICT policy and programmes is likely to broaden the appeal among the citizens, as well as steer the unknown 'spin-offs' and consequences of new technology in the direction of collective, public interest rather than individual, private interest. Democratic governance and socially inclusive policy-making serve as an insurance policy against the risks (e.g. in the field of privacy, economic viability, accountability) in the future electronically networked city.  
Date of Award1 Aug 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorRichard Kingston (Supervisor)


  • Manchester
  • digital development
  • cities
  • Network Society
  • e-government
  • local government
  • citizenship

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