Howard, Philip N.: The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam.

Author:Quest, Linda
Position:Book review
 
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Howard, Philip N. The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. xiii + 285 pages. Paper, $24.95.

Philip Howard is a professor of communications. So is this a social sciences book? Yes, it has won sociology prizes. Moreover, politics and rhetoric were equated in ancient times, and political science is a social science. Yes, if "the medium is the message" in real-time and real-life. The electronic media broadcast messages of relative advantages, deprivations, and disparities to all who tune in, although mass media might confuse users about what is entertainment, what is propaganda, and what is real. Social networking through the Internet brings in participant-observers to make it personal and to give context. This book contributes to sociology and political science (comparative politics, "relational" political science) and to psychology and economics. Digital Origins is likely to be useful to historians also, going forward. This is not a book to read cover-to-cover, yet it is too important to skim leisurely or superficially. Rather, read the introduction, the conclusion, and the appendix first, then chapter one, to focus on the mission, findings, methods, and structure of chapters. It is carefully crafted and deliberate.

"Origins" is used in the book title. The word "cause"--both as noun and verb--is used throughout the text. This is troublesome in systematic comparative analysis. Among the seventy-five countries in the study, there are commonalities of varying degrees. These are adroitly and transparently handled--the analogy is calculus with "fuzzy" methodology and set-theoretic manipulation, to derive necessary and sufficient conditions to cause either democracy or dictatorship. However, the implied determinacy and inevitability are too obviously falsifiable. Recall Neil J. Smelser in Theory of Collective Behavior (1963), who bridged sociology and political science. He used an adaptation of value- added sequencing (from economics) and the language of facilities, agents, and conduciveness to provide tools that are more predictive, not just explanatory after the fact. These niggles may be dismissed if we argue that communications is not a social science or that this study is not cross-disciplinary. Nevertheless, both points, social science and cross- disciplinary, are granted regarding Howard's substantively valuable book.

The inductive proposition is...

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