The Political Economy of Communication
This article looks back at an Obama administration foreign policy initiative called Internet freedom and discusses US responses to anti-American extremism involving digital communications technologies. It does this by using Marx’s concept of the fetish to argue that technological fetishism played a constitutive and mediating role in policymaking. Through this analysis – relating international relations with political economy and Marxist theory – the empowering implications of these technologies for American state interests are shown to be also disempowering. Most US officials were likely to be aware that digital communications technologies did not have the inherent powers that their policies implied but, nevertheless, they continued to develop and apply Internet freedom and related policies as if they did. This paradox, it will be underlined, is in keeping with Marx’s analysis of the complex reality whereby the fetish performs a mediating role in institutionalized ways of thinking.