In this modern world, we often have a conflict between traditional modes of authority and non-traditional ones. Think of the government (traditional) vs. Internet chat groups (non-traditional). Often, they run parallel with one another, supplementing each other in a way. However, there are times when they run completely opposite one another, yet both remain completely valid and powerful.

I am getting ahead of myself here. Let’s define the term first. Wikipedia, in my opinion an example of panarchy, gives us this:

Panarchy is a term used to describe the dense overlapping networks and spheres of authority in the world today. Technologies that enable collective action and cooperation call into being alternative forms of governance, social movements, and globally networked heterarchical (as opposed to hierarchical) organizations.

Web 2.0 is chock-full of technologies that precisely fit the bill for enabling collective action. Think of chat-groups, blogs, wikis, forums, even tagging programs, like Flickr and del.ici.ous!
They all identify and amalgamate a particular community, enabling them to function on a larger cohesive level. They inspire panarchy!

Panarchy might feel like a negative concept, but in my opinion it is the most powerful and positive factor on the Internet today. By enabling collective action, we are enabling democracy in a way (I have heard many people argue that it enables communism as well, a logic which has merit. My only comment on that would be that we choose to associate ourselves on the Internet, it is not dictated to us). The Internet can be that bastion of freedom, of democracy by enabling the voice of the people, even if it runs contrary to traditional authority. With time, experiments such as China’s blocking of certain content (what’s the deal Google?) will fail. The voice of the people will be heard.

Rome will be a Republic again!

Sorry, I thought I was Maximus there for a second.

By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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