From cyber-utopia to cyber-war: normative change in cyberspace

Research on the evolution of cyber war

This dissertation researches a normative change in state perception and political action towards the Internet. This change is currently reflected in certain measures aimed at the exercise of control and state sovereignty in and over cyberspace. These include phenomena such as the total surveillance of data streams and the extensive collection of connection data by secret services, the control (political censorship) and manipulation of information (information war) as well as the arms spiral around offensive cyber capabilities to disrupt and destroy information infrastructures. States face a loss of control that they want to compensate for. The phenomenon of the perceived loss of control and the establishment of a norm of control (filter and monitoring technology) is equally evident in various democratic and non-democratic states, as various studies show. This militarized perception of the Internet is remarkable in so far as Western politicians used to perceive the same Internet technology in the 1980s and 1990s in a completely different way. Back then the lack of state control was seen as desirable. Instead of controlling and monitoring all aspects of the Internet, a „hands-off“ and laissez-faire idea dominated political behavior at the time: the possibilities of democratization through information technologies, the liberalization of authoritarian societies through technology and the free availability of global knowledge. The idea of national control over communications technology was considered innovation-inhibiting, undemocratic and even technically impossible. The topic of this research is the interaction between state power and sovereignty (e.g. political control through information sovereignty) and digital technologies. The research question is: Which process led to the establishment of norms of control and rule (surveillance, censorship, cyber-war) with regard to the medium Internet? Furthermore, the question arises: What are the implications of this change in standards for the fundamental functioning of the Internet? The aim is to examine in detail the thesis of the militarization of cyberspace empirically on the basis of a longitudinal case study using the example of Internet development in the USA since the 1960s. An interdisciplinary and multi-theoretical approach is chosen from constructivist norms research and the Social Construction of Technology approach.

Keywords: Cyber-war, Cyber-Security, Internet history, Surveillance, Science and Technology Studies, Norms, Constructivism


This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

(CC BY 4.0).


  • Prof. Rafael Biermann, Friedrich-Schiller University Jena
  • Dr. Myriam Dunn Cavelty, ETH Zürich
  • Prof. Dr. Georg Ruhrmann, Friedrich Schiller University Jena
  • Duration: 2012-2017


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