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Research Cluster Talk | The Norm Development of Digital Sovereignty between China, Russia, the EU and the US: From the Late 1990s to the COVID Crisis 2020/21 as Catalytic Event

Tuesday November 15, 2022, at 13:00
Room 24.S19 (basement). Mercè Rodoreda Building 24

Johannes Thumfart (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) 

The research cluster on Globalization and Public Policy at the Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals (IBEI) kindly invites you to a talk by Johannes Thumfart (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) on Tuesday 15th of November at 13:00 h. The talk will be entitled "The Norm Development of Digital Sovereignty between China, Russia, the EU and the US: From the Late 1990s to the COVID Crisis 2020/21 as Catalytic Event".

This lecture examines the norm development process of digital sovereignty in China, the EU, the US, and Russia, investigating concepts such as digital sovereignty, technological sovereignty, internet sovereignty, data sovereignty, network sovereignty, sovereign internet. It develops an intellectual history of the norm development of digital sovereignty, roughly following Finnemore and Sikkink's three-stage model, with each stage being initiated by a catalytic event.

The first phase, norm emergence, lasts from the late 1990s and the Patriot Act in 2001 to Russia’s laws on internet control in 2012. During this phase, under the US’s largely uncontested digital hegemony, China is the prime norm entrepreneur of digital sovereignty, promoting network sovereignty and information sovereignty.

The second phase, norm cascade, begins with the catalytic event of the Snowden revelations in 2013. This phase is characterised by an increasingly multipolar order. During this phase, the EU adopts a notion of digital sovereignty with a focus on economic aspects. And Russia’s notion of sovereign internet becomes increasingly radicalised. In Russia and France, illiberal accounts of digital sovereignty are supported by Carl Schmitt’s geopolitical theories. From 2016 to 2020, the US and the EU underwent an additional phase, norm universalisation. Triggered by the catalytic events of Russia's interference with the US general election and Brexit in 2016, these countries and regions became aware that their political systems were vulnerable to manipulation.

The COVID crisis constitutes the most recent catalytic event and initiates the fourth stage of the norm development cycle, the stage of norm internalisation. Processes of digital sovereignty are increasingly implemented, and they emerge in a bottom-up manner, with civil society playing an important role. However, this, in turn, makes clear that digital sovereignty in liberal societies is strongly characterised and limited by the power of the private sector and restrictions on governmental power, such as federalism and multilateralism.