Solving human problems: a lot of long roads, dead ends [INTERVIEW]

Sketch of Steven Weber

New ideas arise after the interview with UC Berkeley, Professor Steven Weber. Here is my impression in a sketch.

I feel like my mind is glowing like a lightning bug. Ideas are circling around my head, close enough that I can almost grasp them, only just out of reach, which makes them all the more exciting.

Professor Steven Weber, whose office I just left, certainly challenged my way of thinking about technology and international relations. One sentence he said lingers:

“ In solving human problems there are a lot of long roads to dead ends.”

Now that I have written it down it sounds depressing but it worked as a wake-up call.

Weber is a professor at the UC Berkeley School of Information as well as in the Political Science Department but currently also works with the Monitor 360 consulting organization. That professor Weber is now working in the private sector only underlines the impression I got that he´s excited by useful science and that he is a practical problem solver. This came through in the way he engaged my research question critically. He asked me how each of my questions could be studied empirically and how I could avoid the re-articulation of old ideas.

There was an almost Socratic moment at one point. I asked:

“How are the technological developments affecting power relations?”

Professor Weber asked me right back why so many of us are asking this question?

To Weber it is an indication that we don’t know how to get A to do B because we simply don’t know which of the many power tools to use. Should we for instance use the power of coercion or attraction?

While his hands were fiddling uneasily with a computer charger cord, his voice was clear and convincing:

”Asking how technology has changed international relations is like asking how ovens changed cooking.”

In other words, what I need to look for are the specific manifestations of the role of civil society in eDiplomacy.

There are different ways that civil society and governments interact and meet each other as agents of international relations.

One mechanism is when civil society is creating a different negotiating environment, in other words changing the playing field for international negotiations.

Another mechanism is when civil society is routing around governments, making their participation irrelevant.

A third mechanism is when governments create channels for citizen to citizen problem-solving.

This last mechanisms seems to hold promise for further research. Many scholars have asked how government can regain their hold on power and influence in international relations. But if the goal is to find solutions to human problems, then whoever solves it the best, should hold the power. If in some cases this happens to be civil society, governments have an interest in enabling civil society’s influence, not hampering it.

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