Rafael Capurro


This is the introduction to the proceedings of the international ICIE Symposium "Localizing the Internet. Ethical Issues in Intercultural Perspective" that took place in Karlsruhe (Germany) in 2004. The proceedings were published in the International Review of Information Ethics (IRIE). This introduction was published in: Rafael Capurro, Johannes Frühbauer, Thomas Hausmanninger (eds.): Localizing the Internet. Ethical Aspects in Intercultural Perspective. ICIE Series 4, Munich: Fink 2007, 9-18.

localizing the internet

Intercultural Information Ethics. Rafael Capurro, Johannes Frühbauer, Thomas Hausmanninger (Eds.): Localizing the Internet. Ethical Aspects in Intercultural Perspective.  München: Fink  2007, 21-38.
Fruit, Water, and Philosophy. Intercultural Perspectives on the Web. Rafael Capurro, Johannes Frühbauer, Thomas Hausmanninger (Eds.): Localizing the Internet. Ethical Aspects in Intercultural Perspective.  München: Fink  2007, 321-332.

This book offers a selection of papers presented at the symposium organized by the International Center for Information Ethics (ICIE) in October 2004. The symposium was sponsored by the VolkswagenFoundation, organized by the Hochschule der Medien Stuttgart, and hosted by the Center for Art and Media (ZKM Karlsruhe). We thank the VolkswagenFoundation for its generous financial support and ZKM for the hospitality. We also thank Océ Deutschland and the FAZIT Stiftung for sponsoring this publication. All other papers presented at the symposium were published in the International Review of Information Ethics (IRIE). The ICIE symposium was unique not only with regard to its participants but also to its subject matter. We were some fifty scientists from all over the world, namely Argentina, Austria, Cameroun, Canada, China, Croatia, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Greece, India, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States. We brought different cultural as well as scientific and professional backgrounds such us computer science, library and information science, ethics, information policy, theology, philosophy, social sciences, media studies, engineering, management, and law. What made this meeting particularly unique was our dealing with a highly relevant technological phenomenon, namely the Internet, from an ethical and intercultural perspective. The intertwining of these perspectives is now called intercultural information ethics. This was the first international academic meeting dealing primarily with this matter although it is important to recall that contributions to the leading international conferences in our field such as CATaC (Cultural Attitudes Towards Technology and Communication),  ETHICOMP (Ethics and Computing) and CEPE (Computer Ethics: Philosophical Enquiry) have also addressed ethical and/or intercultural issues of computer-mediated communication.

The ICIE symposium was itself an exemplar of its theme as we were dealing with not only with contact via the Internet for months, sometimes in different languages such as Spanish, English, German or French, but also because we were using English as the lingua franca for our talks during this meeting as well as for our written contributions. Of course, this is nothing unusual in scientific meetings but if considering that one of the main questions we were dealing with, namely cultural difference, is intimately related with language, then we were performing translation in a kind of double-bind. We were using a common language, English, to discuss and analyze cultural differences in the context of the Internet. Ethical issues in intercultural perspective are no more and no less than translation issues. But, what does translation mean?

In her article “The World as India” (2004) Susan Sontag observes that the basic dilemma of the translator is to take care of what is being said and to neglect how it is said, or, to follow literal, as opposed to literary, translation. This dilemma arises especially for litterary texts, that is, the texts we produce in philosophy and the humanities as distinct from the language we use in the marketplace, and particularly in the digital marketplace we call the Internet. According to Friedrich Schleiermacher in his famous article “Über die verschiedenen Methoden des Übersetzens” (On the Different Methods of Translating) (2002/1813), the marketplace is the domain of interpreters or "Dolmetscher". In this regard, Schleiermacher opposes St. Hieronymus (c. 331-420), who translated the Hebrew Bible into Latin, the global lingua franca of his time. Schleiermacher thinks in terms of cultural or national identities, giving priority to the literal and preserving the otherness of a foreign language, while Hieronymous represents the transnational global player. Sontag places Walter Benjamin between these two poles as a kind of mediator. In his article “Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers” (The Task of the Translator, 1972/1923), Benjamin addresses the issue of promoting otherness through literal translation, not in order to preserve the cultural identity of the mother tongue, as suggested by Schleiermacher, but to transform it. Making a linguistic difference from which we perceive our environment emotionally, through the kind of intercultural dialogue we call translation becomes an ethical task.

The ICIE meeting, and this book in particular are in some way “the world as India”, that is to say they represent ethical issues of the Internet in their cultural diversity using English as lingua franca. We are sure that we will sometimes agree with Friedrich Schleiermacher, and sometimes with St. Hieronymous, although the outcome may be more akin to what Walter Benjamin was arguing, namely, a transformation or enrichment not only with regard to what we think but also of how we think if we are aware of the otherness of the other either when he/she speaks English as her mother tongue or as he/she uses it as the lingua franca of the marketplace. An academic meeting is a kind of paradoxical marketplace where everybody gives but nobody has less after the transaction. The more we give, the more we get back. The stock is eventually common to everybody, it belongs to nobody, it is shared in different ways, and what is most important: its price is invaluable.

The structure of the book reflects the one of the symposium, namely:

Part I. The Quest for Intercultural Information Ethics

Part II. Internet for Social and Political Development

Part III. Internet for Cultural Development

Part IV. Internet for Economic Development

In the last part (V) we offer a resumé of the groups' discussions during the symposium. We believe that this informal exchange gives an account of what lies before us in the field of intercultural information ethics.


Part I. The Quest for Intercultural Information Ethics


RAFAEL CAPURRO addresses theoretical and practical aspects of information ethics from an intercultural perspective. The first part of his paper deals with the paradigm shift within philosophy itself towards what is being called intercultural philosophy. This paradigm provides the framework for intercultural ethics. One main point in the ongoing discussion in the field of intercultural ethics is the question of universality. The second part of the paper deals with the quest for an intercultural information ethics. Specifically the paper discusses some of the intercultural and ethical issues discussed at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), such as the question of a human right to communicate and the question of cultural diversity. A brief report on the evolution of the concept of globalization is given. Some case studies and best practices on intercultural information ethics is given. Finally the classic (Western) opposition between culture (nomos) and nature (physis) is used in order to point to the limits of intercultural and universalistic discourses.

According to THOMAS HAUSMANNINGER, “when moving in the intercultural field, one experiences difference.” This sentence belongs, at first sight, to the denotative class. To reach a normative viewpoint something else seems necessary. The ‘real’ problem is mostly seen in the question how difference can be overcome. Such striving for unity would have spurred some years ago particularly due to the impact of post-modern philosophy. But after 9-11 we encounter something like a paradigm shift concerning plurality. In the first part of the paper Hausmanninger shows how difference came to be, starting with the objectivistic endeavours of Christian scholastics, through nominalism, the Copernican revolution, the “turn to subjectivity” in modernity (Descartes, Kant), and the “turn to contingency” in the epistemological debate of the 20th century. The right to differ that can be observed in the realm of religious belief (Martin Luther) gains something like the quality of a human right. The paper explores why and where difference has priority and is ethically binding for the construction of intercultural information ethics. The ethical obligation to respect the difference and plurality of belief systems is grounded in picturing human beings as persons or subjectivities owing to each other the right to free self-realization. What has to be respected in order to respect human dignity may differ between cultures. Nevertheless, there remains the task of encompassing all endeavours of intercultural information ethics. ‘Our’ intercultural information ethics may find their pivot in the concept of subjectivity as “regained” by Hausmanninger in the last part of his contribution.

What are the local effects of the Internet on countries, cities, and communities from an ethical perspective? In his paper BERND FROHMANN proposes a philosophical interrogation of this question through three of its main concepts: effect, locality, and ethics. Effect is contrasted to Gilles Deleuze’s affect in order to reveal connections to his concept of ethics. Locality raises questions about the nature of „place“, especially given the long history of the various „globalizations“ since European colonial expansion. Finally, ethics is viewed from the perspective of the Foucauldian and Deleuzian emphasis on freedom. Relationships are suggested between ethics, the „control society,“ and „self writing„ as a „technology of the self„. Contrasts are drawn between traditional information ethics and Foucauldian and Deleuzian perspectives.

According to LÜ YAO-HUAI, information globalization compels all countries to use information technology, thus impacting ways of life and culture itself. For this reason, global information ethics has emerged as a timely subject in many nations. A basic universal set of ethics standards is needed, otherwise global information interaction will be thrown into chaos. This minimum set includes at least three basic principles, namely information justice, information equality, and information reciprocity. Western information ethics is rooted in a democratic spirit. This corresponds to a conception of the Internet as a free space where people are respected. In the Chinese cultural tradition, ethicists pay special attention to the concept of “Shen Du” which means to be watchful of oneself when one is alone. Due to the (potential) anonymity in the Internet, this principle has a special value in order to raise the (moral) consciousness of individuals beyond legal frameworks. Lü analyzes two contradictions in information globalization, namely the disequilibrium between information rich and information poor and the right to communicate on the Internet for non-English speakers.


Part II. Internet for Social and Political Development

Digital governance in developing countries may seem to be a distant thought for many but it is certainly making its presence felt, and in a form which is different from that evident in the developed countries. According to VIKAS NATH his contribution “Digital Governance Models: Towards empowerment and good governance in developing countries” the growing use of information and communication technology (ICT) is catalysing the formation of knowledge societies, and thus providing greater avenues to people to participate in their own development process. The transformations occurring are unique and unprecedented in many ways and have the potential to reach those who hitherto have been marginalised from the decision-making processes. The inhabitants of knowledge societies will be more informed about the socio-economic and political processes which affect them and will be empowered to voice their concerns, and make informed decision on how they would like to be governed and by whom. We are entering into a brave new world where it will not be the leaders who govern people but it is the people who will let the leaders govern them. The paper provides an insight into how digital governance models are facilitating the transformation of governance in developing countries to more responsive and people-led governance structures.

LUCAS D. INTRONA tries to move away from the traditional virtual/real dualism by exploring the social and ethical conditions of virtual communities through the work of Martin Heidegger and Emmanuel Lévinas. He argues with Heidegger that communities are communities because they already share concerns and as such a world — a meaningful horizon of ongoing being. With Lévinas he explores the conflict between the demands of ethics (the other) and justice (the third). He argues with Lévinas that ethics and justice incessantly impose on, and interpenetrate each other in a way that turns morality into an ongoing existential burden that needs to be ‘worked out’ again and again. The paper proceeds with a discussion of virtual communities. Introna argues that ‘thick’ authentic online communities are possible but difficult to maintain. These communities always face an insider/outsider problem that mirrors Lévinas’ tension between ethics and justice. The author concludes that as we respond to the insider, the trusted companion that we face so often, that ‘facing’ is perpetually disturbed by the excluded outsider equally worthy of our responsibility. Morality requires that the boundary between the insiders and the outsiders must continually remain unsettled. Virtual strangers raise the possibility for the ‘crossing’ and questioning these boundaries. Unfortunately virtuality may also function to confirm these boundaries.

In his paper “Laissez Faire or Regulation? Social and Policy Implications of IP Telephony” RICHARD A. SPINELLO reviews the functionality of IP telephony (also known as VOIP) and considers its economic and social benefits. He  highlights the main regulatory issues especially as they pertain to developing countries. These countries face a dilemma: IP telephony promises to make phone calls more affordable, but at the same time, it often threatens the incumbent telecomm company, and can undermine the company's pricing policies and profits. Spinello argues that all regulators, but especially those in developing countries, should refrain from imposing regulations on this technology intended to protect a state-sponsored telecomm and its legacy systems. Forcing IP telephony into the current regulatory framework for telecommunications will only stifle the growth of new markets and discourage usage. Increased competition and a phasing in of regulations is a far more promising solution. Spinello concludes with a concise normative justification for this permissive regulatory approach.

BRITTA SCHINZEL discusses “Gendered Views on the Ethics of Computer Professionals”. Her paper explores moral problems created by information technology and its producers. It also deals with ethical issues used within the computer professions to deal with these problems. The title refers to both problematical gendered views within the computer professions (including their discussions of responsibility and computer ethics). While Schinzel criticises common attitudes within the computer professions and the working cultures in which they develop, altered perspectives for responsible technological action may be derived from (feminist) situational, welfare-based, close-range ethics or micro-ethics. In a field like IT, where technology assessment and projections into the future are difficult, where the consequences of artefacts can mostly only be validated ex post, which is notorious for its ambivalences, where complexity is obscuring and responsibility is distributed, it is necessary to find ethical attitudes within professional epistemology, habitus and working cultures. These strongly influence the processes of decision making, early research and developmental phases. The paper focuses on frequent attitudes of computer professionals and the working cultures in which these are developed, in order to lead to different views via micro-ethics.

Has the Internet benefited community life overall? FRANCES GRODZINSKY and HERMAN TAVANI believe that six distinct questions must first be answered: (1) What is a (traditional) community? (2) What are on-line communities? (3) How are communities built or formed? (4) What are the pros and cons of on-line communities, especially in terms of promoting democracy? (5) What are the effects of the Internet for community life at the local level? (6) What are the effects of the Internet for community life at the global level? They deal with these questions in their paper “The Internet and Community Building at the Local and Global Levels: Some Implications and Challenges”. They conclude by briefly examining some of the global- and local-level implications for issues of cultural sovereignty and cultural autonomy.


Part III: Internet for Cultural Development

In his contribution “Can the Local Reshape the Global? Ethical Imperatives for Humane Intercultural Communication Online” CHARLES ESS
reviews examples of the cultural conflicts that occur when computer-mediated communication (CMC) technologies are deployed “outside” the boundaries of the Western cultural values and communicative preferences that shape their initial design and implementation. These conflicts demonstrate that CMC technologies embed and foster the values and preferences of their designers – leading to the danger of “computer-mediated colonization”. Additional examples show, however, that such colonization can be resisted. Ess argues – initially, on the deontological bases of basic human rights to autonomy and cultural diversity, as well as on consequentialist grounds – that ethnocentrism and its attendant colonization on the part of those who design and implement CMC technologies ought to be resisted through the use “culturally-aware” approaches to implementation and design. Additional frameworks from Information Ethics and Computer Ethics then reinforce these initial arguments. Further examples of culturally-aware design and implementation demonstrate that these approaches are possible. Additional examples highlight the role of persons – whom Ess characterize as cultural hybrids or polybrids – in resisting colonization through canny conjunctions of both local and global cultural elements. These examples extend the initial ethical arguments by making the case that rights to autonomy and cultural diversity further entail a specific sort of education that fosters the emergence of such cultural hybrids. Such an education conjoins elements from both Western and Eastern traditions, and thus promises a potentially global ethics for a global medium.

WILLY JACKSON and ISSIAKA MANDÉ explore “The Impact of New Information and Communication Technologies in Sub-Saharian Africa”. According to its popular image, Africa is a continent that has its feet in the prehistory and its head in satellites.  In the area of ICT’s Africa is making large strides but progress is impeded by a digital divide, especially in comparison to countries in the developed world. Yet ICTs are addressing many challenges of regional integration and are offering services and information to businesses and citizens.  The use of ICTs use in Africa sometimes improves social and cultural problems but it also has a tendency to reproduce them, for example, in maintaining social relations along specific communities within Africa and even in their diasporas instead of supporting intercultural exchanges.  Jackson and Mandé argue that we look beyond simple models of universalizing acculturation processes or the supposed uniformization of values generated by the extension of communication networks. The use of ICTs is also an opportunity to disseminate African cultures across and beyond Africa. Their analysis of content of several African websites reveals both the promise and the problems of progressing of closing the African digital gap, but also supporting the emergence of cultural patchworks sometimes disconnected from each other.

The main purpose of MAKOTO NAKADA in his contribution “The Internet within Seken as an old and indigenous world of meanings in Japan” is to examine the relationships between people’s attitudes towards their society and culture and the meanings of the Internet in Japan, and to analyze data from research on people’s value consciousness, including the meanings of the Internet. The analysis reveals several important findings. One was that the meanings or evaluations of the Internet depend on or are tightly related to Seken, which is the traditional and indigenous aspect of Japanese culture and society. It seems that Japanese people of today live in a world consisting of old Japan (Seken) and that the dualism of Seken and new Japan (Shakai) determines (or is closely related to) attitudes towards political situations, social problems, and as the meanings of various media including the Internet.

DANIEL PIMIENTAS’s paper “At the Boundaries of Ethics and Cultures: Virtual Communities as an Open Ended Process Carrying the Will for Social Change (the "MISTICA" experience)” reports on research carried on in Latin America about a virtual community of practitioners in the field of Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D). This community-conducted experiments of knowledge sharing and collaborative work within a perspective of participative democracy in a virtual environment leads to discussions about the intersection and boundaries of ethics and cultures where "ethics" refer to information and process and "culture" refers not only to its usual meaning but to network culture and information culture.

HUGO ALBERTO FIGUEROA ALCÁNTARA’s contribution, “Collective Construction of Identity in Internet: Ethical Dimension and Intercultural Perspective”, is an analysis of the collective construction of identity in the Internet, related to  models of collective action expressed in the new social movements. It recognizes the Internet as both a technological and communication tool and a very important symbol of substantial changes in an information age characterized by complexity.  The Internet is a crucial component in the social environment of our lives. It allows us to become aware of a new global and social space. The Internet offers a new kind of social exchange affecting both directly or indirectly most of the world population, and it brings new kinds of sociability. A central topic of this paper is how the Internet generates new patterns of individual and collective identity. These new processes of identity construction have specific social characteristics and must be understood in a context of patterns of collective action. New social movements on the Internet and network society construct real collective identities that represent collective action. By the use and application of the Internet, such social movements become laboratories of culture and generators of alternative cultural codes. Figueroa Alcántara provides examples of  ethical and intercultural aspects involved in this social phenomenon.

WOLFGANG SÜTZL compares different conceptions of locality in the Internet on the one hand and the emerging localized 'free networks' on the other, investigating the ethical and intercultural status of both conceptions.  His paper “Internet and Free Networks. From World-Networking to Place-Networking” first discusses the a-local nature of digital ontology that governs our experience of the Internet and that gives rise to a 'cybergnostic' conception of the net. Using Heidegger's philosophy of language as a guiding thread, he then develops an understanding of the net as “Ereignis(event), where locality is understood as connected to the free creative acting of men and women. In the cybergnostic net, this poetic freedom is suffocated by the metaphysical notions of scarcity and security, as exemplified by tightening IP regimes. Such regimes insist on a pre-digital notion of the work as 'thing' that can be bought and sold. By contrast, free networks are guided by the idea of the commons and the principle of sharing and participating. Finally, Sützl describes the concept of locality of the cybergnostic net as the negation of freedom (as in a prison), applying to it the term "Standort" ("position", but commonly applied to the location of corporate headquarters), while the locality of free networks, in an allusion to the criminalization of such communication activism, is described as "Tatort" („place of doing“, but commonly denoting the 'scene of a crime').


Part IV. Internet for Economic Development

In JOHANNES BRITZ's contribution, “The Internet: The Missing Link Between the Information Rich and the Information Poor?”, the global economy is seen as currently being transformed from an industrial economy to an economy driven by information and knowledge. As this shift progresses, the gap between the information-richt and the information-poor will also widen. But what precisely is meant by information poverty? How can it be addressed? Based on a description of the ideal information-rich society, the paper defines an  information-poor society as one that lacks the skills, abilities or material means to obtain access to information, to interpret it and apply it appropriately. The main factors contributing to this gap are: lack of education, underdeveloped and/or unfamiliar infostructures, and advanced capitalism. Britz sees the Internet as a possible solution to information poverty because it has  the potential to create equal opportunities in education and the dissemination of essential information at essentially zero cost. It is one of the missing links between the information rich and the information poor. However, it has some serious limitations because it cannot deliver the necessary physical products. It is also an unstable medium, limited by the diversity of languages and cultures.

The debate on commercial aspects and the protection of intellectual artifacts, ideas and the forms in which they are expressed has become intense in the last few years. Scholars like Lawrence Lessig argue that  intellectual property laws have become the central field of economic and legal argument in the new millennium. In his contribution “On Sharing Intellectual Properties in Global Communities” WOLFGANG COY explores the question from a historical point of view. Though there is a growing interest in commercially useful intellectual artifacts, there are still vast unregulated areas as, for instance, regarding native cultural practices including regional cooking, natural healing, and use of herbal remedies. High-level knowledge also defies patentability, for example, the non-technical aspects of science, such as mathematics and theoretical physics. On the other hand, it is obvious that many results of scientific research financed by the State are basic to the promotion of technology. Coy finds at least five conflicting parties that are interested in the foundation of intellectual property laws: authors and inventors, publishers and manufacturers, the public interest, law and government, and the reader and buyer. Coy analyzes in particular Open Source programming as well as Lessig’s “Creative Commons.”

In “The Internet, Information Machines, and the Technologies of the Self” FERNANDO ELICHIRIGOITY thinks of the Internet not only as a medium of information, but also as an assemblage of information appliances or machines that allow users to achieve mastery over complex informational issues, from daily scheduling to the functioning of their bodies. Elichirigoity discusses various facets of the Internet in the context of Michel Foucault’s notions of “governmentality” and “technologies of the self”.  He argues that the emergence of new forms of informational empowerment do not function independently from the informational practices that make them possible and, thus, need to be understood less as an absolute gain of freedom and more as the way freedom and power are continually produced and reproduced as processes of governmentality. The central aim of the paper is to argue for ethical practices grounded on genealogical analysis and self-reflexivity rather than on a  priori principles and codes of conduct. In order to illustrate the argument empirically, Elichirigoity discusses the availability of financial information over the Internet and their related information tools. He analyzes the significance of these tools in connection with significant changes in retirement and pension programs in the United States and other Western countries.

Can ICTs have effective impacts on poverty reduction in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC)? Can these impacts be seen in the short and medium term? How does this affect the differentiated way in which women and men experience poverty and unemployment?  SUSANA FINQUELIEVICH deals with these questions in “A toolkit to Empower Communities in Latin America”. Since the 1970s, a correlation has been suggested between the dissemination of ICTs and poverty. Various authors propose that ICTs contribute to the economic development of nations, as in the case of the United States. But they also agree that ICTs tend to deepen inequalities, and that their impact on the economies of the countries of the periphery will be rather different than on the economies of the United States or other developed countries. There are several reasons for this: the initial innovators are the ones who benefit most; because ICT infrastructure is more profitable and easier to develop in urban areas, it accentuates inequalities with regard to rural areas; ICT-related employment requires specialized labor and is managed through flexible labor policies; unlike developed countries, the countries of the periphery do not have social security systems backed by adequate and structured public policies, or networks of civil society organizations that help mitigate the effects (such as unemployment,  and underemployment) of the transition from the economy of the industrial society (which some LAC regions have not yet reached) and that of the knowledge society. The paper identifies the strategic policies of governments in Latin America and the Caribbean for incorporating information and communication technologies into economic, social and political development efforts. Finquelievich analyzes the role of communities in the new economy, and suggests a toolkit of strategies and policies for using ICTs to drive development in LAC within the new economy.


This book appears one year after the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) that took place in Tunis from 16 to 18 November 2005. In the meantime new technological and political developments have continued their rapid growth as the widespread use of mobile computing and the intersection of information technology with nanotechnology and biotechnology. In the context of these rapid developments the intercultural and ethical questions raised in the symposium and documented in this book will remain as key issues in the academic and political agenda at a global and local level for several years to come.


Benjamin, W. (1972): Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers. In: W. Benjamin: Gesammelte Schriften IV/1. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Sontag, S. (2004): Die Welt als Indien. Übersetzen als Kunst der Anwerwandlung des Fremden. In: Lettre International, September, Vol. 65, 82-8.

Schleiermacher F. (2003): Über die verschiedenen Methoden des Übersetzens. In: Kritische Gesamtausgabe 11. Berlin, New York: de Gruyter.

Karlsruhe, Automn 2006

Last update: May 18, 2023

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