Skip to content


Power and Resistance in the Public Sphere: A Counter-History of the Internet

PhD thesis in political studies, EHESS Paris (2012-2017)

Abstract: Taking contemporary debates on freedom of expression and privacy in the digital age as a starting point, this thesis revisits the history of the Internet at the intersection of legal history, political theory and history of science and technology. Through a long-time study of the clash between power and resistance strategies associated with communication technologies, it aims to contribute to the history of the public sphere and of digital activism.

From the inception of the printing press on, the first part provides an overview of the forms of control of the public sphere developed under the modern state power, and of their extension under liberal-representative regimes (15t-20th centuries). In the second part, the study follows the antagonist utopias that shaped the development of computing technologies to explain the pro found ambivalence of their political appropriations, these technologies being construed both as an instrument of technocratic domination and a tool for emancipation (1930-1990). The third part analyses early controversies around the protection of civil rights online and the growth of digital activism, as the Internet becomes a locus of political struggles in a period marked by neoliberal globalization (1990-2001). Finally, the fourth part surveys recent Internet control measures adopted in the name of the "war on terror" and the repression of some segments of digital activism to illustrate the illiberal drift in state practices (2001-2017).

The study thus aims to advance a collective thinking on one of the key questions identified by Michel Foucault in his writings on power: "How can the growth of capabilities" – and more specifically those brought about by "techniques of communication" – "be disconnected from the intensification of power relations?"