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Politics of Open Government Data: A Neo-Gramscian Analysis of the United Kingdom's Open Government Data Initiative

Bates, Joanne (2012) Politics of Open Government Data: A Neo-Gramscian Analysis of the United Kingdom's Open Government Data Initiative. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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Since the mid-2000s, the idea of Open Government Data (OGD) has emerged in the United Kingdom as a strong demand for the free and unrestricted re-use of data produced by public bodies. This thesis aims to better understand the social forces and interests that have been working to shape the UK’s Open Government Data (OGD) initiative and to what ends. It focuses on the period 2010-2012, when OGD was adopted as a core policy objective by the new Coalition (Conservative-Liberal Democrat) government that came to power in May 2010. Through analysis of interviews, observations and online documentation, and the adoption of a neo-Gramscian analytical framework to guide the data collection and analysis, the thesis produces an explanatory framework for better understanding and conceptualising the development of the OGD initiative in the UK during this period. Contextualising the emergence and development of the UK’s OGD initiative within the contemporary political and economic crises of the neoliberal project, the thesis adopts the neo-Gramscian concept of trasformismo to explain the domestication of the OGD agenda into a project - counter to many of the initial civil society OGD advocates intentions - which is aimed at the reproduction of the UK’s neoliberal state. In particular, it highlights how OGD policy is being used with the intention of leveraging the full marketisation of public services and the further expansion of capitalism into the exploitation of societal risks, and to help rebuild the fracturing consent for the neoliberal project. It is shown that whilst a radical, and potentially counter-hegemonic, political energy exists within sections of the civil society OGD community within the UK, these OGD advocates are necessarily restricted by both the structural conditions of OGD’s emergence and tactical decisions taken by OGD advocates. The thesis concludes with a number of suggestions for those aiming to direct the OGD initiative in a more egalitarian direction, counter to neoliberal hegemony. The thesis’s contribution to Information Science can be understood as providing a deeper critical understanding of the political economic domain which structures the discipline and its subject of interest at the most fundamental levels. The thesis’s contribution to Political Science is to utilise ideas developed in neo-Gramscian International Political Economy to draw insight into the complex political processes that have unfolded around OGD. In particular, it is the first neo-Gramsican analysis that considers the adaptation of neoliberal capitalism to the logic of ‘openness’.

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