Analyzing the Influence of Private Tech Through the Basic Structure
I am currently working on an honors thesis as a part of my Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) degree. My thesis looks the role of large, private technology companies in liberal democracy from a philosophical perspective. Specifically, I have spent my time researching and analyzing how institutions of technology today have started to usurp government as the primary actor of the basic structure of society, which the political philosopher John Rawls defines as the fundamental institutions that ensure a just democracy. For example, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter serve as de facto hosts of a digital public sphere and disproportionately dictate the spread of information in society.
Thanks to the Ruth Marcus Kantor Research Grant, I was able to discover and read through multiple academic books, essays, and papers narrowly focused on the intersection of technology policy and political theory. These included but are not limited to Digital Technology and Democratic Theory, The Privatized State, and The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. These invaluable resources as well as the generous guidance of Professor Brian Berkey allowed me to explore various topics of tech policy such as the role of social media platforms in society, artificial intelligence ethics issues, and pressing privacy matters. Subsequently, I was able to narrow down thesis topic to specifically focus on the theoretical question of whether to consider the information environment created by platforms to be public or private spheres and how that question consequently ties into the Rawlsian basic structure. This guiding research question will serve as my north star as I build on my research for the upcoming academic year.
Ultimately, this research experience has taught me that, while initial exploratory readings are necessary in humanities research, it is critically important to conduct research with a specific goal in mind. In addition, I have learned it is key and necessary to be flexible with one’s research parameters as research direction often changes. The lessons I learned from this research endeavor will be instrumental as I pursue a JD/PhD in political theory and a future academic career.