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Unfolding the convergence paradox: The case of mobile voice-over-IP in the UK.

Herzhoff, Jan Dirk (2010) Unfolding the convergence paradox: The case of mobile voice-over-IP in the UK. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science (United Kingdom).

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Abstract

The notion of digital and in particular Information and Communication Technology (ICT) convergence has, over the past 40 years, been in the centre of many technological discourses in different functional systems of society: from the economic and mass media to the legal and political systems. Recently, a new convergence discourse has emerged around next-generation wireless infrastructures and services. One manifestation can be seen in discussion of the mobile Internet, and in particular of new converging services connecting mobile telephony networks to the Internet. Contrary to the prominence of the topic in other domains, the Information Systems community has relegated the notion of ICT convergence to the sidelines. Only recently have there been calls to include convergence as one of the drivers for the design of new mobile infrastructures and services. However, a systematic analysis of the idea of ICT convergence is still missing. Thus, based on an extensive literature review, this dissertation aims firstly to understand if there is space for a more theoretical development of this concept in the information infrastructure literature. Secondly, it provides an initial conceptual clarification of the ICT convergence discourse. Thirdly, it suggests a systems-theoretical unfolding of the identified core distinction between convergence and divergence, namely the convergence paradox. Finally, the role of technology in these discourses is examined. This dissertation analyses the notion of convergence and provides a systems-theoretical understanding of its dynamics from a second-order cybernetics perspective. The theoretical framework of this study is based on Niklas Luhmann's Theory of Social Systems. More specifically, it uses analytical strategies based on the work by Nils A. Andersen to understand the characteristics of convergence, eventually to unfold the convergence paradox. The empirical study investigates the convergence discourses around mobile Voice-over-IP in the UK from 2000-2009. The corpus of data encompasses 39 semi-structured interviews with telecommunications experts in the field of mobile VoIP, a wide range of documents, and direct observations from practitioners' conferences. The empirical study has been part of the EPSRC / Mobile VCE Core-5 Flexible Networks Project. This dissertation contributes to the broad multi-disciplinary literature of studies dealing with the phenomenon of ICT convergence, more specifically to that on information infrastructures. It develops a conceptual clarification of the notion of convergence. The findings of this dissertation suggest seeing convergence as a difference-reduction programme. This conceptualisation has the following consequences. Firstly, it suggests that convergence is observer-dependent. Secondly, it suggests that its counter-concept is not divergence or fragmentation but rather the maintenance of difference, i.e. control. Thirdly, it suggests that convergence has to deal with the typical unintended consequences inherent in difference-reduction programmes. Furthermore, while ICT convergence treated as difference-reduction programme challenges the existing identity of the infrastructure, the primary role of control is to maintain this difference. The dynamics between these two operations seem to lead to the emergence of further fragmentation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Information Technology, Multimedia Communications
Sets: Collections > ProQuest Etheses
Departments > Management
URI: http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/2390

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