Book Review of »Free Speech« by Timothy Garton Ash

Some time ago I was invited to review “Free Speech. Ten principles for a connected world” written by the British historian and writer Timothy Garton Ash. The review has now been published in the journal Organization Studies. The full text is available at the journal’s website. Here is a brief excerpt of my review.

Although the book is almost encyclopaedic, its main aim is not simply to represent the freedom of speech debate and its various positions, but to intervene in the world and to contribute to its transformation. It “invites a conversation about free speech” (p. 142), develops, promotes and defends a liberal position, and proposes principles of how to organize our relations in the “mixed up, connected world as city” (p. 19), that Ash calls “cosmopolis”. In this “crowded world”, he argues, “we must learn to navigate by speech” (p. 4). For students of organization, the book offers many points of entry for reflecting on the current conditions of organizing and its relation to free speech. How do organizations influence, control, and limit what we can say? What are the forms of power that shape and organize what we can say and see in and through the internet? What are the transformative potentials of organizing created by the affordances of the internet? (How) can “free speech” be organized, given that any form of organizing implies closure and exclusions? What are the organizing principles for a self-governing community, in which the principles of “free speech” can be actualized?

The internet has fundamentally transformed life in general and the conditions of communication in particular. It not only offers new possibilities of “free speech”, but also reveals its fundamental ambivalence. “[N]ever in human history was there such a chance for freedom of expression as this. And never have the evils of unlimited free expression – death threats, paedophile images, sewage-tides of abuse – flowed so easily across frontiers” (p. 127). Unknown freedoms of expression and unprecedented forms of control and surveillance coexist and create an ambivalent space of experience.

In case you are interested and your institution doesn’t have access to the full-text, I would be happy to send it to you via e-mail.

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