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Political Science in Europe

Internet as a Tool of Disintermediation: The Case of the Five Star Movement

Cyber Politics
Political Leadership
Political Participation
Political Parties
Party Members
Cecilia Biancalana
Université de Lausanne
Cecilia Biancalana
Université de Lausanne

According to Chadwick (2007, 232) disintermediation means «removing intermediaries from a supply chain, a transaction, or, more broadly, any set of social, economic, or political relations». After being used in the 1980s in the financial sector, during the dot-com boom of the 1990s the term became popular and it was used to capture the ways in which the Internet was reducing the role of previously powerful organizations in social, economic, and political life.
Since the most important intermediate body in the political field is, without doubt, the political party, then political disintermediation can be defined as the (rhetorical or practical) attempt to remove or skip the mediation role of the political party through an increasing power given to the leader and/or the party supporters. And, although attempts to skip the mediation role of the parties can be also found outside the Web (e.g. primary elections, personalization, presidentialization), we can say that the Internet remains a great disintermediation tool.
In this paper I will analyse the role of the Internet as a disintermediation tool regarding the organization of a new Italian party: the Five Star Movement. The Five Star Movement is a new (founded in 2009), innovative and successful Italian party whose communication, organization and ideology has been deeply shaped by a certain vision of the Internet. Indeed, the party «headquarters» and official means of communication is the leader's blog, and members can participate to the national life of the party only through online votes or online applications. Although the presence of a cyber-optimistic rhetoric on the virtues of online grassroots participation, the Internet has been used by the party in a very centralised manner.
After having outlined the dimensions of the concept of disintermediation – disintermediation «from above» (increased role of the leader) and «from below» (increased power to the supporters); rhetorical and practical disintermediation – I will reconstruct the organizational history of the party, especially with relation to its use of the Internet, paying attention to the distinction between rhetoric, practices and to the «direction» of the process of disintermediation. I will outline a number of important «events» in the organizational history of the party and analyse them and the party’s discourse on them.
The questions I want to answer are: how the Internet is used in this party? How the use of the Internet in party organization evolved over time? I hypothesise that the party employs «disintermediation from above» regarding practices and «disintermediation from below» regarding its rhetoric.
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