From industrial to digital citizenship: rethinking social rights in cyberspace

Growing social inequalities represent a major concern associated with the Digital Revolution. The article tackles this issue by exploring how welfare regulations and redistribution policies can be rethought in the age of digital capitalism. It focuses on the history and enduring crisis of social citizenship rights in their connection with technological changes, in order to draw a comparison between the industrial and the digital scenario. The first section addresses the link between the Industrial Revolution and the genesis of social rights. It describes the latter as a legal ‘machine’ designed to offset the imbalances produced by the technological movement of industrialization. The second and third sections introduce the notion of ‘industrial citizenship’ to describe the architecture of social rights in mature industrial societies and to contend that European systems of welfare are still largely modeled on an industrial standard. The fourth part investigates the impact of the Digital Revolution on this model of social citizenship. It identifies debates on basic income as a major trajectory for redesigning welfare regulations in a post-industrial era, and the digital user as a crucial emerging subject of rights. The final part explores how digital users could be entitled to social rights as data suppliers. To this end, it introduces the idea of ‘digital-social rights’ resulting from the incorporation of welfare and redistribution principles into emerging digital rights. Hence, it proposes a legal-political framework for the redistribution of the revenues generated by data in the form of a ‘digital basic income’ for citizens of cyberspace.

Federico Tomasello, From industrial to digital citizenship: rethinking social rights in cyberspace, Theory and Society, 2022.