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It now boasts over five hundred members spread equably across the country. Members are usually found in small rural communities of less than five thousand inhabitants, of which there are a great number in Hungary, although a few members can also be found in larger towns and cities. The ideological basis of the telecottage movement proposes that despite being linked into a national network by their membership of the association, these local centres are able to operate fairly and democratically, and there is no central authority.

Thus the strong degree of local embeddedness of each centre in its community ensures that the interests, needs and wishes of the local community are always at the top of the agenda. Rather then deciding centrally what is needed, the HTA sees its role as an enabler, trying to give people the kinds of equipment and the training necessary to make use of this equipment, as well as the networking abilities to develop themselves and their own communities as they see fit.

In this paper I will explore how the HTA was imagined through a complex series of assumptions regarding socio-technical activity and the structural forms of civil society made up of civil organizations. I suggest that a domain of political action, a space in which it is possible to articulate certain specific political goals relating to democracy and the transition to EU membership is created by this process of imagining.

Despite the fact that technology is viewed as a tool with which to achieve social goals, I shall use ethnography to introduce the moral and social aspects through which Hungary is imagined as a certain kind of space by those at the HTA, and how this relies heavily on the simultaneous and inextricable mixing of both social and technological activities and imaginings. One crucial element of the HTA is its website. The website is the main way that announcements regarding funding opportunities and relevant world or domestic news are made to the individual telecottages and other civil society organizations by the central office.

It is the main channel through which the leadership can efficiently communicate within the entire HTA.

It is also the main source of internal, HTA-related news and information exchange between the individual telecottages. The website forum provides a crucial space in which key issues are debated. Thus, this website was a very significant source of information in my research. Ethnographically speaking, I viewed the website as an important source of information for my research. However, as the following story will show, I initially greatly underestimated its importance to those with whom I was working. The significance of this will, I hope, become clear.

Ostensibly, it was entirely normal for a member of the leadership to place things on the website, to remove older information, to edit content as necessary, or to instigate debate across the association over a given issue. They felt that this person, G, was abusing his power to control website content by presenting his own personal activities and interests as if they were those of the organization. He had met with a government minister, and on the website gave news that the association had agreed to take part in a particular project, about which other members of the leadership knew nothing.

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Thus, I was told, that he was threatening the future ability of the HTA to act effectively as a social force by impinging on its ability to act as an effective lobbying force. Initially, it seemed to me that the extreme importance of the website to the organization was highlighted by the strength of the reaction to these apparent transgressions.

However, what happened next made me realize that there was a lot more going on than I had first thought. A week or so later, G himself became extremely angry, telling me that his name had been removed from all the posts he had made on the website over the past two and a half years. This series of events was unprecedented in the history of the organization, and I was fascinated that the website was being employed in this struggle for power. At the time, I could not explain why reactions to these events were so strong.

I myself found the accusations levelled at G very difficult to believe and had seen nothing to confirm what was being said, despite the fact that I spent a great deal of time with him in the course of my work. In fact it was later quietly made clear to me by several of my colleagues in the office that this had indeed been a deliberate act as a part of a struggle within the executive committee between G and some of the others.

According to what I had witnessed, and drawing conclusions from speaking to both those in the central Budapest office and the managers of several telecottages, I became increasingly convinced that G was the subject of false accusations. His close personal relationship with many of the telecottage managers and staff meant that it was, in fact, highly unlikely that he would get away with the kind of duplicitous posting on the site of which he was accused.

He has not, however, regained his right to contribute. Ethnographically, I was very interested in some of the assumptions that were being made by both G and his accusers regarding the HTA and the communicative power of the network. They also spoke to each other a great deal, used the phone or direct internet contact through software such as the messenger, attended local area and regional, as well as national meetings, followed the news in general and, of course, spoke directly with my colleagues at the central office when they were unsure about things. So given this situation, what was everyone so angry about?

So what was it, then, that made access to and use of this website into such a highly charged issue?


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How did it come to be seen as such a crucial source of political influence within the organization? It seemed to me that even if the accusations against G were true, which they did not appear to be, this would still hardly justify the extent of the anger or the actions taken regarding access to the website. In the effort to try and answer this situation I began to consider how different kinds of fields of action were constituted through the debates and arguments that I have just narrated, and how different notions of space and the network were called into being. In order to understand this idea better I will borrow from the work of Tsing She describes a gold fever in Indonesia that lasted for years, with millions of dollars being invested, before it turned out there had never been any gold.

However, in both cases the spaces in question are the subject of emotional, highly moralized and often romanticized notions of the future. Within these spaces political power struggles took place based on these imagined ideas, leading to debates that became angry and overheated. Even when under only slightly closer scrutiny, the actual significance of these spaces to the debate in question was marginal. In order to develop these ideas I wish to explore in more detail how the technology was viewed by those working at the HTA. It was a tool which made it easier to achieve certain social goals: democratization and the building of a free market society.

People were committed to the general moral mission of progress, but confusion often reigned over how to attain the particular targets, and, as in the case above, disputes over control of technologies became imbued with a highly moralized sense of the right and wrong ways to behave, and the moral responsibilities of controlling different technological means. George Soros, one of the most significant figures in the transition to democracy began this ideological shift when he opened the first of his famous foundations in Hungary in , when the country was still under socialist rule.

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Vitally, the population were now responsible and educated enough to exercise both their rights, and their responsibilities, properly. As I have indicated, what came to interest me most during fieldwork was how these political changes were in fact cast in a moral light.


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  • Contained within the idea of transition is the notion of moving towards the countries of Western Europe. This aspect of freedom and democracy was seen not as a political statement Rose , but instead as being part of a generally and fundamentally positive move into a certain kind of future. As I have explained, when thus contextualized within the very specific and highly moralized framework of the HTA, the use to which a technology is put is always subject to moral appraisal about whether it is being used in the right or the wrong way.

    My ethnography is concerned with how this is happening within the HTA.

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    What I particularly wish to draw attention to here is the significant part played by the imagination in the formation of these fields. The assumption was that Hungary was made up of small communities, which each needed assistance to create a local information society so that it could cater for its own customs, needs and habits.

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    As it was understood, these telecottages, in each case the centre of this local information society, were joined into a nationwide network simultaneously through both the social form that was the organization—a network of local civil organizations— and the technological form that is the internet—the network metaphor par excellence. This could in turn be cast as providing the building blocks of an entirely civil oriented and de-politicized national information society from which the whole country could benefit.

    Local community activity was given space to express itself in a way that could only be called democratic and, it was hoped at least, would through this combined socio-technological network stimulate community participation and interest in national democratic politics. What we must understand here is the extent to which the network of telecottages was articulated in imaginative ways by those in the Budapest office according to the moralized goals of the HTA, and according to their own individual understandings of what those goals were or what they should be.

    When the others became angry with G, it was because he challenged the way they imagined their work and the space in which it was taking place. I felt that the whole notion of local information societies, linked through a network of telecottages into something national, was a rather romanticized notion of the village and the local community, based on socio-technical understandings of how these existed and how they were to be developed in the future.