Accepted Paper:

The state of the future? E-stonia and the techno-utopian commodification of identity in the digital age  


Maximilian Curtis (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

The "E-stonia" model of e-governance and now e-residency promises a new vision of digital statecraft and a radical alternative to the international system. But this digital future of "government as a service" reflects Estonia's post-Soviet past and its capitalist, Silicon Valley-inspired present.

Paper long abstract:

If analog governments and techno-utopians eager to mimic the "E-stonia" model are to be believed, e-governance and e-residency embody nothing less than a new vision of virtual statecraft and a radical alternative to the existing international system. In Estonia, the so-called digital society mediates nearly every interaction with the state: citizen-users can vote, access health records, file taxes, sign documents, and open a business from any laptop or smartphone from anywhere in the world, thanks to the ostensible security of blockchain technology.

With the launch of e-residency in 2014, this model of "government as a service" has been expanded to 20,000 people from 138 countries who have started over 3,000 new companies in Estonia, with access to the EU market. To technophiles and capitalists alike, e-residency promises "a new digital nation for global citizens, powered by the Republic of Estonia" - and crucially, taxed by it too. In doing so, Estonia seeks to "reboot the state" for a world of "countries without borders", turning governments into start-ups and citizens into consumers.

E-stonia embodies the power of technology to make states more efficient and responsive, but it is also the culmination of the existing neoliberal vision of a world that remains truly borderless only for the powerful. Like all visions of the future, it says more about the past and the present - both Estonia's struggle to craft a coherent post-Soviet history and national identity, and its embrace of Silicon Valley ideology as a techno-utopian vision of the future.

Panel V07
Data infrastructures: practices and consequences