June 28, 2012

The Public Sphere in a Networked Society

Writing about web page http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/1280/1200

Public sphere is a discursive space in which individuals and groups associate to discuss matters of mutual interest, and where possible, to reach a common judgement about them... (Hauser, 1998:21)

The public sphere is "not a marketplace, nor is it a coffeehouse, a salon, an organisation or a newspaper" (Hinton, 1998). Rather, the public sphere transcends these physical appearances as an abstract forum for dialogue and ideology–free public opinion, a lively debate on multiple levels within society (culled from Boeder)

Peter Boeder has written an interesting article that points out why Habermas's public sphere theory remains relevant in this networked age.

He recognises the challenges posed against the idea of the Internet as a potential public sphere due to factors such as media ownership and commodification; yet he defends the notion that Habermas's key concept is still valuable to media theory today.

Some of his key points include the following:

  • The emergence and convergence of electronic mass media have radically changed the notion of the public sphere
  • The strength of the public sphere concept to survive critiques from postmodernists lies in its presumption of reason - the human ability to define and solve problems
  • The future of the public sphere resides with digital media, which offers a variety of possibilities, as networks enhance and change social structures.

Certain key questions Boeder raises in his piece are also worth investigating:

  • Do the new media like the Internet, offer a shallow authentic discourse, or do they contribute a new quality to the public sphere?
  • Can virtual communities contribute to the revival of public debate, or are they mere distracting simulation?

It would be interesting to have a look at Jodi Dean's Why the Net is Not a Public Sphere, and investigate her side of the argument.

Mark Poster also has an opinion on the NET as a PUBLIC SPHERE


Hauser, G. A. (1998) ‘Civil Society and the Principle of the Public Sphere’. Philosophy and Rhetoric, Vol. 31:1

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