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Political communication in media society and Internet life

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  • Gary Davis
    Political Communication in Media Society is an exemplary translation of Habermasian theory into practical work for the sake of advancing the public sphere in
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 24, 2006
      "Political Communication in Media Society" is an
      exemplary translation of Habermasian theory into
      practical work for the sake of advancing the public
      sphere in complex societies. It's an
      empirically-informed appropriation of Habermas'
      political philosophy to normal political science of
      the public sphere in complex societies. I believe that
      he completely succeeds in his endeavor "to make use of
      a communication model of deliberative politics for the
      interpretation of empirical findings" (last
      paragraph), which he also applies to critical ends for
      the sake of advancing progressive normative

      I've provided a better-formatted version of his
      lecture (as PDF), which is now much more readable,
      while being half the number of pages of his version;
      and which also includes a citation missing from JH's
      footnotes and correction of a few typographical


      That folder, "Political_Communication," also includes
      JH's slides for the lecture and a German article
      reporting on the event.

      * * *

      Midway in his presentation, he comments on his sense
      of the Internet in all of this. His attitude seem
      incognizant of the importance of Internet life for
      notions he advocates later in his lecture. Internet
      discussion is actually more consonant with his sense
      of plural publics and issue-centered politics than he
      seems to recognize. At ftn. 14 (p. 5 of my PDF), he

      JH> ...The Internet has certainly reactivated the
      grassroots of an egalitarian public of writers and
      readers. However, computer-mediated communication in
      the Web can claim unequivocal democratic merits only
      for a special context: it can undermine the censorship
      of authoritarian regimes who try to control and
      repress public opinion. ...

      GD: It should be clear from JH's work that "democratic
      merit" has far more to it than emancipatory value (via
      potential to "undermine"), since anything which
      contributes to the vast array of features of a
      democratic society would qualify for democratic
      merit---and anything which contributes *significantly*
      to those features might qualify as "unequivocal" in
      merit. I believe that the Internet is contributing
      much more to democratic life than JH appreciates.

      JH> ...In the context of liberal regimes, however, the
      online debates of web users tend instead to lead to
      the fragmentation of large mass audiences into a huge
      number of isolated issue publics.

      GD: No doubt, we onliners tend to contribute to a huge
      number of issue publics; just look at the topography
      of Yahoo! Groups. But are we "isolated" and
      "fragmented"? Isolated from what, our localities? No,
      at least not due to Internet activity. JH endorses a
      pluralism of "considered public opinions" within the
      sphere of public opinion (section III of his lecture),
      even though, in fact (he stresses), the majority of
      public opinion is not yet "considered" or
      deliberative, and this pertains to the Internet, too.
      If nothing else, the Internet is a massive hive of
      public opinions (and so much more). He endorses a
      pluralism of issue publics within the public sphere
      (or multiple spheres composing The Public Sphere).
      That's no different from issue publics on the

      JH> The rise of millions of fragmented chat rooms....

      GD: Chat rooms are allegedly fragmented, but, say,
      offices and meetings in organizations are not? Of
      course, they sometimes are, too, but largely *not*
      because of their organizational embeddedness. Likewise
      for political communication online, relative to the
      lifeworlds of participants (who often know each other
      offline). Habermas has a specious presumption about
      online life, as if its participants don't largely do
      other things, just as local political participation
      emerges from a life that is largely engaged with its
      private goings on.

      JH> ...[This] across the world endangers only
      political communication within established public
      spheres, when news groups crystallize around the focal
      points of print media, e.g., national newpapers and
      magazines, which are the pillars of national public

      GD: This is nonsensical.

      Firstly, confusing news groups with chat rooms is
      ignorant. Secondly, the national media (whose content
      is often as globalized as the membership of online
      issue publics) increasingly sponsor their own forums,
      which vastly expands their sensitivity to their
      subscribers' opinions, beyond the letter-to-editor
      genre (thereby probably enriching the national
      medium's representativeness); significantly enriches
      subscriber access to each others' opinions (since the
      forums are public); and greatly facilitates subscriber
      engagement with issues, which would affect local
      participatory activity.

      Thirdly, "established public spheres" are more harmed
      by passive couch potatoes than the participative
      online world of articulative opinion and feedback,
      especially as this becomes more video-oriented (but
      the textuality of this participation has all the
      efficacy of writing generally, i.e., taking time to
      articulate one's opinion in writing).

      What *are* the "established public spheres" which are
      allegedly harmed? It can't be local participation,
      because articulative activity only helps potential for
      political communication. Besides, better a chat room
      than wandering a mall! The harm can't be to the ease
      of emailing a political representative, an editor, a
      political group, etc., etc., based on the articulation
      of opinion in online life.

      I'm taking time to say this because I see potential in
      Habermas' discussion, sans his Internet opinion, that
      Habermas does not. I see a grand role for the Internet
      in democratic society, which Habermas' theory-practice
      translation supports, but which he evidently doesn't
      appreciate, not only in terms of "issue publics," but
      in terms of many of the aspects of the complex public
      sphere to which JH overtly gives democratic merit.

      More on this sometime later. This note is more or less
      just a flagging of potential seen in his work for
      appreciating this medium. Heck, if he sought to
      participate in a moderated blog, a concerted effort
      here (Yahoo! Groups) could create a subscription base
      of discussion involving thousands in relatively short
      order, across tens of universities worldwide, and tens
      of other media. But who would *want* that? Who's got
      the time? Who wants an "established public sphere"
      without moderation and editing? Who wants a local
      organization with so many meetings that one risks
      one's home life and work? What *do* we really need
      from an established public sphere? Habermas' lecture
      addresses that kind of question exemplarily. And
      online life does nothing to harm the richness of his
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