Habermas and the Internet as Public Sphere.

German philosopher Jürgen Habermas is arguably most well know for his thoughts on the “public sphere,” which he defines as “a network for communicating information and points of view” which eventualy transform into public opinion. A noted Neo-Marxist, Habermas was critical of the rigid and undemocratic modes of communication in the contemporary world, but there is also much discussion in the past decade about the role of the Internet in Habermas’ schema of the public.

The question that needs to be asked about the relation of the Internet to democracy is this: are there new kinds of relations occuring within it which suggest new forms of power configurations between communicating individuals? In other words, is there a new politics on the Internet? One way to approach this question is to make a detour from the issue of technology and raise again the question of a public sphere, gauging the extent to which Internet democracy may become intelligible in relation to it.
– From CyberDemocracy: Internet and the Public Sphere by Mark Poster

In the digital age, the discussion about the public sphere has at the same time become increasingly relevant and increasingly problematic. The validity and relevance of post–modern critique to Habermas’ concept of the public sphere cannot be denied, yet the concept of a public sphere and Habermas’ notion of a critical publicity is still extremely valuable for media theory today. The public sphere is subject to dramatic change; one might even argue that it is on the verge of extinction. Computer–mediated communication has taken the place of coffeehouse discourse, and issues such as media ownership and commodification pose serious threats to the free flow of information and freedom of speech on the Web. I don’t believe the situation is quite that serious. I will give an introductory overview of Habermas’ theoretical concept and point out that it is conceptual rather than physical.
-From the First Monday article Habermas’ heritage: The future of the public sphere in the network society

Because the public sphere depends on free communication and discussion of ideas, as soon as your political entity grows larger than the number of citizens you can fit into a modest town hall, this vital marketplace for political ideas can be powerfully influenced by changes in communications technology.
– From Chapter 10, Disinformacy, from Howard Rheingold’s The Virtual Community

More Habermas meets Internet from Sage Publications:
Power, reason, closure: critical perspectives on new media theory
Colonization tendencies in the development of the world wide web
The politics of the web: the case of one newsgroup

People you should know (from the Whats New Media Wiki):
Jürgen Habermas
Howard Rheingold

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Filed under A democratic medium?, Networks, People, The Politics of New Media, The Reading Room, Virtual Communities

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