Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Zizi Papacharissi / The virtual sphere: The internet as a public sphere – summary and review

According to Zizi Papacharissi in "The virtual sphere: The internet as a public sphere" web technology has the capacity for reestablishing the public sphere, giving the global public the possibility of freely and equally debate various issues. The problem that Papacharissi points to is the instead of promoting a new and equal behavioral patterns, it seems that the global capitalistic trend is still highly influential with the internet following it. For Papacharissi, the conditions for the constitution of a public sphere do not depend only on technology, but also on its users and owners.  
In did today's technology allows more people to engage in politics but this is still not sufficient, in Papacharissi's view, the reestablish the public sphere. At its beginning the internet seemed to hold a utopian promise of democracy. But Papacharissi says celebration were too early.
"The virtual sphere: The internet as a public sphere" tries to find out how political use of the internet will affect the public sphere. Papacharissi thinks that the internet promotes debate, which sustains a public sphere which in turn supports democracy. What Papacharissi is interested in is how internet discourse contributing to democracy.
For Papacharissi, there was never really a true public sphere in the sense that Jürgen Habermas described. Be it the Greek agora of the bourgeois public sphere, they were always exclusive rather than inclusive. What Papacharissi is asking now is whether the internet is capable of creating the long dreamt of public sphere that never existed. The other option is that the internet will become just another sphere which is controlled by capitalists (Papacharissi leans towards the second option).
According to Papacharissi, access to information in the internet remained unequal and even favors apathy. The exponential growth of the internet and content in it makes it hard for single, especially weak, voices to be heard. The ability to be anonymous allows the individual to say more, but his words mean less.
Papacharissi also holds that the internet is not really a public sphere. It was established by capitalism and for capitalism. The real interesting question that Papacharissi asks in " The virtual sphere: The internet as a public sphere" is weather to new public sphere of the internet be translated into material political action, and will people give up on the anonymity and expose themselves in the public sphere.  
See also:

Habermas' / The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society - summary