Spectatorship as a Political Act. Re-Assessing the Digital Transformation of the Public Sphere 01/11/2021 - 31/10/2023

Abstract

The existence of a public sphere in which citizens encounter each other and enter into a debate on public and political matters has been a central concern of democratic theory. Since the 1990s, various authors have observed that the internet provides such a 'digital public sphere'. This observation has triggered a debate on the political implications of the digital transformation of the public sphere between so-called cyberoptimists and -pessimists. Both sides of the debate make use of the public sphere theories of Jürgen Habermas and Hannah Arendt. These theories still rely on speech-based models of participating in the public sphere. However, recent scholarship has shown that the experience of participating in the public sphere has become a largely visual experience thanks to the medium of the digital screen. This implies that the assessment of the political implications of that transformation departs from an inadequate understanding of the experience of participating in the digital public sphere today. To fill this gap, this project will first develop a thorough understanding of the medium specificity of the digital screen and the immersive and interactive visual experiences of participation that the digital screen affords. Based on this, a critical analysis will re-assess which conception of politics is needed to understand the political implications of the digital transformation of the public sphere.

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Project type(s)

  • Research Project