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The Internet and Democratic Discourse: Exploring The Prospects of Online Deliberative Forums Extending the Public Sphere

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Three prominent 'camps' have emerged within Internet democracy rhetoric and practice, each drawing upon different models of democracy: communitarian, liberal individualist and deliberative. Much interest has been shown in the former two camps by researchers and policy makers. This paper turns to an examination of the possible realization of the third camp's vision - that the public sphere of rational-critical discourse will be extended through cyberspace. This paper's method is to compare existing online discourse with a set of requirements of the public sphere developed from the work of J├╝rgen Habermas. Previous research of cyber-interactions reveals a number of factors limiting the expansion of the public sphere online. Toexplore how these limitations may be overcome, the paper examines an online democracy project that explicitly attempts to foster deliberation. It is shown how this initiative has been able to successfully surmount many of the impediments identified in less structured online deliberations, but that it has, along with similar projects, failed to gain a representative sample of the population and is increasingly marginalized by commercial sites, virtual communities of common interest, and liberal individualist political practices. The paper concludes that the expansion of the public sphere through the Internet requires not only developing deliberative spaces but also attracting participation from citizens who have been socialized within a commercialized and individualized culture hostile towards public deliberation.
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Keywords: DELIBERATIVE DEMOCRACY; E-DEMOCRACY; INTERNET; PUBLIC SPHERE

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 December 2001

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