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Asylum Politics, the Internet and the Public Sphere: UK Refugee Support Groups Online
Unformatted Document Text:  14 the public sphere a priori prepared to change: the public sphere has to provide a public space for the solicitation of support, and the consolidation and reinforcement of positions– if not, we would have to discard the building of a common world among the refugee support groups, a considerable aspect of the currently observed Internet use, associated with strengthening a group of civil society. Secondly, to the extent that this building of a common world is predicated on an instrumental and strategic communication, the public sphere should also encompass these. Moreover, accepting instrumental and strategic communications in the public sphere appears to be the only way of enabling activists 10 to conduct politics –otherwise it would be impossible to influence government policy or public opinion in the absence of an ongoing public sphere debate 11 . Further, the public sphere should accept a variety of publicities, including the expressive or representational type; otherwise, the importance of the expressive or aesthetic publicity 12 for the recognition sought by refugees would be discarded to the detriment of a democratic politics understood as striving for justice and equality for all. Returning to Habermas’s revised definition of the public sphere as “denoting all those conditions of communication under which there can come into being a discursive formation of opinion and will on the part of a public” (1992: 446), then these conditions have to include the above. To conclude, the Internet uses we observed point to the an understanding of the Internet not as a neutral public sphere within which to deliberate, but both as a political tool in the hands of civil society, and, to the extent that it is public, as an expanded public space, where politics can be conducted in a multitude of ways. In this respect, the inclusion of the Internet in the public sphere, or the use of Internet in politics, necessarily entails a revision and expansion of the ways in which the public sphere is understood. Notes 1 These categories may refer to different groups of people yet it appears that any attempts to distinguish between such categories have, for all intents and purposes, served to delegitimise and penalise both asylum seekers and economic immigrants. In this paper the term ‘refugee’ is taken to refer to all. This follows from the radical position that ‘economic migrants’ are ‘refugees of globalism’ rendered homeless and impoverished by the advancement of a global capitalist ethics (Sivandan 2001). 2 “Indeed, an element intrinsic to the preconditions of communication of all practices of rational debate is the presumption of impartiality and the expectation that the participants question and transcend whatever their initial preferences may have been (Habermas, 1992: 447). Habermas further refers to Cohen’s (1989) four conditions for deliberations, including the rational argumentative character of deliberations; the inclusiveness of participation; freedom of external coercion, and freedom from internal coercion, and adds three more: that deliberations aim “at rationally motivated agreement’; that they extend in principle to any matter; and that they include the reinterpretation of prepolitical attitudes, needs and so on (1996: 306). 3 From this point on, and throughout the discussion of the empirical material, the term ‘Internet’ will denote the specific Internet usage on the part of the refugee support groups studied here. 4 And, as we shall see later, also to the mass media, looking for a reaction; this may also partly explain the sound bite aspect of some of the reactions. 5 For a critical review see Kelemen and Smith (2001). 6 Of interest here is that there was some evidence of a dispute between RAM and New Vision. In an online article, New Vision announced that it indefinitely suspended all ties with RAM ( www.newvision.org.uk/new_vision_breaks.htm ). This is the only evidence of dissent and disagreement within among refugee support groups, indirectly pointing to the existence of a debate, which though appears to take place elsewhere. 7 Apparently one of the most popular sites among those studied, according to its counter, measuring some 122480 visitors (3 May 2002) compared to, for instance, Positive Action in Housing ( www.paih.org.uk ) 15553 visitors (13 May 2002), and to the Safe Haven Campaign ( www.safe-haven.org.uk/ ): 2677 hits (3 May 2002). 8 This refers to the dispersal of refugees/asylum seekers in accommodation/housing across the nation, a scheme ostensibly devised to counter ghettoisation, but also the ‘burden’ posed on local authorities’ resources. The new 2002 Bill has made receiving income support contingent upon agreeing to be ‘dispersed’. 9 For a critique of the requirement for impartiality in the public sphere see Dean (1996). 10 See Young (2001) for the challenges set by activism to deliberative democracy. 11 Whilst for Habermas deliberations can in principle be resumed at any time (1996: 306), the impetus for such a resumption can only be in the first instance strategic, in the sense that it has to aim at influencing the decision of a rational actor (the state, the policy community, the public in general) to resume deliberations, and only secondarily become communicative or deliberative, in seeking understanding.

Authors: Siapera, Eugenia.
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the public sphere a priori prepared to change: the public sphere has to provide a public space for the
solicitation of support, and the consolidation and reinforcement of positions– if not, we would have to
discard the building of a common world among the refugee support groups, a considerable aspect of
the currently observed Internet use, associated with strengthening a group of civil society. Secondly, to
the extent that this building of a common world is predicated on an instrumental and strategic
communication, the public sphere should also encompass these. Moreover, accepting instrumental and
strategic communications in the public sphere appears to be the only way of enabling activists
10
to
conduct politics –otherwise it would be impossible to influence government policy or public opinion in
the absence of an ongoing public sphere debate
11
. Further, the public sphere should accept a variety of
publicities, including the expressive or representational type; otherwise, the importance of the
expressive or aesthetic publicity
12
for the recognition sought by refugees would be discarded to the
detriment of a democratic politics understood as striving for justice and equality for all. Returning to
Habermas’s revised definition of the public sphere as “denoting all those conditions of communication
under which there can come into being a discursive formation of opinion and will on the part of a public”
(1992: 446), then these conditions have to include the above. To conclude, the Internet uses we
observed point to the an understanding of the Internet not as a neutral public sphere within which to
deliberate, but both as a political tool in the hands of civil society, and, to the extent that it is public, as
an expanded public space, where politics can be conducted in a multitude of ways. In this respect, the
inclusion of the Internet in the public sphere, or the use of Internet in politics, necessarily entails a
revision and expansion of the ways in which the public sphere is understood.
Notes
1
These categories may refer to different groups of people yet it appears that any attempts to distinguish between such
categories have, for all intents and purposes, served to delegitimise and penalise both asylum seekers and economic
immigrants. In this paper the term ‘refugee’ is taken to refer to all. This follows from the radical position that ‘economic
migrants’ are ‘refugees of globalism’ rendered homeless and impoverished by the advancement of a global capitalist ethics
(Sivandan 2001).
2
“Indeed, an element intrinsic to the preconditions of communication of all practices of rational debate is the presumption of
impartiality and the expectation that the participants question and transcend whatever their initial preferences may have been
(Habermas, 1992: 447). Habermas further refers to Cohen’s (1989) four conditions for deliberations, including the rational
argumentative character of deliberations; the inclusiveness of participation; freedom of external coercion, and freedom from
internal coercion, and adds three more: that deliberations aim “at rationally motivated agreement’; that they extend in
principle to any matter; and that they include the reinterpretation of prepolitical attitudes, needs and so on (1996: 306).
3
From this point on, and throughout the discussion of the empirical material, the term ‘Internet’ will denote the specific
Internet usage on the part of the refugee support groups studied here.
4
And, as we shall see later, also to the mass media, looking for a reaction; this may also partly explain the sound bite aspect
of some of the reactions.
5
For a critical review see Kelemen and Smith (2001).
6
Of interest here is that there was some evidence of a dispute between RAM and New Vision. In an online article, New
Vision announced that it indefinitely suspended all ties with RAM (
www.newvision.org.uk/new_vision_breaks.htm
). This is the
only evidence of dissent and disagreement within among refugee support groups, indirectly pointing to the existence of a
debate, which though appears to take place elsewhere.
7
Apparently one of the most popular sites among those studied, according to its counter, measuring some 122480 visitors (3
May 2002) compared to, for instance, Positive Action in Housing (
www.paih.org.uk
) 15553 visitors (13 May 2002), and to the
Safe Haven Campaign (
www.safe-haven.org.uk/
): 2677 hits (3 May 2002).
8
This refers to the dispersal of refugees/asylum seekers in accommodation/housing across the nation, a scheme ostensibly
devised to counter ghettoisation, but also the ‘burden’ posed on local authorities’ resources. The new 2002 Bill has made
receiving income support contingent upon agreeing to be ‘dispersed’.
9
For a critique of the requirement for impartiality in the public sphere see Dean (1996).
10
See Young (2001) for the challenges set by activism to deliberative democracy.
11
Whilst for Habermas deliberations can in principle be resumed at any time (1996: 306), the impetus for such a resumption
can only be in the first instance strategic, in the sense that it has to aim at influencing the decision of a rational actor (the
state, the policy community, the public in general) to resume deliberations, and only secondarily become communicative or
deliberative, in seeking understanding.


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