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Asylum Politics, the Internet and the Public Sphere: UK Refugee Support Groups Online
Unformatted Document Text:  2 critical public as the only appropriate means of conducting politics, and foreground Internet use as a tool for political praxis rather than a neutral public sphere. Public Sphere Theory, Deliberative Democracy and the Internet The narrative of the public sphere, as told by Habermas (1962/1989), holds that the relative freedom and autonomy obtained through private ownership, alongside the setting of boundaries between the state and society, led the bourgeois public of the 18 th century Europe to create a public sphere in the salons and coffee houses, where men met and debated on issues. In principle open, although in practice open only to some, the bourgeois public sphere has been truly radical because in it, it was not the identity and status of the speaker which determined the outcome of a debate, but the best argument. In other words, status differentials were, according to Habermas, ‘bracketed out’, thus foregrounding the rationality and persuasiveness of the discourse itself. This idealised public sphere was based on a clear state/civil society demarcation, whilst it further demanded that reasoned argumentation be the character of its discourse. Central to the proper functioning of the public sphere is the principle of publicity, whereby affairs should be made public and submitted to the scrutiny of the public. The principle of publicity constitutes not only the operating principle of the public sphere, but it further defines its political function as “that of subjecting the affairs that it made public to the control of a critical public” (Habermas 1989:140). In Habermas’s narrative, the structural transformation of the public sphere is due to a change in the type of publicity contained therein: from a critical publicity aimed at a rational critical public, it has become a representational, show-like publicity, brought about by the rise of advertising and public relations. The latter publicity is aimed at a consuming public, or a public reminiscent of the feudal times, where publicity was of the representational type, and rulers exhibited themselves to their subjects, who then acted as spectators for such a drama. The resurgence of representational publicity, and the associated consumer oriented public, has led Habermas to formulate a critique based on the ‘refeudalisation’ of the public sphere. Two criteria for the functioning of the public sphere seem to follow from the above: a critical publicity and a rational critical public. In his later work, and specifically in his Theory of Communicative Action (1984), Habermas refined his critique of the public sphere, by introducing a division in social life, comprising two domains, the system and the lifeworld, both having a private and a public dimension. The ‘system’ refers to the domain of the state and power - the public aspect - and to that of the economy and money - the private aspect; the ‘lifeworld’ consists of the family (private) and the public sphere (public). The problem now is reformulated as a colonisation of the lifeworld by system imperatives, meaning essentially money and power. The solution offered by Habermas moves through introducing yet another division, this time comprising types of purposive action: instrumental, strategic and communicative. Instrumental and strategic action are both oriented towards success – this “defined as the appearance in the world of a desired state, which can, in a given situation, be causally produced through goal oriented action or omission” (Habermas 1984, 285). Instrumental action refers to the following of technical rules, associated with the task elements of our social roles. Strategic action involves the following of rules of rational choice, and geared towards ‘influencing the decisions of a rational opponent’ (ibid.: 285). Contrarily, communicative action is oriented towards reaching understanding; actors “pursue their individual goals under the condition that they harmonize their plans of action on the basis of common situation definitions. In this respect the negotiation of definitions of the situation is an essential element of the interpretative accomplishments required for communicative action.”(ibid., 286). ‘Understanding’ is defined as the process of reaching agreement over such ‘definitions of the situation’. Evidently, it is communicative action that is associated to the public sphere and to the fulfilment of its political functions. The criteria emerging here thus include the requirement that the communications encountered in the public sphere are of the communicative action type, and hence that they be oriented

Authors: Siapera, Eugenia.
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2
critical public as the only appropriate means of conducting politics, and foreground Internet use as a tool
for political praxis rather than a neutral public sphere.
Public Sphere Theory, Deliberative Democracy and the Internet
The narrative of the public sphere, as told by Habermas (1962/1989), holds that the relative
freedom and autonomy obtained through private ownership, alongside the setting of boundaries
between the state and society, led the bourgeois public of the 18
th
century Europe to create a public
sphere in the salons and coffee houses, where men met and debated on issues. In principle open,
although in practice open only to some, the bourgeois public sphere has been truly radical because in it,
it was not the identity and status of the speaker which determined the outcome of a debate, but the best
argument. In other words, status differentials were, according to Habermas, ‘bracketed out’, thus
foregrounding the rationality and persuasiveness of the discourse itself. This idealised public sphere
was based on a clear state/civil society demarcation, whilst it further demanded that reasoned
argumentation be the character of its discourse. Central to the proper functioning of the public sphere is
the principle of publicity, whereby affairs should be made public and submitted to the scrutiny of the
public. The principle of publicity constitutes not only the operating principle of the public sphere, but it
further defines its political function as “that of subjecting the affairs that it made public to the control of a
critical public” (Habermas 1989:140). In Habermas’s narrative, the structural transformation of the public
sphere is due to a change in the type of publicity contained therein: from a critical publicity aimed at a
rational critical public, it has become a representational, show-like publicity, brought about by the rise of
advertising and public relations. The latter publicity is aimed at a consuming public, or a public
reminiscent of the feudal times, where publicity was of the representational type, and rulers exhibited
themselves to their subjects, who then acted as spectators for such a drama. The resurgence of
representational publicity, and the associated consumer oriented public, has led Habermas to formulate
a critique based on the ‘refeudalisation’ of the public sphere. Two criteria for the functioning of the public
sphere seem to follow from the above: a critical publicity and a rational critical public.
In his later work, and specifically in his Theory of Communicative Action (1984), Habermas
refined his critique of the public sphere, by introducing a division in social life, comprising two domains,
the system and the lifeworld, both having a private and a public dimension. The ‘system’ refers to the
domain of the state and power - the public aspect - and to that of the economy and money - the private
aspect; the ‘lifeworld’ consists of the family (private) and the public sphere (public). The problem now is
reformulated as a colonisation of the lifeworld by system imperatives, meaning essentially money and
power. The solution offered by Habermas moves through introducing yet another division, this time
comprising types of purposive action: instrumental, strategic and communicative. Instrumental and
strategic action are both oriented towards success – this “defined as the appearance in the world of a
desired state, which can, in a given situation, be causally produced through goal oriented action or
omission” (Habermas 1984, 285). Instrumental action refers to the following of technical rules,
associated with the task elements of our social roles. Strategic action involves the following of rules of
rational choice, and geared towards ‘influencing the decisions of a rational opponent’ (ibid.: 285).
Contrarily, communicative action is oriented towards reaching understanding; actors “pursue their
individual goals under the condition that they harmonize their plans of action on the basis of common
situation definitions. In this respect the negotiation of definitions of the situation is an essential element
of the interpretative accomplishments required for communicative action.”(ibid., 286). ‘Understanding’ is
defined as the process of reaching agreement over such ‘definitions of the situation’. Evidently, it is
communicative action that is associated to the public sphere and to the fulfilment of its political
functions. The criteria emerging here thus include the requirement that the communications
encountered in the public sphere are of the communicative action type, and hence that they be oriented


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