Europeans and the Public Sphere: Communication without Community?

Researching the European Public Sphere and Its Political Functions. A Proposal [1]
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Drawing on Deweyan pragmatism, social constructivism, and the Habermasian notion of constitutional patriotism, this book moves beyond the conventional wisdom that a European public sphere necessitates the existence of a sense of European 'identity light'.

Maximilian Conrad | University of Iceland -

Arguing that a political sense of community along the lines of a European constitutional patriotism can only emerge out of the democratic process itself, Maximilian Conrad looks at the role of daily newspapers not only as framers of public debate, but also as actors with distinct normative views regarding the future of the integration process, both in terms of the nature of the EU as a polity and the nature of democratic rule in this polity. The crucial empirical question addressed in the book is: Do newspapers with a pronounced preference for more democracy beyond the nation state also play a more active role in providing forums for transnational debate?

A theoretically well-grounded and empirically rich investigation into the possibilities of a transnational public sphere and its capacities to bridge the deficits of social integration and democracy in Europe. At the same time, it provides a highly applicable analytical framework for the study of transnational communication in the media.

Who are the Public? Public Sphere, Opinions, Moods & History

Communicative Spaces between Communication and Community 3. Communication vs. Community: An Ontological Critique—and Beyond 4. As much as political deliberation remained, it was subsumed under the commercial imperative. As Guy Debord pointed out in the late s, media politics relegated most people to the sideline, inducing passivity, and the sphere of politics served less and less an informational purpose, but was organized as entertainment, an increasingly elaborate spectacle created for consumption, masking, rather than revealing, politics Debord With the commercialization of the media, particularly the rise of private television, the balance within mass media shifted decisively in favor of commercial interests and their allies within the political system.

One of the most extreme cases was Silvio Berlusconi, a media mogul who became the Italian prime minister in , initially motivated to protect his TV empire and then used his control over private television and the continuous production of spectacles to remain in power for four consecutive terms. During the late s, early s the structure of the public sphere began to shift again.

The Internet, a new medium for renewed many-to-many communication, became itself a mass medium. While established broadcast media and the politicians who had come to power through them were slow to react, the new medium was enthusiastically adopted by those whose views and interests were not represented by the mass media.

This was either because they were too marginal to be profitably addressed within the structure of broadcast, or because they were barred from voicing their concerns for political, commercial or moral reasons. They found the new media ideally capable of establishing their own, self-organized spaces in which they could develop their own set of references, ways of being in the world and ways of acting Stalder Initially, this led to a real expansion of the capacity to speak, as more people from more diverse backgrounds and interests could organize public speech outside the mass media, and to a growth in cultural diversity accompanied by hopes for a more inclusive and expansive democracy Sclove These hopes, as we know today, failed to materialize.

But why? There are several reasons. First, the effects of the expansion of communities, of self-organized groups of like-minded people who share interests and perspectives have been very ambiguous.

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On the other hand, this proliferation of communities also led to a fragmentation of interests and of world-views, driving them ever further apart. This, again, has different reasons. One is that the need to create and maintain a shared horizon turns such groups inwards. The most important thing is what happens inside the group because without this constant orientation toward each other or, more precisely, towards each others communication they would fall apart.

After all groups are created through the practice of communication and without continuous communication, they would cease to exist. But not just any communication, there needs to be just the right amount of agreement things that are taken for granted and this do not need to be discussed, allowing the discussion of focus on particular issues and dynamic change novel contribution to a shared resource, new information and ideas to be debated and made use of, or simply enjoyed like a funny cat picture. The social mass media, with their ability to share, comment and like, are created precisely for this type of communication.

Within such a structure of communicative community, if the agreement within the group becomes too small, then to communication becomes burdensome and the community falls apart. If change ceases to the introduced in a productive manner, the community falls silent, like an old couple who already knows what the other person will say without him or her actually saying it. This inward orientation allows these communities to develop a shared world-view, but it increasingly estranges them from each other. They grow apart and the points of reference they share are shrinking.

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The others become increasingly unintelligible. The second dynamic that drives this fragmentation has to do with a general cognitive strategy for reducing complexity and dealing with information overload. Namely, by filtering out information that does not fit into existing cognitive structures, that is information that would contradict already established narratives and opinions and is thus difficult and time-consuming to interpret and make sense of.

People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. Confirmation bias is now part of the infrastructures of communication. The third dynamic is related to the fact that more and more aspects of our daily life are becoming mediated and, as society becomes more complex, less and less of the reality is intelligible through direct inspection.

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But the mediated reality, as propagandists and advertisers have known for a very long time, is quite easily manipulated, because every mediation is also a fabrication. In digital media, this is even more the case, because the manipulation can be produced at a mass scale, thanks to advances in automated image, audio and video editing, in real time and high quality, and at the same time, tailored to very small, increasingly closed in terms of their cognitive outlook groups.

This further erodes what might be experienced as a shared reality.

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Europeans and the Public Sphere: Communication Without Community? [ Maximilian Conrad] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. What kind. What kind of public sphere is possible in the European Union with its considerable diversity of national identities, Communication Without Community?.

Last but not least, broadcast media which remain important as a way to bridge between these fragmented groups, are often following the leads social media, not the least because they are easy to follow and cheap to report on. Given the need to get it first, rather than get it right, they often report social media sentiment as reality — which in some way, it is, because it is what people or bots masquerading as people are talking about — thus further validating the distorted perceptions and feeding a sense of constant, more or less random, scandals and conflict, chasing each other at high speeds.

But I use it here because it still is a structure, networked now, from which a specific type of politics emerges. At the moment, there are three strategies reacting to the affordances of this new structure. The weakest strategy is calls to reason and affirmation of the importance of quality media and fact-based reporting. As a researcher and scientist who, , is committed to Enlightenment ideals, I can sympathize with such calls, but they ring hollow in my ears.

Because they are, in a way, calls to an idealized past of deliberative democracy and Habermasian discourse ethics that was already in decline when Habermas wrote his analysis in the early s. Thus, it is unlikely to be effective for reasons to numerous to elaborate on here. The currently most successful political strategies are focusing on increasing the antagonism and division.

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Their aim is to create fear and confusion in people to which a strong leader is offered as a relief. He or she is portrayed as standing above the fray and able speak over the cacophony of voices. The most hopeful in terms of a renewal of democracy strategies go in the opposite direction. They are trying to use the new organizational capacity of digital many-to-many communication to reconnect the digital with the physical and thus limit the opportunities of undetectable and pervasive manipulation by creating new moments of direct physical experience shared with others.

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This was most evident in the wave of occupations of public squares between and that were organized through digital media, but manifested themselves squares, creating opportunities for diverse groups to meet and find, most literally, common ground. Depending on the local conditions, these movements were either suppressed, swept away by dynamics they unleashed but could not control, or transformed themselves into new political actors that entered the political systems while trying to bring new forms of participation and deliberation, learned in the squares and organized through digital media, into formal politics.

They are trying to reinvent democracy for the 21 st century, by transforming the space of deliberation and creating new ways of participation. If if the app of your car-sharing systems shows you that there is a car around the corner and then you go there and the parking space is empty, then there is not much to debate about the merits of digital information.

Rethinking the Public Sphere under the Digital Condition

So, the old forms of democracy, the established ways of how the public sphere has been constructed, are in a deep crisis and no amount of appeals to an idealized past will save it. They are clearly no longer up to the task of organizing an increasingly complex society. Boeder, Pieter. First Monday.


View Product. But they may find each other indirectly through news feeds and linking. The currently most successful political strategies are focusing on increasing the antagonism and division. A new class of participants in the public debate emerges: The practitioners of public relations, distinguished from the advertisers by their claim to the public sphere. References Related Information. The Phantom Public Sphere.

Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. London: Rebel Press. Fine, Cordelia. New York: Icon Books. Habermas, Juergen. Harvey, David. Paperback ed.