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Habermas and the Net

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Presentation at the International Communication Association (ICA) conference in Singapore, 2010 by Mark Balnaves, Tama Leaver and Michele Willson.
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Habermas and the Habermas and the Net Net Mark Balnaves, Tama Leaver, & Michele Willson Department of Internet Studies, Curtin University International Communication Association (ICA) Conference, Singapore, June 2010
Page 1: Habermas and the Net

Habermas and the NetHabermas and the NetMark Balnaves,Tama Leaver,

& Michele Willson

Department of Internet Studies,Curtin University

International Communication Association (ICA)Conference, Singapore, June 2010

Page 2: Habermas and the Net

"I don't think he [Habermas] really gets the Internet."

- Axel Bruns, 2006(blog post after Habermas's keynote address at the 2006 ICA conference,


"He [Habermas] simply does not understand the Internet”

- Howard Rheingold, 2007(blog post, http://www.smartmobs.com/2007/11/05/


Page 3: Habermas and the Net

Communicative spaces are not just neutral technological spaces

Discourse for Habermas– Enables people to recognise the intentions of

others participating in a discourse;– There is no force or coercion in the discourse;– There is the opportunity to come to a consensus,

even if it is not an perfect consensus, on opinions and facts

Page 4: Habermas and the Net

Habermas embraces the virtual

“If there is to be a realistic application of the idea of the sovereignty of the people to highly complex society, it must be uncoupled from the concrete understanding of its embodiment in physically present, participating, and jointly deciding members of a collectivity.”

- Jurgen Habermas, 1992, 462

Page 5: Habermas and the Net

… but aggregation of public opinion on the Internet problematic

• The data aggregators, like Acxiom, have taken on a proxy role in public opinion formation;

• The materiality of the Internet, “protocol”, also has indirect effects on public opinion formation

Page 6: Habermas and the Net



Page 7: Habermas and the Net

Google … Social Search?

Page 8: Habermas and the Net

Friend or enemy of diversity?

The ease of limiting Google to search your social network rather than the entire Internet – achieved essentially with one click – can determine whether the web is explored as an enormous collection of different views, perspectives and information, or whether only a predefined group of friends or connections is searched.

Page 9: Habermas and the Net

And thus we need to consider that…

Facilitated by protocol, the Internet is the most highly controlled mass media

hitherto known.

(Galloway, 2004, 243)

Page 10: Habermas and the Net

Positioning Habermas – public sphere Galloway- protocol

Instrumentally Analytical tool Concept-tool

‘Location’ practiced

Outside of market and state (system)

Outside of corporate, institutional, govt. power.

HistoricallyEarly capitalism; changing

notions of sovereignty, human/individual rights

Network mode of organization;

decentralised networks

Structurally Horizontal - horizontal

Conduit People, opinions, writing

Process, code, interoperability

Access Bourgeois, Open to all negotiated


Homogeneous originally, later to be multiple publics – universal form/process but

heterogeneous content

Universal/standardised but with heterogeneity

Page 11: Habermas and the Net

Who or what controls….

The key question therefore is never whether control does or does not exist, but rather to ask: What is the quality of this control? Where does it come from? Is it being wielded by governments or deployed at the level of machinic infrastructure?.What is the specific

character of information organization? This is the basic question of protocol.

( Galloway interview, 2009)

Page 12: Habermas and the Net

Your thoughts?

Mark [email protected]

Tama Leaver (Twitter: @tamaleaver) [email protected]

Michele [email protected]