Does Habermas Understand the Internet? The Algorithmic Construction of the Blogo/Public Sphere

1 minute read


This is a paper that I recently got published in gnovis, which is a peer-reviewed journal run entirely by graduate students at Georgetown’s Communication, Culture, and Technology program.  It is a sneakishly Latourian intervention into the debate between Habermasians and post-Habermasians regarding the Internet as a (part of the) public sphere.   They have been arguing for some time about whether the Internet (and specifically blogging) leads to political fragmentation or real collective action.  However, they have all taken for granted the highly-automated software infrastructures that mediate our knowledge of the blogosphere.  The article is up in HTML on the gnovis site, but I’ve also made a full-text, metadata friendly PDF simply because Google Scholar likes those.   The abstract is after the jump.

Abstract:  Is computer-mediated discourse leading to collective political action in the public sphere, or simply more fragmentation? This question has been asked by social and political theorists ever since the Internet entered academia in the early 90s. However, this debate has been recently rekindled by Jurgen Habermas – one of the leading theorists of the public sphere – who recently broke a longstanding silence and spoke out against the Internet as a potentially democratizing medium. Instead of directly intervening in this debate, I interrogate the techno-epistemic conditions of possibility for ‘the blogosphere’ to exist as a sociopolitical entity. Specifically, I analyze social aggregation sites like Technorati, Delicious, Digg, and even Google, which make it possible for collective action to precipitate out of the Internet. I find that Habermasians should not fear fragmentation, but instead integration: the blogosphere as a public sphere is constructed and unified not by ideal discourse, but algorithms.