Digital, structural transformation of the public sphere

In the framework of the joint Congress of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie and Österreichische Gesellschaft für Soziologie at the WU Vienna on Post Corona Society, 23-25 August 2021 (online/hybrid), Sebastian Sevignani and Martin Seeliger organised an ad-hoc group on the digital, structural transformation of the public sphere.

In the fields of theoretical, historical, political, but also cultural, media and communication sociology, Habermas’ study on the structural change of the public sphere has decisively influenced the debate on the question of the potential of collective reason for modern democracy and also challenged (constructive) criticism – for example, following hegemony theory, system theory and pragmatist considerations. As a medium of collective self-understanding, organisation of social experiences and creation of meaning and identity, the public sphere can create a basis of legitimacy for political orders and decisions. Particularly in the historical moment of social crises (e.g. the Corona pandemic), the significance of democratic public spheres is demonstrated in their deliberative potential: this is where it is decided whether societies are able to develop effective, intelligible and agreeable solutions to problems. The change of the public sphere can be examined in the dimensions of the (socio-)spatial frame of reference, the economic framework conditions and the technical development of the media. Almost 60 years after the first publication of Habermas’ study, we focus on the contemporary diagnosis of a “digital structural change of the public sphere” from different perspectives: (How) does digital communication change access preconditions, dynamics and democratic potentials of collective self-understanding, social meaning generation and political deliberation? What is the difference between pluralistic and fragmented public spheres? What types of public sphere can be identified in the context of increasingly digitalised communication and algorithmic control, and how are they to be evaluated? How is the relationship between collective self-understanding and the generation of public meaning currently being reconfigured with regard to political deliberation? Are there tendencies towards a re- or de-politicisation of public spheres?

These question are raised by the authors, e.g. Jürgen Habermas, Hartmut Rosa, Nancy Fraser, Donatella della Porta amongst others, in the volume Ein neuer Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit? (Sonderband Leviathan 37, 2021). Selected contributions will be published in a special section on global issues in the journal Theory, Culture & Society (late 2021/early 2022). 


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