For Haberman, “ The public sphere is a realm that emerged in a specific phase of ‘bourgeois society.’ It is constituted as, a space that mediates between civil society and the state; a place where the public organizes itself, and an arena in which ‘public opinion’ is formed.” The idea here is that individual citizens can come together and have reasonable debate about what he calls competing truth claims.
OK, can we consider the internet a Public Sphere? What are some of the characteristics of the internet? According to Barker 355 ‘Internet has provided a new political space for debate, however, Pacharissi suggests that it is still plagued by the inadequacies of the broader political system.’ Barker contents that just because there is interaction, does not make the space democratic and further, ‘the sheer volume of material on the Internet can obscure that which is of worth.’
And what can we say about the City? Is the city a Public Sphere? Let us look at the basics of the very idea of a city. Early concepts developed by Marx, Durkheim and Weber in general ‘have regarded the city as both product and symbol of modernity, both the birthplace of the aesthetic of modernism and the escape from the controls of tradition.’ (Baker 380) Later theorists have said that a city is ‘a zone of transition, working class housing, a zone of high class dwellings and a commuter belt of towns.’ (Baker 380)
Later, the city was described by David Harvey ‘….as having a major role in the reproduction of capitalism and reshaping of urban environment.’ This then, ‘would lead to the site of a class struggle engendered by capitalism.’ The city is ‘marked by contestation over the control of space and the distribution of resources.’ So involved in this ‘struggle’ and ‘reshaping’ would one find honest debate? Or, would one find citizens coming together and having reasonable ‘competing truth claims’?
I guess my problem here is that there is honest discussion regarding the internet as a ‘public sphere,’ but no similar discussion is centered around the concept of City. Let us turn to the internet and examine some key elements that exist there.
‘A number of writers have hailed the Internet as enabling new forms of political activism that draw in previously marginalized communities.’ (Barker 352) Further, Sassen has said that ‘the Internet is a powerful medium for ‘non-elites’ to contribute to a more democratic civil society and globalized cross-border activism.’ Sassen says that ‘cyberspace is often a more concrete space for the articulation of social struggles than many orthodox political systems.’(Barker 353)
However, ‘the Internet exists within a capitalist world driven by profit seeking and dominated by a powerful consumer culture. The concern is that the Web will become a commodified sphere of entertainment and selling rather than that of political discussion’ (Barker 356) ‘The concern that the commercialization of the Internet and digital media in general will diminish the public sphere is reinforced by the extension and utilization of copyright laws.’ (Barker 357)
So there you have it. There are two general concepts, City and Internet. They are similar in that each is wrapped at the center with elements of ‘public sphere’ where people have access to reasonable debate, (meeting the requirements of public sphere) but each is surrounded by the pesky problems of Capitalism.
Barker, C., 2009, Cultural Studies, Theory and Practice, 3rd edition, Sage Publications, London