Merlyna Lim, PhD, Science & Technology Studies and Technology & Development from the University of Twente in Enschede, the Netherlands, is Assistant Professor in the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes and the School of Social Transformation – Justice and Social Inquiry Program at Arizona State University. She researches information and communication studies (ICT), particularly the social shaping of the Internet in non-Western contexts.
Mark Eliot Kann, PhD, Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is USC Associates Chair in Social Science and Professor of Political Science and History at USC. He researches earlier American political thought and gender studies.
In this chapter, Lim and Kann consider the democratic modes on the Net: deliberation, citizen involvement in discourse, and mobilization, the development of expansive social networks. They compare Habermas’ (1998) Between Facts and Norms and Rawls’ (1995) Political Liberalism, the two 1990s contributions to the deliberative democracy debate. The former upholds a renewed public sphere that’s based on equitable, inclusive, public deliberation. The latter assumes people have different ideas about the common good, so the institution of deliberative democracy requires a knowledgeable and reasonable citizenry that can advocate for particular policies.
However, not all forums on the Net reflect either of these concepts and are instead in turns “uncivil, anarchic, and even undemocratic” (80). While they agree with Henry Jenkins’ view that amateurs spreading their media and engaging in participatory culture “is an important aspect of democracy in contemporary society” (99), they are slower to call it democratic: “it is convivial” (ibid). Some may consider blogs to be change catalysts, but in truth blog readership is uneven and the blogs themselves to be politically polarized.
For democratic action to take place (in the literal sense of the word), Internet initiatives won’t suffice. They must be done in coordination with “other media networks, as well as between cyberspace and geographical place” (90).