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Public deliberation on the Web: A Habermasian inquiry into online discourse UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Final Hovedfag presentation Simon.

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Presentation on theme: "Public deliberation on the Web: A Habermasian inquiry into online discourse UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Final Hovedfag presentation Simon."— Presentation transcript:

1 Public deliberation on the Web: A Habermasian inquiry into online discourse UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Final Hovedfag presentation Simon R. B. Berdal 24th of Sept. 2004

2 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 1/31 1. Introduction 1.1Motivation and background Public deliberation (PD) is a fundamental precondition to assure quality and legitimacy of decisions and claims. PD thus is an intrinsic component of modern (deliberative) democracies. The Web / Internet provides popular Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) that support, promote and facilitate PD. The thesis takes a Habermasian approach, supplemented with basic theoretical perspectives from Actor-Network Theory (ANT).

3 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 2/31 1. Introduction 1.2Problem definition... Explore and analyse the nature of debate forums on the Web, seen in relation to deliberative democracy (DD). Three sets of research questions, regarding: > Ideal Speech Situation (ISS) > Participation and access > Public will formation

4 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 3/31 2. Theoretical foundations 2.1The historical idea of public discourse The idea of public discourse as a cornerstone of democracy is well established in political theory (e.g. Thucydides, Rousseau, J.S. Mill, Jefferson, Habermas) and about as old as democracy itself.

5 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 4/31 2. Theoretical foundations 2.2The impact of new ICTs ICTs have historically had significant influence on human modes of thought and communication. ICTs have therefore been used to challenge entrenched “truths” and institutional control (e.g. Martin Luther, Karl Marx, John Locke). Some ICTs (like the printing press) have triggered cascades of changes – does the Internet / Web belong into that category?

6 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 5/31 2. Theoretical foundations 2.3 The intrinsic nature of artefacts (1) Media use: Repressive vs. emancipating: Repressive media useEmancipatory media use Centrally controlled programDecentralised programmes One transmitter, many receivers Every receiver is a potential transmitter Immobilisation of isolated individuals Mobilisation of the masses Passive consumer behaviour Interaction of participants, feedback Depoliticisation processPolitical learning process Production by specialistsCollective production Control by owners or bureaucrats Social control through self- organisation Enzensberger: Baukasten zu einer Theorie der Medien (1970:173)

7 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 6/31 2. Theoretical foundations 2.3The intrinsic nature of artefacts (2) Claim: Like the use of technical artefacts may be measured along a repressive vs. emancipatory axis, so can artefacts’ intrinsic characteristics (i.e. their “nature”). This, because the de facto choice of use is heavily influenced by any artefact’s given characteristics.

8 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 7/31 2. Theoretical foundations 2.4ANT Terminology I lend two central concepts from ANT: > inscription > translation Along with these come the notions of actors / actants, programs of action, anti-programs, and strength of inscriptions. These concepts become highly useful to understand and depict usage-influencing characteristics of Web forums.

9 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 8/31 2. Theoretical foundations 2.5Habermas and the Frankfurt school Jürgen Habermas draws his roots from the Frankfurt school. He is the leading figure of the school's so-called second generation (which began to develop in the 1960s).

10 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 9/31 2. Theoretical foundations 2.6Habermas’ vocabulary 1.The Public Sphere (PS) 2.The decline of the bourgeois PS and the system / lifeworld distinction 3.Communicative and instrumental rationality and action 4.Discourse Ethics 5.Deliberative Democracy and Communicative Action

11 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 10/31 2. Theoretical foundations 2.6.1The Public Sphere Due to historical circumstances, a new civic society emerged in the eighteenth century. The authority was publicly monitored through informed and critical discourse by an increasingly independent bourgeoisie. Three “institutional criteria” seen as preconditions to the emergence of the PS: > Disregard of status > Domain of common concern > Inclusivity

12 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 11/31 2. Theoretical foundations 2.6.1The Public Sphere - critique Disregard of status: “Status was disregarded altogether”. Domain of common concern: “The agenda was of ‘common concern’”. Inclusivity: “Members of all levels of society were included”. 1.Hegemonic dominance and exclusion 2.Bracketing of inequalities 3. The public sphere (singular vs. plural) 4. The problematic definition of “common concern” 5. Material support for participation.

13 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 12/31 2. Theoretical foundations 2.6.2Decline of the PS; System / Lifeworld The state increasingly interfered with the private realm, thereby corroding the distinction between state and civic society. The public got pacified to clients by the new order of “welfare state capitalism and mass democracy”. Imperatives of money and power (systemic pressures) gained influence at the expense of civic autonomy and vitality (inter- subjective communication etc.), “Systemic colonisation of the lifeworld”

14 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 13/31 2. Theoretical foundations 2.6.3Communicative and instrumental rationality and action Instrumental: Determined by need for efficiency in realising given objectives. Communicative: Oriented towards realisation of inter-subjective understanding and consensus. Rationality and action are labelled correspondingly, based upon their aim. Systemic colonisation of the lifeworld occurs when instrumental rationality dislocates communicative rationality to such an extent that social agents no longer can understand or question the rules that govern their actions.

15 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 14/31 2. Theoretical foundations 2.6.4Discourse Ethics It is the process by which everyone’s will is formed that confers its legitimacy on the outcome, rather than the sum of already formed wills (Manin). The unforced force of the better argument is to prevail. This process inhabits a natural “unresolved openess” (Unabgeschossenheit). Procedural rules: The criteria of the Ideal Speech Situation (ISS)

16 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 15/31 2. Theoretical foundations 2.6.4Discourse Ethics (2), the ISS 1. Every subject with the competence to speak and act is allowed to take part in a discourse. 2a.Everyone is allowed to question any assertion whatever. 2b.Everyone is allowed to introduce any assertion whatever into the discourse. 2c.Everyone is allowed to express his attitudes, desires, and needs. 3.No speaker may be prevented, by internal or external coercion, from exercising his rights as laid down in (1) and (2).

17 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 16/31 2. Theoretical foundations 2.6.4Deliberative Democracy and Communicative Action Habermas’ ISS has clear implications for ideal type democracy, which ought to be “deliberative”. The periphery (weak publics) is to perceive and problematise issues from the lifeworld and sluice them towards and into the centre (strong publics). Communicative power builds up in the periphery and is channelled towards and into the centre – driven by the unforced force of the better argument.

18 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 17/31 2. Theoretical foundations 2.6.4Deliberative Democracy and Communicative Action Lifeworld Public cultivation of normative reasons, within “weak publics ” Will-formation within political parties etc. Decision making within political- administrative system CentrePeriphery Figure 1: Schematic drawing of the centre-periphery structure of opinion- and will-formation: New issues that derive from the lifeworld are “themastized” within the periphery. Communicative power builds up through communicative interaction, and “besieges” the centre. Issues from the periphery get attention on the political agenda, as they are sluiced towards, and into, the decision-making centre.

19 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 18/31 2. Theoretical foundations 2.7The Internet and democratic deliberation 1.Communicative opinion and will-formation within virtual publics of the Internet 2.Systemic colonisation of the Internet? 3.The Digital Divide 4.Evaluative implications to the thesis’ research question.

20 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 19/31 2. Theoretical foundations 2.7.1Communicative opinion- and will-formation within virtual publics of the Internet As amendment to the traditional centre- periphery model (figure 1), one should consider several encouraging tendencies of the Internet: 1.Availability: Any subject may virtually anywhere be articulated as one of “common concern” (even with no “known local interest”). 2.Veil of anonymity: Extending free speech. 3.Asynchronous nature: Makes it practically feasible and motivating enough for time- pressured and geographically dispersed people to engage in communicative interaction.

21 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 20/31 2. Theoretical foundations 2.7.1Communicative opinion- and will-formation within virtual publics of the Internet (2) Interlinked perperipheries Centres 4. Connectivity: The Internet changes the topology of the “centre-periphery” model, by stimulating conventional peripheries to interlink into “super-periphery” structures, which enclose and “besiege” several centres at once. Figure 2:Schematic drawing of a theoretical “super-periphery” structure: In addition to the features explained in Figure 1, the interlinked peripheries now “besiege” several centres at once. Note that communicative channels may (by means of the Internet) be linked between any imaginable points within the (thus dynamic) structure. A point outside the super-periphery instantaneously becomes included in it, when communicative links are established in between. Lifeworld

22 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 21/31 2. Theoretical foundations 2.7.2Systemic colonisation of the Internet? As strategic intentions often are kept hidden, it is hard to uncover systemic pressure Commercial spamming is an obvious example and symptom of systemic pressure. Systemic protection: Defensive mechanism against the communicative potentials of the Internet (e.g. China) seek to prevent local peripheries from interconnecting and combining communicative pressure on the system. To a large extent, the question of systemic colonisation is a subject of definition and faith.

23 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 22/31 2. Theoretical foundations 2.7.3The Digital Divide Conditions that regulate the extent of online deliberation, which are unequally distributed: > Material access > Language > Knowledge > Attitude A question of meta-exclusion (see ISS): As “participatory parity is essential to a democratic public sphere and rough socioeconomic equality is a precondition of participatory parity”, “some form of politically regulated economic reorganization and redistribution is needed…” (Fraser).

24 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 23/31 2. Theoretical foundations 2.7.4Evaluative implications to the thesis’ research questions Ideal Speech Situation (free participation): How are the Web forums’ inscribed programs of action perceived by their users, and how do they actually affect the users’ behaviour?” Participation and access: Revisit the Digital Divide, and assess other factors that regulate participation (the Web itself, and given Web forums in particular). Public will formation: To what extent are the given Web forums connected to other discursive arenas, through which the better argument may be sluiced towards and into strong publics?

25 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 24/31 3. Methods 3.1Underlying epistemology Critical (Social) Theory (CST) Draws its roots from the Frankfurt School CST rejects the idea of neutral (pure descriptive) social science, and states its own normative objective: The improvement of human condition. It stresses the importance of taking into account all involved actors’ subjective perceptions and motivations. Thus, CST is pro-active in nature – searching and advocating better alternatives than status quo.

26 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 25/31 3. Methods 3.2Selection of methods Besides the epistemological considerations, the very nature of my interest domain influenced my choosing of research methods. To obtain subjective interpretations from forum users, I used online questionnaires. To obtain subjective interpretations from forum moderators, I used based interviews and informal telephone calls. To obtain first hand knowledge of forum structures and debates, I used observation.

27 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 26/31 3. Methods 3.3Sample selection Selection of Web forums: Based upon considerations around capacity (amount and language), comparability (content and form), and availability (forum type). Selection of discussions: I chose the discussions that had received the latest postings at any given sampling time. Selection of questionnaire respondents: In three levels: 1) Self-selection to participate in given forum, 2) Slightly selective exposure of request to participate 3) Self-selection by choice to participate in survey.

28 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 27/31 3. Methods 3.4Methods in action Observation: Focus on normative stance and strategies applied in postings. What is the intention? Also observation of forum structures and language use (to be “compatible” in survey and interviews). Interviewing: Semi-structured interviews with moderators by supplemented with informal telephone calls. To obtain inside-information and interpretation of their role in the forum. Questionnaires (see example) : Dual objective – obtain demographical data and subjective perceptions. Similar but different approaches of application, based on forum regulations.example

29 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 28/31 4. Analysis 4.1Free discourse and the ISS Rules of use (P&C) and Netiquette: Translations from anticipated and desired types of use, into explicit inscriptions that prescribe corresponding patterns of use. Should ideally be collectively defined by the users to be compliant with the ISS (> unresolved openess). Functional structures: As with P&C and Netiquette, functional structure influence use of forums. Of particular importance are anonymity and agenda-regulating structures. The forums all have different approaches, but are all in breach with the ISS to some extent.

30 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 29/31 4. Analysis 4.2Participation and access The digital divide and exclusion: A meta-problem of exclusion which calls for pro-active measures to be bridged (“socio-economic redistribution”). Rules of use and structural functionality: Again, anonymity (or lack of it) is an important parameter. Particularly the Spiegel Online Forum (SOF) scores low on anonymity. Secondly, Web accessibility is of importance (blind users are evidently disfavoured). Thirdly, language may be of relevance: Allowing many languages may lead to Babylonian confusion, but not allowing them is excluding (i.e. a paradox). Could translation software become a solution one day?

31 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 30/31 4. Analysis 4.3Public will formation Cross-forum participation: There is a high degree of cross-forum participation (between 34% and 59% of users). Some cross language and country barriers. Periphery-centre transmission of communicative power: Members of strong publics are well represented in Web forums - can act as bearers of the “unforced force of the better argument”. Integration of forum arguments with newspaper gives a further exposure to the wider public. Hyperlinks to external resources: Integrates external resources as second degree postings and / or references. Promotes “super-peripheries”.

32 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS Slide 31/31 4. Analysis 4.4Concluding remarks All forums, to some extent, fail to live up to the ideals of the ISS. This calls for more autonomy for users to define (dynamic)functional frameworks and conditions of use. Rule enforcement should be more transparent and subjected to inspection. The digital divide calls for pro-active measures. The forums need to improve their accessibility. Anonymity should be better supported by the SOF. Language barriers call for translation software. The forums are connected to stronger publics, so that the better argument may get sluiced towards and into decision-making centre(s).

33 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS The End Questions / Remarks!?


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