Democratization and the Networked Public Sphere

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New Course by Trebor Scholz: Democratization and the networked public sphere

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Course Description

"This course will argue for the potential of sociable media such as weblogs to democratize society through emerging cultures of broad participation. Over the past ten years the public spheres have been dramatically expanded by participatory web-based technologies. “Democratization and the networked public sphere” will focus on various arguments for and against this central claim by examining historical and present-day understandings of the public sphere, ranging from theorists such as Jürgen Habermas and Alexander Kluge to Lawrence Lessig and Yochai Benkler.

The course will investigate the democratizing potential of the Internet by examining the political participation of citizens who contribute news reports to weblogs and wikis, knowledge repositories such as the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia or the open source software archive Freshmeat, web-based platforms for artistic expression, and mobile wireless devices that allow for political participation such as the organization of protests.

Citizen journalism as a corrective to the mass media in countries has had significant effect in countries such as Iraq, China, the Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, and the United States. People post to weblogs and wikis from their desktop computer or from wireless mobile devices in the city.

Online knowledge repositories such as the free encyclopedia Wikipedia are a challenge to copyright. The collaborative effort of many thousands of contributors creates a quantitative and qualitative leap that corporate initiatives cannot live up to. Subsequently, knowledge pools like Wikipedia “out-cooperate” for-pay services such as the Encyclopedia Britannica.

In the arts, participatory cultures are growing. Artists intervene in public spaces, online and off. They send remote-controlled robots into the streets of major cities spraying political graffiti onto plazas. Artists allow participants to SMS messages onto urban screens. Artist collectives like the Institute for Applied Autonomy solicit input from the urban population to create an interactive map of the surveillance cameras in Manhattan. More and more artists become “cultural context providers”: they enable participants to create content within the parameters that they defined.

Cell phones are the first telecommunications technology in history to have more users in developing countries than in the developed world. Simple cell phones have been used as tools to coordinate political actions. Communication theorist Howard Rheingold writes about the “People Power II” revolution in Manila in 2001, where demonstrations to oust then-president Estrada were coordinated spontaneously through extensive text messaging. The question of political participation in the networked public sphere is central to destabilizing relations of domination. Students who successfully participate in this course will understand the current, intricate, techno-social changes of the public spheres. "Democratization & the Networked Public Sphere" pairs theoretical reflections with examples; course formats will vary between discussions, student presentations, lectures, and screenings." ([2])