Information communications technologies (ICTs) are one of the major areas of research and investment in developing countries because they seem to serve the cause of democratisation and empowering citizens by extending the public sphere. ICTs and especially Internet are regarded as the new public sphere for they seem to lie outside the market and the State, nurtured by civil society serving the cause of good governance and democratisation and empowering grassroots initiatives, giving them access to critical information, organising political actions, influencing public opinion and policy-making. This chapter examines the ‘publicness’ of the telecentres in the framework of public sphere as defined by Habermas. The chapter uses telecentres as representative of ‘technology mediated public space’ created by ICTs and Internet and examines two approaches to the Telecentre movement, analysing whether Telecentres can meet the requirements of the rational-critical discussions and if and what factors influence the extension of the public sphere. The chapter concludes that while the telecentres create opportunities to improve communication and reconnect citizens to the State, offering greater access to information and support for group based discussion, they are likely to support only incremental modifications to the democratic system because the current use of information communication technologies (ICTs) concentrates primarily on information provision, and not linkages that improve the quality of democratic discourse.
The multiple conceptual threads that intertwine with the core question required a multidisciplinary approach that included the conceptualisation of the public sphere, elaboration on governance, Telecentres and the factors affecting these elements.
Many scholars have extrapolated from Habermas’ work in constructing connections between technology, information and civil society (Wishard, 1994; Boyte and Kari 1996). The conceptual framework used to examine the ‘publicness’ is based on the Habermasian public sphere and its linkages with the system factor encompassing social, technology and use factors (adapted from Lin, 2003) that shape and re-shape it. The left side of the diagram represents the context and the right side, the universal parameters. It can therefore be adapted to analyse varied contexts against a set of universal parameters.
Diagrammatically, the framework can be represented as shown in Figure 1.
Conceptual framework to examine the ‘Publicness’ (Source: Adapted from Lin, 2003)
Conceptually, the four factors – system, social, technology and use that form the contextual half of the conceptual framework will now be discussed in turn.