Introduction

Introduction

Robert A. Cropf (Saint Louis University, USA) and Scott Krummenacher (Saint Louis University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-159-1.ch001
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Abstract

As the second decade of the twenty-first century begins, information and communication technology has brought about significant changes in the way that people participate in political discourse and engage in civil society. This has led to a surge in scholarly interest in virtual public spheres, or the deployment of network structures to advance public discourse with the goal to influence political outcomes. This book brings together international scholars to analyze the impact of ICT on civil society, and in particular, the transition from e-government to e-democracy that is facilitated by virtual public spheres. Contributions to this book address several important issues ranging from the conceptual development of virtual public spheres to the challenges facing e-participation and e-government efforts. Several contributors to this book touch upon the conditions needed to facilitate e-democracy and the challenges confronting e-democracy efforts in developing countries. A little explored area of e-government, e-administration, is correctly identified by several chapters as potentially making contributions to e-democracy and virtual public spheres.
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Introduction

The first decade of the twenty-first century has seen the rapid infiltration of new media applications such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace and many others into the mainstream of society. The recent events in the middle east are a powerful indication of the power of social media to effect social and political change. These applications are just the most recent examples of information and communication technologies (ICT) which have been used to connect people on an unprecedented global scale. Connecting on this scale and in this manner, a recent development in human history, allows individuals to send and receive information and communicate any time and anywhere. This ability to bring vast numbers of people together and create online communities has led some to believe that ICT and the Internet can be used to revitalize government and politics through the creation of virtual public spheres. The offline public sphere enables discourse that is both critical-rational (see below) and politically influential (Calhoun 1993). The virtual public sphere represents a singular opportunity for the significant empowerment of large numbers of people through the creation of a new type of social space; an environment totally created by interactive technologies where masses of people engage in political, social and economic issues; and one designed to foster greater public deliberation in government and policy-making. These are electronic meeting places where individuals of all races, genders, religions and social classes can come together and deliberate on matters of vital interest to society. Moreover, these virtual townhalls are not physically rooted in specific geographical locations, which characterized previous town halls; they encompass a virtually unlimited physical area; one where anyone taking an interest in a particular issue or policy question can join in the discussion. The virtual public sphere thus has the potential to significantly augment civil society and contribute to building e-democracy in the truest sense.

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