The Electronic-Mediated Public Sphere and Environmental Public Participation in China: Implications for Non-Profit Organizations

The Electronic-Mediated Public Sphere and Environmental Public Participation in China: Implications for Non-Profit Organizations

Ying Xu (The Chinese University of Hong Kong, China)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5974-2.ch008
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Abstract

This chapter offers a critical analysis of the new pattern of public participation in the electronic-mediated public sphere. By reviewing the development of Chinese environmental activities that led to an active, electronic-mediated public discussion concerning environmental protection, the findings reveal that new Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) have made the public sphere more easily seen and heard by everyone, including governmental departments in the bureaucratic system. Thus, the electronic-mediated public sphere is providing a third power that could help Non-Profit Organizations' (NPOs) development in relatively conservative societies such as China. The implications of using ICTs in the management of NPOs are also discussed.
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Introduction

The bourgeois’ public sphere is a special historical form, starting first in Britain and France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and then spreading to Europe and America in the nineteenth century with the modern nation states (Friedmann, 1987). According to Habermas (1989), the public sphere is primarily a realm in the social life that is open to everyone in principle. In this realm, people come together as private citizens and may reach a consensus on common interests based on rational debates in order to carry out democratic control of national affairs. The most prominent feature of the public sphere is that private people spontaneously gather together and form a loose and open society when they read newspapers and magazines. And they take the clubs, cafes, salons, and even newspaper as media to regulate between market economy and the administrative state.

Actually, scholars have argued that the public sphere in different historical periods has had very different meanings. For example, in ancient Greece, the public sphere took place in the “polis,” where citizens could join the public discussion and take common actions. However, only those who held citizenship could join the public sphere, and their citizenship status depended on their roles as heads of the οἶκος, or household. In the Middle Ages in Europe, the feudal-era “representative public sphere” was expected to obey a superior power, which meant that the king was the only public person, and all others were audiences (Habermas, 1974, 1989). According to Friedmann (1987), it is the bourgeois’ public sphere that for the first time highlights the general public in history and justifies democracy. However, with the development of capitalism and national bureaucratization, the national power to establish and control social life is gradually expanding (Turner, 1978). Moreover, while mass media (e.g., radio and television) have dominated as instruments of economic and political propaganda, the consensus developed in rational-critical public debate has been imposed non-publicly, and the public sphere has become impaired in its functioning since the early twentieth century (Habermas, 1974, 1989). Therefore, a bittersweet longing for the full establishment of the functioning public sphere has emerged (Habermas, 1974, 1989, 2010).

Clearly, the media, which is a basic factor of the public sphere, has experienced a revolution in information and communications technology (ICT) since the late twentieth century. Nowadays, individuals are not necessarily discussing social issues in traditional clubs or cafes, since they can easily connect to the Internet via electronic devices such as computers, mobile phones, and tablets. Thus, this chapter offers a critical analysis of the new pattern of public participation in the electronic-mediated public sphere by reviewing the development of environmental activities in China and endeavors to examine the following questions: Can ICTs promote the establishment of the functioning public sphere? What are the implications of the electronic-mediated public sphere for management of non-profit organizations (NPOs)?

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