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What is Virtual Public Sphere

Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology, Second Edition
A group of people whose primary interaction is online but the felt experience of the individuals constituting the group is similar to an actual physical community.
Published in Chapter:
ICT and E-Democracy
Robert A. Cropf (Saint Louis University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch281
The virtual public sphere does not exist and operate the same everywhere. Every virtual public sphere is different because each country’s economic, social, political, and cultural characteristics and relations are varied. As a result, the impact of information communication technology (ICT) on political and social conditions will also differ from one country to another. According to the German philosopher, Jürgen Habermas (1989,1996), the public sphere is a domain existing outside of the private sphere of family relations, the economic sphere of business and commerce, and the governmental sphere dominated by the state. The public sphere contributes to democracy by serving as a forum for deliberation about politics and civic affairs. According to Habermas, the public sphere is marked by liberal core beliefs such as the freedoms of speech, press, assembly and communication, and “privacy rights, which are needed to ensure society’s autonomy from the state” (Cohen & Arato, 1992, p. 211). Thus, the public sphere is defined as a domain of social relations that exist outside of the roles, duties and constraints established by government, the marketplace, and kinship ties. Habermas’ public sphere is both a historical description and an ideal type. Historically, what Habermas refers to as the bourgeois public sphere emerged from the 18th century Enlightenment in Europe and went into decline in the 19th century. As an ideal type, the public sphere represents an arena, absent class and other social distinctions, in which private citizens can engage in critical, reasoned discourse regarding politics and culture. The remainder of this article is divided into three parts. In the first part, the background of virtual public spheres is discussed by presenting a broad overview of the major literature relating to ICT and democracy as well as distinguishing between virtual and public spheres and e-government. The second section deals with some significant current trends and developments in virtual public spheres. Finally, the third section discusses some future implications for off-line civil society of virtual public spheres.
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