Ariane Goetz is Research Associate in the Participation and Governance project at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies Potsdam (IASS). Prior work experiences include the facilitation of multi-stakeholder dialogues at the IASS Global Soil Forum and the German Technical Cooperation Agency China. During her doctoral studies at Wilfrid Laurier University (Waterloo, Canada), she was a research associate at the Hertie School of Governance (Berlin), and a doctoral fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (Waterloo) and Goethe University Frankfurt.
Democracy in the digital age – Challenges and chances for political participation
Digitalization is heralded as a game changer for democracy. It allows for global connectedness and real-time transmission of information and interaction, and opens up new avenues for communication and functional interaction between the state and/or citizens at different levels of governance (e.g. digital townhall). On the downside, the technology and its multipurpose applications - from state-mediated online platforms to social media - has the potential to fuel not only empowerment and connection, but also segmentation and polarization of the public sphere. Moreover, there might be other constraints regarding digitalization’s contribution to public-spirited deliberation and meaningful political participation. For instance, it remains to be seen whether digital communication can live up to the human quality of face-to-face communication with its non-verbal communicative dimension and its capability to establish trust and empathy – all of which is necessary for people to connect across differences.
Our presentation discusses the emerging challenges and chances of political online participation. Empirical evidence on e-participation and online deliberation will be assessed from the conceptual viewpoint of the interdiscursive public sphere (Nanz 2003). Public sphere signifies the social space in which members of a society discuss concerns of common interest and form public opinions about those issues. It is also the social space where political culture(s) and societal integration are (re)shaped. Interdiscursivity in this context means that we are particularly interested in how the quality of the ongoing discursive exchanges between different publics might be influenced by information and communication technology (ICT) and the practice of e-participation.
Next to issues of direct democracy that dominate the current research on e-participation, the configuration and use of ICTs in political participation raises questions about implications for constitutive elements of the public sphere (Coleman and Blumler 2009; Papacharissi 2010). For instance, it requires a better understanding of how an adequate balance of public and private, access and barrier would look like under these new circumstances: how much and what kind of privacy does the publicness of such a sphere require; how public does the infrastructure and configuration of ICTs used for public deliberation have to be; how to address participatory asymmetry documented in different cases?