Research Unit in Public Cultures seminar: Assoc. Professor Mark Davis - The anti-public sphere

Wednesday, November 25, 2015 14:00 - 16:00

In this seminar I outline the 'anti-public sphere' as an object for research, defined as that that space of often-fractious social interaction that is radically outside the ethical and 'rational-critical' domains and norms of the traditionally conceived public sphere. This is a formerly offline space made newly visible by digital networked media. It is the space of extreme race hate sites, anti-vaccination websites, anti-global warming forums, gay hate sites, anti-feminist and anti-women sites, anti-Semitic sites, and conspiracy sites, where discussion often explicitly positions itself as hostile to public debate and disregards requirements for the rational deliberation of evidence. In these sites factual information is often seemingly intentionally misrepresented, argument is skewed to achieve certain pre-ordained conclusions, and the level of aggression and vitriol often radically exceeds the most permissive notions of an 'agonistic' public sphere.

In this seminar I argue that despite its disparate nature it is possible to theorise this radically heterogeneous space. Such a project is important because such spaces are mostly unaccounted for in discussions of the public sphere, yet comprise a significant proportion of online discussion. Such spaces are important, too because those who participate in them are no less national and global citizens than those who participate in normative rational debate. They are important, too, because the meanings developed in them often inform 'mainstream' public debate. Such spaces, I argue, represent a potentially rich yet currently neglected area for research, and open up possibilities for rethinking the limits of our present democratic discourse.


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Linkway 4th Floor, John Medley (Building 191)