Theorising the online anti-public sphere

Black Venetian Mask 2010
‘Black Venetian Mask’ 2010 CC BY-SA 2.0 PD-US


This project aims to develop a theoretical framework to encompass recent developments in anti-democratic thought. Its focus is online groups that implicitly and often explicitly position themselves against the ethical norms and practices of modern democratic discourse and the Enlightenment derived aspirations of equality, deliberation, rationality and civility that underpin such discourse, such as rational-critical ‘public sphere’ traditions.

Building on earlier theorisations of anti-publics by McKenzie Wark (1997) and Bart Cammaerts (2007), the project analyses ideological and discursive continuities across online groups such as white supremacist groups, the ‘men’s rights movement’, anti-climate science groups, the ‘alt-right’, and ‘Dark Enlightenment’ neoreactionary (NRX) groups. Such groups, it is argued, profoundly challenge the Enlightenment precepts that underpin modernity, and at the same time raise questions about the limits and viability of Enlightenment projects. One possibility raised by the research is that rather than being seen as an ‘extremist’ opposite of democratic culture, such groups and their discourse precisely mirror recent populist trends in public discourse consistent with developments in neoliberal capitalism and a broader transition towards post-normative ‘late democracy’.


Professor Mark Davis (University of Melbourne)

Themes related to this project