The Internet, deliberative democracy, and power: Radicalizing the public sphere | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 3, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 1740-8296
  • E-ISSN: 2040-0918


Deliberative democratic public sphere theory has become increasingly popular in Internet-democracy research and commentary. In terms of informal civic practices, advocates of this theory see the Internet as a means for the expansion of citizen deliberation leading to the formation of rational public opinion through which official decision makers can be held accountable. In this paper I question this public sphere conception as a democratic norm of Internet practice given that there have been sustained critiques of the deliberative conception for failing to account fully for power, and thus for supporting status quo social and political systems. I examine these claims and argue that while the deliberative conception actually pays more attention to power than some critics argue, it fails to adequately theorize the power relations involved in defining what counts as legitimate deliberation. Drawing upon post-Marxist discourse theory, I highlight two inter-related factors that are largely ignored in this boundary setting: discursive radicalism and inter-discursive conflict. I argue that to fully account for these two factors we can refer to an agonistic public sphere position that is also being drawn upon in Internet-democracy research and commentary. In particular, the concept counter-publics, which is deployed in such work, helps us take into account the democratic role of radical exclusion and associated counter-discursive struggles over the limits of legitimate deliberation. The result is the radicalization of the public sphere conception.


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