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Constructions of the public and the private in the Internet Age

Shawn Thomas Wahl, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The proliferation of new communication technologies (NCT's) may extend, revise, or subvert traditional notions of the nature and effects of publicity. The purpose of this study is to examine the Internet as it poses questions that force re-theorizing conceptualizations of the public. In order to explore the theoretical stasis of the public in the digital age, I adapt critical flashpoints or reflections about the public to the virtual terrain of the Internet. John Dewey's (1954) The Public and its Problems and Walter Lippmann's (1922/1965) Public Opinion form a critical lens to examine the relationship between the technical sphere of expertise and the public. Jurgen Habermas's writings about the public and the debates that followed the English translation of the Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere and the publication of his work on colonization in Theory of Communicative Action capture a sense of how the intimate sphere is colonized by commercial discourse. ^ An analysis of ACT-UP's web site reveals the Internet plays a role in refiguring the relationship between citizens and experts. Ordinary people educate themselves in order to make competent argument against trained experts. Technical information seems to be democratized and demystified on the Internet. The rhetorical markings of a citizenry are problematic in the virtual terrain of the Internet. The vitality of the Internet citizenry is caught in the tensions between the physical and virtual community, private space and public space. ^ An analysis of the web site shows that corporate colonization of the intimate sphere is more intrusive on the Internet. Virtual communities offer a free space for highly vulnerable populations. The same contexts that promise escape from dominance are invaded by commercial discourse. The Internet encourages a dynamic milieu for corporate surveillance. ^

Subject Area

Philosophy|Speech Communication|Mass Communications

Recommended Citation

Wahl, Shawn Thomas, "Constructions of the public and the private in the Internet Age" (2003). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3085742.