The computer-mediated public sphere and the cosmopolitan ideal

In response to the attractive moral and politicalmodel of cosmopolitanism, this paper offers anoverview of some of the conceptual limitations to thatmodel arising from computer-mediated, interest-basedsocial interaction. I discuss James Bohman''sdefinition of the global and cosmopolitan spheres andhow computer-mediated communication might impact thedevelopment of those spheres. Additionally, I questionthe commitment to purely rational models of socialcooperation when theorizing a computer-mediated globalpublic sphere, exploring recent alternatives. Andfinally, I discuss a few of the political andepistemic constraints on participation in thecomputer-mediated public sphere that threaten thecosmopolitan ideal.``Nature should be thanked for fostering socialincompatibility, enviously competitive vanity, andinsatiable desires for possessions and even power.Without these desires, all man''s excellent naturalcapacities would never be roused to develop.'''' Theultimate destiny for mankind, according to Kant whowrote these words in 1784, is to achieve through theuse of reason a `cosmopolitan existence'' or ``thematrix within which all the original capacities of thehuman race may develop.'''' Ironically, however, as Habermas andothers have realized, Kant''s carefully developedvision for `perpetual peace'' among nations and `worldcitizenship'' is now murky even as the electronicallymediated infrastructure of that matrix is rapidlydeveloping. Globalization as a process has intensifiedto the point where a new social, political, andeconomic condition has taken hold in the global arena.Recently this condition has been termed ``globality'''' –a term denoting a networked world characterized byspeed, mobility, risk, insecurity, andflexibility. And a debate is forming around thequestion of whether we are still in late modernity andexperiencing the culmination of modernity''s inherentlyglobalizing tendency or instead we have entered thenetworked age, in which the tension between collectiveand transformative identities and the networking logicof dominant institutions and organizations heralds theend of civil society. Inthis paper assume the latter but wish to explorefurther the political and epistemic constraints onparticipation in the computer-mediated public sphere.These constraints seem certain to impact the viabilityof a cosmopolitan public sphere. In the first sectionI shall discuss James Bohman''s definition of theglobal and cosmopolitan spheres and howcomputer-mediated communication (hereafter CMC) mightimpact the development of those spheres. In the secondsection, I question the commitment to purely rationalmodels of social cooperation when theorizing a globalpublic sphere. I explore recently proposed alternativeways of thinking about this issue in section three.And finally, I discuss a few of the political andepistemic constraints on participation in thecomputer-mediated public sphere that threaten thecosmopolitan ideal.
Keywords civil society   computer-mediated social interaction   cosmopolitanism   globality   public sphere
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DOI 10.1023/A:1010073319706
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