Technology and the civil epistemology of democracy

Inquiry 35 (3 & 4):363 – 376 (1992)
Abstract
In analogy with Rousseau's concept of ?civil religion? as a system of ?positive dogmas?, ?without which?, as he observed, ?a man cannot be a good citizen?, this paper advances the concept of ?civil epistemology? as the positive dogmas without which the agents of government actions cannot be held accountable by democratic citizens. The civil epistemology of democracy shapes the citizen's views on the nature of political reality, on how the facts of political reality can be known and by whom. Modern liberal democratic politics assumes that the exercise of political power can be manifest in a visible domain of publicly accessible facts. It rests on the Enlightenment faith in the powers of light and visibility to demystify political power, render political actors more exposed and therefore more honestly accountable and enlist the sense of sight as a vehicle of universal political participation. It is, in this context, that technology has come to play such an important symbolic role in the construction of the particular democratic genre of public action as a political spectacle. Democratic civil epistemology, and technology ? in the widest sense of the word ? as the prototype of action which can be observed in the field of visual perception, uphold the democratic conception of politics as a view. Together they define political actors as visible performers, journalists as observers (who translate actual seeing into virtual seeing) and the citizens as witnesses
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