The space of communication of ideas and projects

78 ANNALS, AAPSS, 616, March 2008
The public sphere is the space of communication of
ideas and projects that emerge from society and are
addressed to the decision makers in the institutions of
society. The global civil society is the organized expression of the values and interests of society. The relationships between government and civil society and their
interaction via the public sphere define the polity of
society. The process of globalization has shifted the
debate from the national domain to the global debate,
prompting the emergence of a global civil society and
of ad hoc forms of global governance. Accordingly, the
public sphere as the space of debate on public affairs
has also shifted from the national to the global and is
increasingly constructed around global communication
networks. Public diplomacy, as the diplomacy of the
public, not of the government, intervenes in this global
public sphere, laying the ground for traditional forms of
diplomacy to act beyond the strict negotiation of power
relationships by building on shared cultural meaning,
the essence of communication.
Keywords: public sphere; global civil society; global
governance; communication networks
The Public Sphere and the
Constitution of Society
Between the state and society lies the public
sphere, “a network for communicating information and points of view” (Habermas 1996,
360). The public sphere is an essential component of sociopolitical organization because it is
the space where people come together as citizens and articulate their autonomous views to
influence the political institutions of society.
Civil society is the organized expression of
these views; and the relationship between the
state and civil society is the cornerstone of
democracy. Without an effective civil society
capable of structuring and channeling citizen
debates over diverse ideas and conflicting interests, the state drifts away from its subjects. The
state’s interaction with its citizenry is reduced
to election periods largely shaped by political
The New
Public Sphere:
Global Civil
Networks, and
DOI: 10.1177/0002716207311877
marketing and special interest groups and characterized by choice within a narrow spectrum of political option.
The material expression of the public sphere varies with context, history, and
technology, but in its current practice, it is certainly different from the ideal type
of eighteenth-century bourgeois public sphere around which Habermas (1989)
formulated his theory. Physical space—particularly public space in cities as well
as universities—cultural institutions, and informal networks of public opinion
formation have always been important elements in shaping the development of
the public sphere (Low and Smith 2006). And of course, as John Thompson (2000)
has argued, media have become the major component of the public sphere in the
industrial society. Furthermore, if communication networks of any kind form the
public sphere, then our society, the network society (Castells 1996, 2004a), organizes its public sphere, more than any other historical form of organization, on
the basis of media communication networks (Lull 2007; Cardoso 2006; Chester
2007). In the digital era, this includes the diversity of both the mass media and
Internet and wireless communication networks (McChesney 2007).
However, if the concept of the public sphere has heuristic value, it is because
it is inseparable from two other key dimensions of the institutional construction
of modern societies: civil society and the state. The public sphere is not just the
media or the sociospatial sites of public interaction. It is the cultural/informational
repository of the ideas and projects that feed public debate. It is through the public sphere that diverse forms of civil society enact this public debate, ultimately
influencing the decisions of the state (Stewart 2001). On the other hand, the
political institutions of society set the constitutional rules by which the debate is
kept orderly and organizationally productive. It is the interaction between citizens, civil society, and the state, communicating through the public sphere, that
ensures that the balance between stability and social change is maintained in the
conduct of public affairs. If citizens, civil society, or the state fail to fulfill the
demands of this interaction, or if the channels of communication between two or
more of the key components of the process are blocked, the whole system of representation and decision making comes to a stalemate. A crisis of legitimacy follows (Habermas 1976) because citizens do not recognize themselves in the
Manuel Castells is the Wallis Annenberg Chair Professor of Communication Technology and
Society at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, since 2003. He is professor emeritus of sociology, University of California, Berkeley, where he taught for twenty-four years,
after being on the faculty of the University of Paris for twelve years. He is also distinguished
visiting professor of technology and society at MIT. He has published twenty-five books, including the trilogy The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture, published by Blackwell
from 1996 to 2003 and translated into twenty-two languages. He is the recipient of fifteen honorary doctorates and university medals. He is a fellow of the European Academy, a fellow of
the Spanish Royal Academy of Economics, and a corresponding fellow of the British Academy.
He has served on a number of international advisory committees, including the Panel of
Eminent Personalities appointed in 2003 to 2004 by the United Nations Secretary General on
the relationships between the United Nations and the global civil society.
institutions of society. This leads to a crisis of authority, which ultimately leads to
a redefinition of power relationships embodied in the state (Sassen 2006).
As Habermas (1976) himself acknowledged, his theorization of democracy was
in fact an idealized situation that never survived capitalism’s penetration of the
state. But the terms of the political equation he proposed remain a useful intellectual construct—a way of representing the contradictory relationships between
the conflictive interests of social actors, the social construction of cultural meaning, and the institutions of the state. The notion of the public sphere as a neutral
space for the production of meaning runs against all historical evidence (Mann
1986, 1993). But we can still emphasize the critical role of the cultural arena in
which representations and opinions of society are formed, de-formed, and re-formed
to provide the ideational materials that construct the basis upon which politics
and policies operate (Giddens 1979).
Therefore, the issue that I would like to bring to the forefront of this analysis
is that sociopolitical forms and processes are built upon cultural materials and
that these materials are either unilaterally produced by political institutions as an
expression of domination or, alternatively, are coproduced within the public
sphere by individuals, interest groups, civic associations of various kinds (the civil
society), and the state. How this public sphere is constituted and how it operates
largely defines the structure and dynamics of any given polity.
Furthermore, it can be argued that there is a public sphere in the international arena (Volkmer 2003). It exists within the political/institutional space
that is not subject to any particular sovereign power but, instead, is shaped by
the variable geometry of relationships between states and global nonstate actors
(Guidry, Kennedy, and Zald 2000). It is widely recognized that a variety of social
interests express themselves in this international arena: multinational business,
world religions, cultural creators, public intellectuals, and self-defined global
cosmopolitans (Beck 2006). There is also a global civil society (Kaldor 2003), as
I will try to argue below, and ad hoc forms of global governance enacted by
international, conational, and supranational political institutions (Nye and
Donahue 2000; Keohane 2002). For all these actors and institutions to interact
in a nondisruptive manner, the same kind of common ideational ground that
developed in the national public sphere should emerge. Otherwise, codestruction substitutes for cooperation, and sheer domination takes precedence over
governance. However, the forms and processes of construction of the international public sphere are far from clear. This is because a number of simultaneous crises have blurred the relationships between national public spheres and
the state, between states and civil society, between states and their citizens, and
between the states themselves (Bauman 1999; Caputo 2004; Arsenault 2007).
The crisis of the national public sphere makes the emergence of an international
public sphere particularly relevant. Without a flourishing international public
sphere, the global sociopolitical order becomes defined by the realpolitik of
nation-states that cling to the illusion of sovereignty despite the realities
wrought by globalization (Held 2004).
Globalization and the Nation-State
We live in a world marked by globalization (Held et al. 1999; Giddens and
Hutton 2000; Held and McGrew 2007). Globalization is the process that constitutes a social system with the capacity to work as a unit on a planetary scale in real
or chosen time. Capacity refers to technological capacity, institutional capacity,
and organizational capacity. New information and communication technologies,
including rapid long-distance transportation and computer networks, allow global
networks to selectively connect anyone and anything throughout the world.
Institutional capacity refers to deregulation, liberalization, and privatization of
the rules and procedures used by a nation-state to keep control over the activities within its territory. Organizational capacity refers to the ability to use networking as the flexible, interactive, borderless form of structuration of whatever
activity in whatever domain. Not everything or everyone is globalized, but the
global networks that structure the planet affect everything and everyone. This is
because all the core economic, communicative, and cultural activities are globalized. That is, they are dependent on strategic nodes connected around the world.
These include global financial markets; global production and distribution of
goods and services; international trade; global networks of science and technology; a global skilled labor force; selective global integration of labor markets by
migration of labor and direct foreign investment; global media; global interactive
networks of communication, primarily the Internet, but also dedicated computer
networks; and global cultures associated with the growth of diverse global cultural industries. Not everyone is globalized: networks connect and disconnect at
the same time. They connect everything that is valuable, or that which could
become valuable, according to the values programmed in the networks. They
bypass and exclude anything or anyone that does not add value to the network
and/or disorganizes the efficient processing of the network’s programs. The
social, economic, and cultural geography of our world follows the variable geometry of the global networks that embody the logic of multidimensional globalization (Beck 2000; Price 2002).
Not everything or everyone is globalized, but
the global networks that structure the planet
affect everything and everyone.
Furthermore, a number of issues faced by humankind are global in their manifestations and in their treatment (Jacquet, Pisani-Ferry, and Tubiana 2002).
Among these issues are the management of the environment as a planetary issue
characterized by the damage caused by unsustainable development (e.g., global
warming) and the need to counter this deterioration with a global, long-term conservation strategy (Grundmann 2001); the globalization of human rights and the
emergence of the issue of social justice for the planet at large (Forsythe 2000);
and global security as a shared problem, including the proliferation of weapons
of mass destruction, global terrorism, and the practice of the politics of fear
under the pretext of fighting terrorism (Nye 2002).
Overall, as Ulrich Beck (2006) has analyzed in his book Power in the Global
Age, the critical issues conditioning everyday life for people and their governments in every country are largely produced and shaped by globally interdependent processes that move beyond the realm of ostensibly sovereign state
territories. In Beck’s formulation, the meta-power of global business challenges
the power of the state in the global age, and “accordingly, the state can no longer
be seen as a pre-given political unit” (p. 51). State power is also undermined by
the counterpower strategies of the global civil society that seek a redefinition of
the global system. Thus,
What we are witnessing in the global age is not the end of politics but rather its migration elsewhere. . . . The structure of opportunities for political action is no longer
defined by the national/international dualism but is now located in the “global” arena.
Global politics have turned into global domestic politics, which rob national politics of
their boundaries and foundations. (p. 249)
The growing gap between the space where the issues arise (global) and the space
where the issues are managed (the nation-state) is at the source of four distinct,
but interrelated, political crises that affect the institutions of governance:
1. Crisis of efficiency: Problems cannot be adequately managed (e.g., major environmental issues, such as global warming, regulation of financial markets, or counterterrorism
intelligence; Nye and Donahue 2000; Soros 2006).
2. Crisis of legitimacy: Political representation based on democracy in the nation-state
becomes simply a vote of confidence on the ability of the nation-state to manage the
interests of the nation in the global web of policy making. Election to office no longer
denotes a specific mandate, given the variable geometry of policy making and the unpredictability of the issues that must be dealt with. Thus, increasing distance and opacity
between citizens and their representatives follows (Dalton 2005, 2006). This crisis of
legitimacy is deepened by the practice of media politics and the politics of scandal, while
image-making substitutes for issue deliberation as the privileged mechanism to access
power (Thompson 2000). In the past decade, surveys of political attitudes around the
world have revealed widespread and growing distrust of citizens vis-à-vis political parties, politicians, and the institutions of representative democracy (Caputo 2004;
Catterberg and Moreno 2005; Arsenault 2007; Gallup International 2006).
3. Crisis of identity: As people see their nation and their culture increasingly disjointed from
the mechanisms of political decision making in a global, multinational network, their
claim of autonomy takes the form of resistance identity and cultural identity politics as
opposed to their political identity as citizens (Barber 1995; Castells 2004b; Lull 2007).
4. Crisis of equity: The process of globalization led by market forces in the framework of
deregulation often increases inequality between countries and between social groups
within countries (Held and Kaya 2006). In the absence of a global regulatory environment
that compensates for growing inequality, the demands of economic competition undermine existing welfare states. The shrinking of welfare states makes it increasingly difficult for national governments to compensate for structurally induced inequality because
of the decreased capacity of national institutions to act as corrective mechanisms
(Gilbert 2002).
As a result of these crises and the decreased ability of governments to mitigate
them, nongovernmental actors become the advocates of the needs, interests, and
values of people at large, thus further undermining the role of governments in
response to challenges posed by globalization and structural transformation.
The Global Civil Society
The decreased ability of nationally based political systems to manage the
world’s problems on a global scale has induced the rise of a global civil society.
However, the term civil society is a generic label that lumps together several disparate and often contradictory and competitive forms of organization and action.
A distinction must be made between different types of organizations.
The decreased ability of nationally based
political systems to manage the world’s
problems on a global scale has induced the rise
of a global civil society.
In every country, there are local civil society actors who defend local or sectoral interests, as well as specific values against or beyond the formal political
process. Examples of this subset of civil society include grassroots organizations,
community groups, labor unions, interest groups, religious groups, and civic associations. This is a very old social practice in all societies, and some analysts, particularly Putnam (2000), even argue that this form of civic engagement is on the
decline, as individualism becomes the predominant culture of our societies. In
fact, the health of these groups varies widely according to country and region.
For instance, in almost every country of Latin America, community organizations
have become a very important part of the social landscape (Calderón 2003). The
difference between these groups in varying nations is that the sources of social
organization are increasingly diversified: religion, for instance, plays a major role
in Latin America, particularly non-Catholic Christian religious groups. Student
movements remain an influential source of social change in East Asia, particularly in South Korea. In some cases, criminal organizations build their networks
of support in the poor communities in exchange for patronage and forced protection. Elsewhere, people in the community, women’s groups, ecologists, or ethnic groups, organize themselves to make their voices heard and to assert their
identity. However, traditional forms of politics and ideological sources of voluntary associations seem to be on the decline almost everywhere, although the
patronage system continues to exist around each major political party. Overall,
this variegated process amounts to a shift from the institutional political system
to informal and formal associations of interests and values as the source of collective action and sociopolitical influence. This empowers local civil society to
face the social problems resulting from unfettered globalization. Properly speaking, this is not the global civil society, although it constitutes a milieu of organization, projects, and practices that nurtures the growth of the global civil society.
A second trend is represented by the rise of nongovernmental organizations
(NGOs) with a global or international frame of reference in their action and
goals. This is what most analysts refer to as “global civil society” (Kaldor 2003).
These are private organizations (albeit often supported or partly financed by public institutions) that act outside government channels to address global problems.
Often they affirm values that are universally recognized but politically manipulated in their own interest by political agencies, including governments. In other
words, international NGOs claim to be the enforcers of unenforced human
rights. A case in point is Amnesty International, whose influence comes from the
fact that it is an equal-opportunity critic of all cases of political, ideological, or
religious repression, regardless of the political interests at stake. These organizations typically espouse basic principles and/or uncompromising values. For
instance, torture is universally decried even as a means of combating greater
“evils.” The affirmation of human rights on a comprehensive, global scale gives
birth to tens of thousands of NGOs that cover the entire span of the human experience, from poverty to illnesses, from hunger to epidemics, from women’s rights
to the defense of children, and from banning land mines to saving the whales.
Examples of global civil society groups include Medecins Sans Frontieres,
Oxfam, Greenpeace, and thousands of others. The Global Civil Society Yearbook
series, an annual report produced by the London School of Economics Centre
for Global Governance and under the direction of Mary Kaldor, provides ample
evidence of the quantitative importance and qualitative relevance of these global
civil society actors and illustrates how they have already altered the social and
political management of global and local issues around the world (e.g., Anheier,
Glasius, and Kaldor 2004; Glasius, Kaldor, and Anheier 2005; Kaldor, Anheier,
and Glasius 2006).
To understand the characteristics of the international NGOS, three features must
be emphasized: In contrast to political parties, these NGOs have considerable
popularity and legitimacy, and this translates into substantial funding both via
donations and volunteerism. Their activity focuses on practical matters, specific
cases, and concrete expressions of human solidarity: saving children from famine,
freeing political prisoners, stopping the lapidation of women, and ameliorating
the impact of unsustainable development on indigenous cultures. What is fundamental here is that the classical political argument of rationalizing decisions in
terms of the overall context of politics is denied. Goals do not justify the means.
The purpose is to undo evil or to do good in one specific instance. The positive
output must be considered in itself, not as a way of moving in a positive direction.
Because people have come to distrust the logic of instrumental politics, the
method of direct action on direct outputs finds increasing support. Finally, the
key tactics of NGOs to achieve results and build support for their causes is media
politics (Dean, Anderson, and Lovink 2006; Gillmor 2004). It is through the
media that these organizations reach the public and mobilize people in support
of these causes. In so doing, they eventually put pressure on governments threatened by the voters or on corporations fearful of consumers’ reactions. Thus, the
media become the battleground for an NGO’s campaign. Since these are global
campaigns, global media are the key target. The globalization of communication
leads to the globalization of media politics (Costanza-Chock 2006).
Social movements that aim to control the process of globalization constitute a
third type of civil society actor. In attempting to shape the forces of globalization,
these social movements build networks of action and organization to induce a
global social movement for global justice (what the media labeled, incorrectly, as
the antiglobalization movement) (Keck and Sikkink 1998; Juris forthcoming).
The Zapatistas, for instance, formed a social movement opposed to the economic,
social, and cultural effects of globalization (represented by NAFTA) on the
Mexican Indians and on the Mexican people at large (Castells, Yawaza, and
Kiselyova 1996). To survive and assert their rights, they called for global solidarity, and they ended up being one of the harbingers of the global network of
indigenous movements, itself a component of the much broader global movement. The connection between many of these movements in a global network of
debate and coordination of action and the formalization of some of these movements in a permanent network of social initiatives aimed at altering the processes
of globalization, are processes that are redefining the sociopolitical landscape of
the world. Yet the movement for global justice, inspired by the motto that
“another world is possible,” is not the sum of nationally bound struggles. It is a
global network of opposition to the values and interests that are currently dominant in the globalization process (Juris 2004). Its nodes grow and shrink alternately, depending on the conditions under which each society relates to
globalization and its political manifestations. This is a movement that, in spite of
the attempts by some leaders to build a program for a new world order, is better
described by what it opposes than by a unified ideology. It is essentially a democratic movement, a movement that calls for new forms of political representation
of people’s will and interests in the process of global governance. In spite of its
extreme internal diversity, there is indeed a shared critique of the management
of the world by international institutions made up exclusively of national governments. It is an expression of the crisis of legitimacy, transformed into oppositional
political action.
There is a fourth type of expression of global civil society. This is the movement
of public opinion, made up of turbulences of information in a diversified media
system, and of the emergence of spontaneous, ad hoc mobilizations using horizontal, autonomous networks of communication. The implications of this phenomenon at the global level—that were first exemplified by the simultaneous
peace demonstrations around the world on February 15, 2003, against the imminent Iraq war—are full of political meaning. Internet and wireless communication, by enacting a global, horizontal network of communication, provide both an
organizing tool and a means for debate, dialogue, and collective decision making.
Case studies of local sociopolitical mobilizations organized by means of the
Internet and mobile communication in South Korea, the Philippines, Spain,
Ukraine, Ecuador, Nepal, and Thailand, among many other countries, illustrate
the new capacity of movements to organize and mobilize citizens in their country while calling for solidarity in the world at large (Castells et al. 2006). The
mobilization against the military junta in Myanmar in October 2007 is a case in
point (Mydans 2007). The first demonstrations, mainly led by students, were relatively small, but they were filmed with video cell phones and immediately
uploaded on YouTube. The vision of the determination of the demonstrators and
of the brutality of the military regime amplified the movement. It became a
movement of the majority of society when the Buddhist monks took to the streets
to express their moral outrage. The violent repression that followed was also
filmed and distributed over the Internet because the ability to record and connect through wireless communication by simple devices in the hands of hundreds
of people made it possible to record everything. Burmese people connected
among themselves and to the world relentlessly, using short message service
(SMS) and e-mails, posting daily blogs, notices on Facebook, and videos on
YouTube. The mainstream media rebroadcast and repackaged these citizen journalists’ reports, made from the front line, around the world. By the time the dictatorship closed down all Internet providers, cut off mobile phone operators, and
confiscated video-recording devices found on the streets, the brutality of the
Myanmar regime had been globally exposed. This exposure embarrassed their
Chinese sponsors and induced the United States and the European Union to
increase diplomatic pressure on the junta (although they refrained from suspending the lucrative oil and gas deals between the junta and European and
American companies). In sum, the global civil society now has the technological
means to exist independently from political institutions and from the mass media.
However, the capacity of social movements to change the public mind still
depends, to a large extent, on their ability to shape the debate in the public
sphere. In this context, at this instance of human history, how is governance articulated in social practice and institutions?
[G]lobal civil society now has the
technological means to exist independently
from political institutions and from the mass
media. However, the capacity of social
movements to change the public mind still
depends, to a large extent, on their ability to
shape the debate in the public sphere.
Global Governance and the Network State
The increasing inability of nation-states to confront and manage the processes
of globalization of the issues that are the object of their governance leads to ad
hoc forms of global governance and, ultimately, to a new form of state. Nationstates, in spite of their multidimensional crisis, do not disappear; they transform
themselves to adapt to the new context. Their pragmatic transformation is what
really changes the contemporary landscape of politics and policy making. By
nation-states, I mean the institutional set comprising the whole state (i.e.,
national governments, the parliament, the political party system, the judiciary,
and the state bureaucracy). As a nation-state experiences crises wrought by globalization, this system transforms itself by three main mechanisms:
1. Nation-states associate with each other, forming networks of states. Some of these networks are multipurpose and constitutionally defined, such as the European Union;
others focus on a set of issues, generally related to trade (e.g., Mercosur or NAFTA);
while still others are spaces of coordination and debate (e.g., the Asia-Pacific
Economic Cooperation or APEC and the Association of Southern Asian Nations
known as ASEAN). In the strongest networks, participating states explicitly share sovereignty. In weaker networks, states cooperate via implicit or de facto sovereigntysharing mechanisms.
2. States may build an increasingly dense network of international institutions and supranational organizations to deal with global issues—from general-purpose institutions
(e.g., the United Nations), to specialized ones (e.g., the International Monetary Fund,
World Bank, NATO, the European Security Conference, and the International Atomic
Energy Agency). There are also ad hoc international agencies defined around a specific
set of issues (e.g., environmental treaties).
3. States may also decentralize power and resources in an effort to increase legitimacy
and/or attempt to tap other forms of cultural or political allegiance through the devolution of power to local or regional governments and to NGOs that extend the decisionmaking process in civil society.
From this multipronged process emerges a new form of state, the network
state, which is characterized by shared sovereignty and responsibility, flexibility
of procedures of governance, and greater diversity in the relationship between
governments and citizens in terms of time and space. The whole system develops
pragmatically via ad hoc decisions, ushering in sometimes contradictory rules and
institutions and obscuring and removing the system of political representation
from political control. In the network state, efficiency improves, but the ensuing
gains in legitimacy by the nation-state deepen its crisis, although overall political
legitimacy may improve if local and regional institutions play their role. Yet the
growing autonomy of the local and regional state may bring the different levels
of the state into competition against one another.
The practice of global governance through ad hoc networks confronts a number of major problems that evolve out of the contradiction between the historically constructed nature of the institutions that come into the network and the
new functions and mechanisms they have to assume to perform in the network
while still relating to their nation-bound societies. The network state faces a coordination problem with three aspects: organizational, technical, and political. The
state faces organizational problems because agencies that previously flourished
via territoriality and authority vis-à-vis their societies cannot have the same structure, reward systems, and operational principles as agencies whose fundamental
role is to find synergy with other agencies. Technical coordination problems take
place because protocols of communication do not work. The introduction of the
Internet and computer networks often disorganizes agencies rather than facilitating synergies. Agencies often resist networking technology. Political coordination problems evolve not only horizontally between agencies but also vertically
because networking between agencies and supervisory bodies necessitates a loss
of bureaucratic autonomy. Moreover, agencies must also network with their citizen constituencies, thus bringing pressure on the bureaucracies to be more
responsive to the citizen-clients.
The development of the network state also needs to confront an ideological
problem: coordinating a common policy means a common language and a set of
shared values. Examples include opposition to market fundamentalism in the
regulation of markets, acceptance of sustainable development in environmental
policy, or the prioritization of human rights over the raison d’etat in security policy. More often than not, governments do not share the same principles or the
same interpretation of common principles.
There is also a lingering geopolitical problem. Nation-states still see the networks of governance as a negotiating table upon which to impose their specific
interests. There is a stalemate in the intergovernmental decision-making processes
because the culture of cooperation is lacking. The overarching principles are the
interests of the nation-state and the domination of the personal/political/social
interests in service of each nation-state. Governments see the global state as an
opportunity to maximize their own interests, rather than a new context in which
political institutions have to govern together. In fact, the more the globalization
process proceeds, the more contradictions it generates (e.g., identity crises, economic
crises, and security crises), leading to a revival of nationalism and to the primacy
of sovereignty. These tensions underlie the attempts by various governments to
pursue unilateralism in their policies in spite of the objective multilateralism that
results from global interdependence in our world (Nye 2002).
As long as these contradictions persist, it is difficult, if not impossible, for the
world’s geopolitical actors to shift from the practice of a pragmatic, ad hoc networking form of negotiated decision making to a system of constitutionally
accepted networked global governance (Habermas 1998).
There is a process of the emergence
of de facto global governance without
a global government.
The New Public Sphere
The new political system in a globalized world emerges from the processes of
the formation of a global civil society and a global network state that supersedes
and integrates the preexisting nation-states without dissolving them into a global
government. There is a process of the emergence of de facto global governance
without a global government. The transition from these pragmatic forms of
sociopolitical organization and decision making to a more elaborate global institutional system requires the coproduction of meaning and the sharing of values
between global civil society and the global network state. This transformation is
influenced and fought over by cultural/ideational materials through which the
political and social interests work to enact the transformation of the state. In the
last analysis, the will of the people emerges from people’s minds. And people
make up their minds on the issues that affect their lives, as well as the future of
humankind, from the messages and debates that take place in the public sphere.
The contemporary global public sphere is largely dependent on the global/local
communication media system. This media system includes television, radio, and
the print press, as well as a variety of multimedia and communications systems,
among which the Internet and horizontal networks of communication now play a
decisive role (Bennett 2004; Dahlgren 2005; Tremayne 2007). There is a shift
from a public sphere anchored around the national institutions of territorially
bound societies to a public sphere constituted around the media system (Volkmer
1999; El-Nawawy and Iskander 2002; Paterson and Sreberny 2004). This media
system includes what I have conceptualized as mass self-communication, that is,
networks of communication that relate many-to-many in the sending and receiving of messages in a multimodal form of communication that bypasses mass
media and often escapes government control (Castells 2007).
The current media system is local and global at the same time. It is organized
around a core formed by media business groups with global reach and their networks (Arsenault and Castells forthcoming). But at the same time, it is dependent
on state regulations and focused on narrowcasting to specific audiences (Price
2002). By acting on the media system, particularly by creating events that send
powerful images and messages, transnational activists induce a debate on the hows,
whys, and whats of globalization and on related societal choices (Juris forthcoming).
It is through the media, both mass media and horizontal networks of communication, that nonstate actors influence people’s minds and foster social change.
Ultimately, the transformation of consciousness does have consequences on political behavior, on voting patterns, and on the decisions of governments. It is at the
level of media politics where it appears that societies can be moved in a direction
that diverges from the values and interests institutionalized in the political system.
Thus, it is essential for state actors, and for intergovernmental institutions,
such as the United Nations, to relate to civil society not only around institutional
mechanisms and procedures of political representation but in public debates in
the global public sphere. That global public sphere is built around the media
communication system and Internet networks, particularly in the social spaces of
the Web 2.0, as exemplified by YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, and the growing
blogosphere that by mid-2007 counted 70 million blogs and was doubling in size
every six months (Tremayne 2007). A series of major conferences was organized
by the UN during the 1990s on issues pertinent to humankind (from the condition of women to environmental conservation). While not very effective in terms
of designing policy, these conferences were essential in fostering a global dialogue, in raising public awareness, and in providing the platform on which the
global civil society could move to the forefront of the policy debate. Therefore,
stimulating the consolidation of this communication-based public sphere is one
key mechanism with which states and international institutions can engage with
the demands and projects of the global civil society. This can take place by stimulating dialogue regarding specific initiatives and recording, on an ongoing basis,
the contributions of this dialogue so that it can inform policy making in the international arena. To harness the power of the world’s public opinion through global
media and Internet networks is the most effective form of broadening political
participation on a global scale, by inducing a fruitful, synergistic connection
between the government-based international institutions and the global civil
society. This multimodal communication space is what constitutes the new global
public sphere.
Conclusion: Public Diplomacy and
the Global Public Sphere
Public diplomacy is not propaganda. And it is not government diplomacy. We
do not need to use a new concept to designate the traditional practices of diplomacy. Public diplomacy is the diplomacy of the public, that is, the projection in
the international arena of the values and ideas of the public. The public is not the
government because it is not formalized in the institutions of the state. By the
public, we usually mean what is common to a given social organization that transcends the private. The private is the domain of self-defined interests and values,
while the public is the domain of the shared interests and values (Dewey 1954).
The implicit project behind the idea of public diplomacy is not to assert the
power of a state or of a social actor in the form of “soft power.” It is, instead, to
harness the dialogue between different social collectives and their cultures in the
hope of sharing meaning and understanding. The aim of the practice of public
diplomacy is not to convince but to communicate, not to declare but to listen.
Public diplomacy seeks to build a public sphere in which diverse voices can be
heard in spite of their various origins, distinct values, and often contradictory
interests. The goal of public diplomacy, in contrast to government diplomacy, is
not to assert power or to negotiate a rearrangement of power relationships. It is
to induce a communication space in which a new, common language could
emerge as a precondition for diplomacy, so that when the time for diplomacy
comes, it reflects not only interests and power making but also meaning and sharing. In this sense, public diplomacy intervenes in the global space equivalent to
what has been traditionally conceived as the public sphere in the national system.
It is a terrain of cultural engagement in which ideational materials are produced
and confronted by various social actors, creating the conditions under which different projects can be channeled by the global civil society and the political institutions of global governance toward an informed process of decision making that
respects the differences and weighs policy alternatives.
Because we live in a globalized, interdependent world, the space of political
codecision is necessarily global. And the choice that we face is either to construct
the global political system as an expression of power relationships without cultural mediation or else to develop a global public sphere around the global networks of communication, from which the public debate could inform the
emergence of a new form of consensual global governance. If the choice is the
latter, public diplomacy, understood as networked communication and shared
meaning, becomes a decisive tool for the attainment of a sustainable world order.
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