The holistic public sphere
: the role of publics and INGOs to transnationalise the public sphere: an exploratory study of Amnesty International UK’s Facebook page

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

Social media have been provided individuals with new tools to unite around common transnational grievances and create democratic spaces for dialogue, thus redefining avenues of democratic participation. Nevertheless, publics’ deliberative potential is challenged by polarising discourse and authoritarian tendencies afflicting societies worldwide. This has reinvigorated debates about how the Habermasian public sphere could be transnationalised to energize transnational public opinion capable of exercising influence over political authority. Yet, scholarly attempts to transnationalise the public sphere undertake a compartmentalised disciplinary approach reducing the concept to specific enabling conditions, such as the internet, institutions, and convergence around issues. This is problematic as it detracts from the public sphere’s inherent normative essence in displacing the publics as primary agents of public-opinion formation, thus asking: under what conditions can a transnational public sphere emerge? This thesis argues that transnationalising the public sphere demands a normative practical inquiry reconfiguring the concept as a communicative environment. This enables the disaggregation of publics defined by their fluid contextualised and situated practices which give rise to discursive, structural and social conditions that enable the emergence of a transnational public. This in turn needs to be nurtured by the mediating qualities of an infrastructural setting, historically fulfilled by the 17-19th century coffee-houses, and presently performed by INGOs, which has been hitherto neglected by public sphere literature. This reconfiguration provides a holistic normative framework which is applied on the exploratory case study of Amnesty International UK’s Facebook conversations. To operationalise this framework, this thesis takes an emancipatory, dialectical and dialogic methodological approach to critical discourse analysis informed by Chouliaraki and Fairclough (1999) and Bakhtin (1981), which utilises Halliday’s (2004) systemic functional linguistics and Fairclough’s (2003) discourse. The holistic public sphere acts not only as a corrective to prevailing public sphere disciplinary silos but bridges the gap between holistic normative theorising and practical application in order to advance the research agenda towards more attuned, creative and emancipatory directions for democratic renewal.
Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorBrigitte Leucht (Supervisor), Angela Crack (Supervisor), James Dennis (Supervisor) & David Carpenter (Supervisor)

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