Handbook of Digital Politics
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Handbook of Digital Politics

Edited by Stephen Coleman and Deen Freelon

It would be difficult to imagine how a development as world-changing as the emergence of the Internet could have taken place without having some impact upon the ways in which politics is expressed, conducted, depicted and reflected upon. The Handbook of Digital Politics explores this impact in a series of chapters written by some of the world's leading Internet researchers. This volume is a must-read for students, researchers and practitioners interested in the changing landscape of political communication.
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Chapter 2: The internet as a civic space

Peter Dahlgren


To talk about the internet as a civic space requires some preliminary conceptualization; thus, first I briefly discuss two models of democracy – elitist and republican – to show that the ideals of civic participation can vary considerably. This is illuminated by a discussion of the role of the net in electoral and alternative politics. From there I approach civic space through two key concepts: civil society and the public sphere. I underscore the analytic importance of power relations in understanding the extent and character of participation (and exclusion). Thereafter I turn to research findings and debates on internet and political participation, looking at the arguments of ‘enthusiasts’ and ‘sceptics’. I claim that it is essential to grasp the various contingencies, manifested as dynamic configurations, that impact on how the internet is used. In this regard the political economy, as well as the technical architecture of the net, loom large. In socio-cultural terms, the net has become a historically new habitus for political participation. Lastly, I offer the framework of civic cultures as a way of empirically and critically analysing concrete situations of the internet as a civic space. The chapter concludes with some proposals for future research.

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