Monday, June 28, 2004

The Blogging Polis

I'm working on a paper on the politics of blogging. As it often happens, I've taken a long detour down one section of the paper because it interests me.

I've been wrestling with the question, is blogging a new form of political participation. Our survey partially answers that question, but it also needs some political theory. So, I've been reading Carole Pateman and Hannah Arendt to find out how they defined participation and how well blogging fits in with their ideas.

Though their definitions are vague, there is definitely a notion that participation means people talking and acting in the public realm. The classic example is a New England townhall meeting where all citizens came together to make decisions based on their self-interest, values, and the community good. Others look back to the Athenian polis as another place where there was maximum participation.

So, is the blogosphere a public space, like the New England townhall meeting? Is it a place where individuals can debate ideas and policy proposals and have some impact on political officials? Over the past week, I've spent too much time researching this section of the paper that will probably get edited down to a page or two.

In the meantime, I got an e-mail from my downstairs neighbor in Apt. 11C. She stumbled across my blog and sent me the link to hers. While my neighbors are all very nice people, we don't know each other well. Mostly, it's just a smile and a wave in the hallway. Maybe we'll stop and chat for a second about the noisy guys who park themselves in front of our building all night. Now, because of our blogs, Apt. 11C and I suddenly know a lot about each other. In the real world, we were strangers.

There are definitely problems with the blogosphere. It is a poor substitute for a noisy room where people interact face to face to debate political and personal matters. But in our busy, individualistic world, it might be all we have.

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