Public Spheres within Movements: Challenging the (Re)search for a European Public Sphere
The emergence of a transnational public sphere in Europe is expected to facilitate democratic control and public debate about European issues as well as enable the formation of a European collective identity. Taking this claim seriously, though, reveals that empirical research has so far taken a rather restricted view on the European public sphere by assuming that the mass media constitute the core framework in the transnationalisation of the public sphere. This paper argues that such an approach reinforces the dominant ‘top-down’ perspective of EU institutions and should thus be complemented by including ‘lower’ levels of the public sphere in the analysis. Transnational social movements, for example, have often contributed to the diffusion of vital information across borders, thus creating public spheres ‘from below’. However, because of their capacity to mobilise public opinion across borders, social movements have mainly been seen as actors who are engaged in contentious debates within the given frameworks of communication, even though numerous public arenas are created also within social movements themselves. The paper suggest to link both fields of research by looking at the public spheres created within social movements, such as the European Social Forum. To facilitate such an approach the arena model of the public sphere is presented as a conceptual framework providing some clarity about the public sphere as a structured space of communication which comprises interlinked public arenas as well as private networks. As a result, Based on this distinction between two modes of communication, ‘publicness’ and ‘density’ can be distinguished as two parameters of a public sphere.
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