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Democracy in the Age of New Media

The Politics of the Spectacle

Tauel Harper

In the age of the spectacle, democracy has never looked so bleak. Our world, saturated with media and marketing, endlessly confronts us with spectacles vying for our attention: from Apple and 9/11 to Facebook and the global financial crisis. Democratic politics, by comparison, remain far from engaging. A society obsessed with spectacles results in a complete misfiring of the democratic system.
This book uses critical democratic theory to outline the effects of consumer culture on citizenship. It highlights the importance that public space plays in creating the critical culture necessary for a healthy democracy, and outlines how contemporary ‘public’ spaces – shopping centres, the Internet, social networking sites and suburban communities – contribute to this culture. Terrorism, ecological destruction and the financial crisis are also outlined as symptoms of the politics of the spectacle. The book concludes with some basic principles and novel suggestions which could be employed to avoid the pitfalls inherent in our spectacular existence.

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Chapter One: The Agonistic Public Realm 11

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• C H A P T E R O N E • The Agonistic Public Realm The two qualities that the slave, according to Aristotle, lacks—and it is because of these defects that he is not human—are the faculty to deliberate and decide and to foresee and choose. —Hannah Arendt (1958: 84ft) gonistic democracy emphasises the virtues of direct political participation as the best way for people to express themselves. Through engaging with a public forum, people are not only able to express their identity but are concurrently able to critically engage in the construction of communicative power. Agonists believe that the motivation necessary to establish a polis arises directly from the human desire to have a common and “real” forum in which to express themselves. Reality, in turn, is constituted in the processes of public dialogue, display and storytelling. Agonistic theory suggests that the human need to make meaning means that we will always seek to share a public space. In order to explain this point, I shall describe the various functions of Arendt’s ideal polis in fulfilling certain needs. Through identifying the display function of public appearance, Arendt provides valuable insights into the human energies that affirm democracy as the only form of government commensurate with human dignity. An exploration of Arendt’s ideal of agonistic politics serves to highlight some of the similarities between her ideal political discourse and that of Habermas. In both cases, power is understood to be communicatively constituted and democratic virtue is judged upon...

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