Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Theory and Criticism

Supervisor

Dr. Mark Franke

Abstract

This work considers how politics can be reinvigorated through the use of the internet. The argument consists of two parts, the first of which develops a theoretical understanding of politics, meant to differentiate it from the anti-political status quo, which draws on the theories of participatory and agonistic democracy. It then precedes to develop and adapt this understanding of politics to the context of the internet. This is done by breaking politics up into four terrains of contestation which can be configured to be more or less political.

Politics requires, first of all, a common place to gather. Drawing on Hannah Arendt’s theory of the political realm, I argue that such a political realm could flourish online, as the internet can be used to create a common space that is accessible to all. What is means to be political in this political realm, is approached by drawing on the theories of political subjectivity advanced by Slavoj Žižek and Jacques Rancière. Subjectivity is posited as an empty universal against the identifying impulse of anti-politics. I argue that the internet enhances our ability to become political subjects, as it can enable us to hide our private identities which so often are used by the state to classify us as objects incapable of taking part in politics.

What the political subjects do in the political realm consists of participation in speech and action and engaging in conflict. Taking Arendt’s participatory politics as a starting point, I argue that the ability to participate in political debate and decision making is essential for political freedom. This form of freedom can flourish online where the problems of scale and size, which have traditionally been used to argue that representative government is the only viable form of democracy, are less of an issue. Drawing on Chantal Mouffe’s theory of agonistic pluralism, I posit the embrace of conflict and disagreement as what calls politics into existence. Ultimately I argue that the internet enhances plurality, which allows us to come into contact with a wider range of views, which enables more civil disagreements to play out.


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