Laura at Apartment 11d posts on the blogosphere as a space for debate:
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?
Perhaps it should be neither. The most attractive ideal for the blogosphere that I’ve come across is in sociologist Richard Sennett’s brilliant, frustrating shaggy-dog of a book, The Fall of Public Man. Sennett is writing about the eighteenth century coffee-house as a place where people could escape from their private lives, reinventing themselves, and engaging in good conversation with others, regardless of their background or their everyday selves. They could assume new identities, try out novel arguments usw. This kind of polity doesn’t so much conduct towards a shared consensus, as allow the kinds of diversity and plurality that Iris Marion Young (who’s heavily influenced by Sennett) talks about in Justice and the Politics of Difference.
I’m quite sure that eighteenth century coffee houses weren’t actually like that (unless you were bourgeois and male) – but Sennett’s arguments are still helpful in understanding how the blogosphere differs from a New England townhall. Like Sennett’s patronizers of coffee shops, bloggers don’t usually know each other before they start blogging, so that it’s quite easy for them to reinvent themselves if they like, and indeed to invent a pseudonym, or pseudonyms to disguise their real identity completely. This has its downside – some bloggers take it as license for offensive behaviour – but in general, if you don’t like a blog, you can simply stop reading it, or linking to it. The blogosphere seems less to me like a close-knit community (there isn’t much in the way of shared values, and only a bare minimum of shared norms), and more like a city neighborhood. An active, vibrant neighborhood when things are working; one with dog-turds littering the pavement when they’re not.