Sep 10, 2009

How I Imagine Castell's Public Sphere

I really enjoyed the Manuel Castells reading, “The New Public Sphere: Global Civil Society, Communication Networks, and Global Governance” because it gave me some things to visualize. Castells talks a lot about the “public sphere.” He defines it as a place where public opinion is communicated and information and ideas are exchanged, locating it between society and the state. As I read, I thought to myself, what does the public sphere look like? I have no background in political science or international relations, so I visualized a sort of gladiator arena with the government on one side and civil society on the other. In the middle of the arena, a sort of battle was going on. Interest groups and lobbyists were marching around with protest signs. Different civic associations were handing out pamphlets. And of course, the media was there reporting news and opinion in the forms of television, radio, and newspapers.

As I read on, I realized that I was thinking about the public sphere on a national level, specifically the United States. Castells brings to the fore the argument that there is a public sphere on an international level. My visualization of the public sphere expanded to include actors on an international level. The governments and citizens of all nation-states sat around the perimeters of the arena. In the middle, I saw advertisements from multinational businesses, leaders and followers of world religions, world interest groups, and global media.

Castells argues that nations-states form networks of nation-states. An obvious example would be the European Union. The EU is a network of many different countries, each maintaining their own language, traditions, national religion, and other aspects of culture. Castells points out several issues that are truly global concerns including human rights, environmental issues like global warming, terrorism, and the governance of world-wide technologies like the internet. Castells also identifies several problems or “crises” the world faces when attempting to deal with global problems, like not having a global common language, the lack of an impartial global “referee” to judge actions and decisions, cultural differences world-wide, and not having an efficient way to manage all these global issues.

Overall, I felt that Castells did an excellent job of defining the public sphere on both a national and international level, identifying the problems we face on a global level, and articulating the reasons why global governance and cooperation is extremely difficult. The one problem I had with this reading is that Castells identifies all these problems, but does not really give any suggestions of how to fix it or what to do about it.

1 comment:

  1. It's interesting you bring up the EU because I was thinking of that as well when the part about networks of nation states was brought up. But then I went back to a question asked by Karim Karim in regards to how nation-states, or in this case, networks of nation-states deal with ideas like the Muslim Ummah (larger community of Muslims).

    That question along with Waisbord's statement about nationalists believe that culture can keep people together better than economics or politics as embodied by a group like the EU.

    It reminded me of an article by Steven Simon ( in which he stated that facing feelings of alienation - either reactionary or reality, young Muslims in Europe were disengaging with European culture and embracing a form of Islamic culture they believed to have existed.

    So on the public sphere, how do organizations like the BBC, the French Government, and the independent media use the public sphere to eliminate these dangerous feelings of alienation among young Muslims and a find a way to show them that they can engage with European culture and not lose their Muslim identity? After all, statements by the British government (I believe under Blair) that the niqab should be banned or the French government's decision to ban religious icons and dress in public spaces are only further working to make the Muslim youth feel unwelcome in European society regardless of how 'traditionally Muslim' they may or may not be.

    So how can the public space of EU media be used to engage young Muslims in a larger European identity? That's a very important question for the media of nation-states and networked nation-states how do you engage the disenfranchised?