Public Sphere Participation Online: the Ambiguities of Affect
The point of departure of this essay is the growing attention to affect as an important aspect of political participation, particularly in the context of online media’s role in democracy and public spheres. The approach pulls together a broad range of research on participation, public spheres and affect, with the aim of highlighting important gains as well as issues and ambiguities. In this cluster of interrelated concerns, we find not a cumulative body of unified knowledge, but rather strands from various traditions. The first section deals with the concept of participation, arguing for a robust view that sees it as an intervention, however small, into power relations. The second section pursues the notion of affect, framing it within the force-field of rationality and emotionality, a problematic motif in democracy theory. The third section focuses on the online environment, particularly social media, highlighting lingering ambivalences of online participation and their relevance for affect. The final section offers brief reflections on affect and populism, and on legitimate public pathways to knowledge.