Academic journal article Journal of Media Research

Investigating Identity Formation in the Virtual Public Sphere: The Case of Piata Universitatii Facebook Page

Academic journal article Journal of Media Research

Investigating Identity Formation in the Virtual Public Sphere: The Case of Piata Universitatii Facebook Page

Article excerpt

The concept of public sphere is highly disputed with various critics underlining its limits (Eley 1992; Fraser 1990; 2013; Dahlgren 2009). This issue becomes even more intricate with the advent of new media and the crescent digitalization of our societies. In this context, the present article investigates if a public sphere could form on Facebook and if it enables free access for users and a variety of social actors. At the same time, does this online space engender debates and rational discussion? But in order to attest that a virtual public sphere could function on Facebook, then it would necessary to redefine the public sphere such that it included also a digital dimension. With the purpose of investigating this issue, it was selected Piata Universitätii Facebook Page because it represents the virtual translation of a very dynamic phenomenon with further echoes in Romanian society.

This article is structured in five sections. In the first one, there are presented theories and empirical finding regarding the possibility that a public sphere emerges online. In the second part, it is supported the fact that identity as concept has a key role in understanding how marginalized publics mobilize and construct their most relevant stories. The later are important assets for the way a movement further develops and creates a position related to media and political actors.

In the third part of this article, it is presented the methodological frame demonstrating at the same time that dispositive analysis could be a constructive approach for understanding how identities are constructed and in which manner they become active in a virtual public sphere.

The last sections of this study deals with the findings and their interpretation arguing that Piata Universitätii Facebook Page is presented by its participants in their virtual interactions as a democratic space where everyone could freely express its ideas and search for better solutions. At the same time the page could be understood, according to the discourses produces by its users, as an alternative for what represents the mainstream media. It promoted a critical approach regarding media and their autonomy in Romanian society.

Towards a theory about a virtual public sphere

One of the key problems in investigating the public sphere is if it should be considered a single entity (Habermas 1991) or if, in fact, it is formed by a large diversity of publics (Eley 1992; Fraser 1990; 2013; Gamham 1992; Habermas 1992; 2009). In 1996, after Habermas's writings received criticism which sustained the idea of multiplicity, the author admitted the multi-layered complexity of the public sphere in contemporaneousness (Habermas 1996).

Along with the digitalization of our social lives, Milioni (2009) found empirical evidence in support of the fact that Habermas's main concept is useful for understanding and structuring virtual spaces. The necessary condition is that there are acknowledged the multiplicity and variety of its no passive publics together with their performances and digital repertoires and the need for an open model of political communication.

The idea of a plurality of active publics in online is important because it offers the researcher the possibility to reconsider that another public sphere could be possible. It is clear that it will not represent a faithful copy of how this concept is traditionally understood, but the emergence of this discursive space could be supported by the need to develop an alternative discourse about the main issues of the society and the social representations engaged (values, ideas, metaphors, beliefs, and practices that are shared in a collective).

A problem which derives from the transformation of the public sphere in contemporaneousness and its diversity of publics is the question of accession to it. In other words, the question becomes if it is opened to all the citizens or if there have always been from the beginning excluded publics, such as women or minority members (Fraser 1990; 2013; Jenkins & Thorbum 2004; Negt & Kluge 1993). …

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