chapter  5
13 Pages

Liberal dreams and the Internet

The international public sphere is now regularly referred to as something that actually exists.1 It is invested with almost the same sense of reality as the World Trade Organization and the International Criminal Court. All are supposedly integral parts of the new global polity. By ‘international public sphere’, most critical theorists intend more than just a

synonym for international civil society in which organised groups seek to exert public in„uence on a transnational basis (something that dates back to at least the late eighteenth century, when campaigns were mounted in Britain, France and America against the slave trade). What leading critical analysts like Nancy Fraser2 have in mind when they refer to the international public sphere (though they do not all agree)3 is something more recent and also less concerted: the bringing together of individual citizens and informal networks through interconnected global webs of public communication and dialogue. This is giving rise, they argue, to the creation of a new popular force in the form of international public opinion which is in„uencing both public and private structures of power. The international public sphere has supposedly come into being as a conse-

quence of multiple globalising in„uences, including the growth of international social movements, the expansion of global markets, the increase of migration and foreign tourism, the development of global governance and the communications revolution. This last development tends to be emphasised in particular, because it is thought to be bringing the world closer together and enhancing international communication and understanding. Satellite transmission, global telecommunications networks and cheap air travel, it is argued, reduce both distance and time; international news agencies wholesale the same news across continents; the global integration of media markets is promoting the consumption of the same media; and the rise of the Internet is fostering interactive dialogue between nations. All these dierent developments are allegedly forging a new cultural geography.

Circuits of communication, patterns of public discourse and the lineaments of imaginary life are all bursting out of the ‘container’ of the nation, and providing the basis for generating new global solidarities, shared concerns and common positions. These underpin, we are told, the emergence of international public opinion and ‘global norms’. In brief, the international public sphere is widely proclaimed to