Abstract - The Information Society 25(2)

Critical Theory of Communication Technology: Introduction to the Special Section

Andrew Feenberg

The debate over the contribution of new communication technology to democracy is far from settled. Some point to the empowering effects of online discussion and fund raising on recent electoral campaigns in the US to argue that the Internet will restore the public sphere. Others claim that the Internet is just a virtual mall, a final extension of capitalist rationalization into every corner of our lives, a trend supported by an ever denser web of surveillance technologies threatening individual autonomy in the advanced societies of the West. This introduction to the special section on critical theory of communication technology argues for the democratic thesis with some qualifications. The most important contribution of new technology to democracy is not necessarily its effects on the conventional political process but rather its ability to assemble a public around technical networks that enroll individuals scattered over wide geographical areas. Communities of medical patients, video game players, musical performers, and many other groups have emerged on the Internet with surprising consequences. New forms of resistance correlate with the rationalizing tendencies of a technologized society.


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