Abstract - The Information Society 28(3)

An Aesthetic for Deliberating Online: Thinking Through 'Universal Pragmatics' and Dialogism' with Reference to Wikipedia

Nicholas Cimini and Jennifer Burr

In this article we examine contributions to Wikipedia through the prism of two divergent critical theorists: Jürgen Habermas and Mikhail Bakhtin. We show that, in slightly dissimilar ways, these theorists came to consider an 'aesthetic for democracy' (Hirschkop 1999) or template for deliberative relationships that privileges relatively free and unconstrained dialogue to which every speaker has equal access and without authoritative closure. We employ Habermas' theory of 'universal pragmatics' and Bakhtin's  'dialogism' for analyses of contributions on Wikipedia for its entry on stem cells and transhumanism and show that the decision to embrace either unified or pluralistic forms of deliberation is an empirical matter to be judged in socio-historical context, as opposed to what normative theories insist on.  We conclude by stressing the need to be attuned to the complexity and ambiguity of deliberative relations online.

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