Democratic Vistas in Digital Space

Lawler, Janet, Government - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Klosko, George, AS-Dept of Politics, University of Virginia

Democratic Vistas in Digital Space begins by identifying the digital as a new electric vista, which deserves the attention and thought of democratic theorists. Over the course of the following three chapters and conclusion, I argue for alternative constructions of digital publics which mirror democratic norms. The theoretical intervention articulates a vital intersection of political imagination, space, and design, which I argue is the moment where we can recapture the potential of digital space for democratic life. I critique characteristics of digital spaces which constrain democratic activity, especially discourse, including structural manipulation, infrastructural coercion, and designed commodification. I use these critiques to inform constructive arguments for more transparent and more public, deliberative governance.
Space is valuable for authentic democratic activity when it is designed to be. The process of design, the building of structure and infrastructure, should be governed by the public inhabiting that space. The dissertation creates a theoretical vision of what a healthy democratic public should look like online. This includes arguments for conceiving of digital space as physical space, with malleable and navigable infrastructures, democratizing the technical designers of that physicality through publicly oriented transparency, and prioritizing structures that enable localized communities to authentically govern their spaces in unity with infrastructures and other communities and platform agents. Using comparative interpretive analysis of digital publics, platforms, and phenomena, the dissertation ultimately illuminates the importance of thinking politically about our digital spaces.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
digital publics, democratic theory, political theory, online space
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