Volume XXXVIII – Number 1

James C. Roberts

Abstract: This paper addresses the question of whether or not the Internet can be an emancipatory medium in international relations. An emancipatory medium is one that liberates people from political and economic power structures and provides a forum to critically analyze those structures. The theoretical framework for this question is established by author Jurgen Habermas, who uses his theory of communicative action to emphasize that humans have certain cognitive interests which include the need to communicate with others. Some interests are emancipatory in nature as they are derived from knowledge needed to recognize and abolish oppression. A public sphere is a forum that can lead to emancipation if it allows citizens to have equal access and form opinions through discourse that critically evaluates social constructions. However, for a public sphere to be emancipatory, agents must be autonomous and free of prior power commitments. According to this definition, there are several barriers to the Internet becoming a public sphere, including fluidity of identity, loneliness of the agent, and the digital divide. Computer mediated communication also presents additional barriers to the development of an emancipatory medium, but it can promote ideal speech. Although the internet has not yet evolved into an emancipatory medium, it is still young and may develop its emancipatory potential in the future.

Key Words: Internet, Jurgen Habermas, Emancipatory Medium, Public Sphere, Cognitive Interests

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