Cultura politica

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Internet and the Democratization of Civic Culture
Peter Dahlgren, Lund University The starting point for my reflections here is a schematic distinction within a democracy between the formal political system, with its institutional structures, laws, parties, elections, etc., and a complex, multidimensional civic culture, anchored in everyday life and its horizons. Civic culture both reflects andmakes possible this democratic system, while at the same time it is dependent upon the system for its institutional guarantees and parameters. In Habermasian terms, this notion of civic culture can thus be seen as an important region of the life-world, with its negotiation of norms and values. As such, it is certainly vulnerable to colonization from the system of politics and, yet can potentiallyalso impact on the norms and values that guide those spheres. The political system (but to a lesser degree the economic system) and a civic culture are in principle mutually dependent; both evolve in relation to each other. A civic culture is thus both strong and vulnerable: it generates the normative and cultural resources required for a functioning democracy, yet it sits precariously in the faceof political and economic power. It can be shaped by citizens, but can also shape them, since various ‘technologies of citizenship’, as Cruishank (1999) calls them, such as government and education – and I would add the media – can serve to empower or disempower citizens via the civic culture. My intent here is to air a (renewed) concept of civic culture, consider its utility, and then relatethis to the Internet, ending with a very brief sketch of a proposed empirical study. Renewing an old concept Civic culture is not a completely unproblematic concept. It contains both empirical and normative dimensions. It also has a past: since the ancient Greeks, reflection on the cultural preconditions of politics has been an integral part of political though. After the Second World War, Americanpolitical scientists began to try to draw lessons about democracy’s cultural variables. Based in the political climate of the Cold War, and using large-scale survey techniques coupled with Parsonian views on social integration, they launched the notion of the civic culture as the foundation of a major cross-national research effort (Almond and Verba, 1963; 1980). In my update, I would like avoidwhat I take to be elements of psychological reductionism and ethnocentrism. Also, my view of culture is constructionist and materialist, rather than systemic. In terms of disciplines, I am hovering in the border zone between Political Communication and Cultural Studies. To further clear the conceptual terrain, civic culture obviously bears some relationship to what has been termed civil society. Butthis latter notion, itself slippery and multivalent, generally points to institutional structures and social processes. Civic culture underscores culture, i.e. collective meaning making. One could say that civic culture resides within civil society, but this is not the whole story, since civic culture shores up full-blown political participation as well, not just the pre- or proto-politicalactivity normally gathered under the civil society label. Also, civic culture is not equivalent to the public sphere, though one could say that the public sphere is in part made possible by suitable features of a civic culture. We would be more correct to think in terms of civic cultures, in the plural, given the patterns of diversity among citizens, though this would linguistically awkward in the longrun. Normatively, a civic culture does not presuppose homogeneity among its citizens, but in the spirit off civic republicanism, does suggest minimal shared commitments to the vision and procedures of democracy. A functioning civic culture thus at some level entails a capacity to see beyond the immediate interests of one’s own group. Needles to say, this may be a tricky balance to maintain at...
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