The concept of the public sphere has become a commonly used paradigm for understanding the impact of contemporary Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) on the political spaces of the Arab world. This article aims to explore the multiple understandings of this evolving public sphere and their shortcomings. A survey of recent research on the Arab region demonstrates inconsistencies which have arisen from an abstraction of the concept from its theoretical roots. By returning to the discourse surrounding Habermas' original ideas, including the debates which have articulated concerns arising from the possibilities of multiple and non-virtuous publics, the (re)mediating effects of contemporary ICTs, the possibilities for the social construction of new identities, and the universalism of the normative underpinnings of the public sphere, the emerging Arab public sphere is located within its global counter-part, high-lighting those of its features which represent opportunities for new forms of communicative action which have emancipatory potential. However, the article acknowledges the mutually constitutive functions of structure and identity by further locating the new landscape of intra-regional communication within the context of the global spread of informational capitalism. The evidence here suggests that the emerging Arab public sphere is already penetrated and diminished. The key to reconciling these apparently contradictory tendencies lies in the porousness of the boundaries which delimit the Arab public sphere and the manner in which it retains some autonomy from its global counterpart.
Murphy, E. (2009). Theorizing ICTs in the Arab World: Informational Capitalism and the Public Sphere. International Studies Quarterly, 53(4), 1131-1153. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2478.2009.00571.x