Review: Blogosphere The New Political Arena by Michael Keren

On: September 17, 2007
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About Rikus Wegman
Rikus is a student New Media on the university of Amsterdam. He has a bachelor degree in Social Science and a broad interest in the social and cultural implications of New Media. Rikus is interested in the development of New Media in Africa. He has a minor in cultural studies with a broad interest in youth culture.

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blogosphereBlogosphere can be seen as a new and important element of the new public sphere. On a blog people are able to not only comment on public affairs or read about what they find interesting. On a blog they actually have the possibility to create and manipulate their own, either real or fictive, identity and share it with the world. In doing so they help shape and explore the boundaries and the nature of what could be seen as the new public sphere. “The public sphere, that could be seen as a body of ‘private persons’ assembled to discuss matters of ‘public concern’ or ‘common interest”(according to Habermas in Nancy Fraser pp. 60), takes on new shapes in modern day global communities and according to Michael Keren it is an “important step in the construction of an updated political philosophy on the public/private debate”(Keren pp.10) to look into the way people post their live stories or interests on a day to day basis as a component of the public domain.

Although the need for exploration of the blogosphere is made clear by Keren in his introduction he also warns his readers for the possible problems that this exploration will face. Because of the diversity of blogosphere it is almost impossible to characterize the public domain arising in this new medium. There are thousands and thousands of web logs circulating on the internet owned by thousands and thousands of different people who all have their different motives to start a blog and different interests to write about. The blogosphere consists of a seemingly endless amount of links the information flow is hard to follow because of the size and diversity. To give a clear cut overview of the public domain arising on “the blogoshere” is almost impossible. The author has no choice butt to be satisfied with giving only a handful of examples of early twenty-first century identities.

Keren in his book explores 9 different cases of different bloggers: a cyberspace celebrity, a feminist, an Iranian student, an Israeli woman, a Canadian baby-boomer, an American soldier on a war ship, a pop culture princess, an Indian mother of a sick child and an African refugee from Lesotho. In doing so he sketches an interesting picture of the differences that are present in blogosphere. By taking people from different places in the world, with different lives and different interests the author really gasps the diversity and the multitude of possibilities the web has to offer. The different stories range from a seemingly boring and almost shallow web log of a Canadian baby-boomer who classifies the well being of her cats as being just as important as the worlds poverty to a Iranian student who tries to inform the world about the situation in Iran and the problems Iranian woman face everyday. The stories vary from drawing a boring sketch of a web-designers everyday live in New York or a detailed description of the problems one could face when moving from one town to another to a hard breaking fight for human rights from a Iranian student or the experiences of a African refugee in jail.

The bloggers mentioned assert the new freedoms offered them by digital technology. By telling their stories they take part of what Keren calls a new political reality in which private concerns become part of the public domain. Keren in his book gives a interesting sketch of this new public domain butt this is not all he wants to achieve in his book. The author continues his argument by stating that “when following the blogs mentioned above in their specific cultural and political context, they exhibit components not of civil exchange but of melancholic existence, which seems to increasingly denote the age we live in”. (Keren pp.16) According to the author the personal motives for getting a blog and the popularity of the blogosphere arises from a certain sense of melancholy. Keren defines Melancholy by two variables: solitude and political helplessness. He tries to form an explanation for why people are blogging. Basically, according to Keren, people blog because they feel lonely (solitude) or because they feel a deep frustration with the prevailing systems of political communication (political helplessness). These two motives seem to offer a (pretty negative) answer to the question why people blog. So instead of just giving the reader a glimpse of Blogosphere the author also tries to gasps the motive of all those different bloggers.

The urge to explain both the diversity of the blogosphere and the personal motives for why people blog I found a bit odd. Besides showing different sides of the blogosphere the author also tries to give a universal explanation model for why people are blogging. Some sort of a overarching theory behind the blogosphere. Although this theory in itself (if fully worked out) may be quite interesting the way it is presented doesn’t fit in with the rest of the book. The book on the one hand describes different cases from different bloggers with different motives and explains the versatility of the blogosphere. Butt, on the other hand tries to generalize these motives into one explanation-model of why people blog. The value of the book lies in the diverse and broad way it describes the blogosphere. Because of the different cases the reader gets an interesting overview of the versatility the blogosphere has to offer. The differences between the stories and the way the people use their blogs is what makes this book interesting to read. The generalisation of these differences to make some sort of overarching psychological theorie seem not necessary and superfluous.

Keren succeeds in giving an interesting peek through the new political and social arena called blogosphere. The book offers exiting stories witch point out quite keen the differences there are to be found in the blogosphere. Only Keren’s effort to form a theory about why people blog by melting these differences into one overarching motive to me where hard to understand. Instead of just mapping out the blogosphere the author looks for the bloggers motives and in doing so even gives a value judgement to the blogosphere.

Fraser, Nancy. Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contriburion to the Critique of Actually existing Democracy. Social Text 25/26, 1990. pp. 56-69

Keren, Michael. Blogosphere The New Political Arena. Lexington Books: Lanham. 2006.

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