A new book by a University of Illinois at Chicago communication scholar examines how democracies are evolving in the Internet era.
"A Private Sphere: Democracy in a Digital Age" by Zizi Papacharissi, UIC professor and head of communication, explores how online media has influenced political culture, redefined contemporary society's understanding of public and private, and shaped civic engagement.
New political habits are forming, she suggests, as many civic actions in modern democracies stem from a "private sphere."
"This private sphere presents the focal point of all civic activity that develops, whether it remains within private confines or whether it is broadcast to publicly positioned audiences and entities," says Papacharissi, whose research focuses on social and political communication and new media.
Privately contained activities with a public scope, like online news reading, "lurking" on political conversation, or following opinion leaders' blogs or tweets, take place independently.
According to Papacharissi, the digital era enables publicly oriented activities, such as posting a blog, sharing a political opinion, voting on or signing a petition to support a cause, or uploading exclusive news content on YouTube, to emanate from the same personal space.
"In contemporary democracies, it is frequently necessary for the individual to return to the private realm in order to practice these newer civic habits with greater autonomy, flexibility, and potential for expression," she says.
The book, part of the Digital Media and Society series from Polity Press, covers a variety of issues such as privacy online, the use of blogs and YouTube in elections and campaigns, social movements online, and how citizens today practice their civic responsibilities.
"Today's electorate is often labeled as apathetic with regard to its political concerns," Papacharissi says. "However, this analysis reveals great citizen interest in the tools that digital media provides to become politically involved outside of the conventional model of political engagement."
Papacharissi has published widely on the social and political consequences of online media. She edited the recently released volume about online social networks "A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites" and her research has appeared in journals such as New Media & Society, Harvard Journal of International Press/Politics, and the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media.