Africa's Digital Public Sphere

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The idea of a public sphere is one of the most frequently deployed concepts in social and political theory, but the dimensions of what constitutes a public sphere and who gets to participate in it remain contested. At the heart of theories of a digital public sphere is the idea of order and coordination: that people with a clear sense of what they demand from their respective polities come together to deliberate those priorities and articulate an agenda for the attainment of those priorities. However, these underlying presumptions are often loaded with crucial and context-specific assumptions about who can participate, how well they understand their interests, and how much power they have to participate and to shift behaviour within their society. Similarly, early research into the idea of the public sphere assumed the presence of culturally specific histories and spaces, to the extent that societies that deviate from the model are often viewed as dysfunctional. In Africa especially, theories of political action and organisation tend to focus on dysfunction and imminent collapse, rather than the ways in which each society works within its own historical and social context. Even so, the advent of the digital age has created new opportunities for engaging with the idea of the African public sphere, building on the work of foregoing scholars to articulate the ways in which African people are shaping their local digital contexts as well as international spaces. This chapter therefore examines the historical philosophy of the public sphere, connecting it to African philosophies of the public sphere that challenge the assumptions embedded in that concept. It then moves to examine how these theories of the African public sphere apply in the digital era, and what gaps remain in our concept of an African digital sphere.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook of African Political Philosophy
EditorsUchenna Okeja
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781000893472
ISBN (Print)978-0-367-56153-6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2023


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