Syndicate content

Public Opinion

Is There a Global Public Sphere?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

One of the ways in which the world we live in today feels very different from the one we lived in even a decade ago is how ‘connected’ we all feel these days. It does seem that there are issues that we all talk about, personages and celebrities that we all know, and technological means of information sharing and exchange that we all share.  Yet, can we say that one of the consequences of globalization is that we now have a global public sphere, especially now that Fareed Zakaria of CNN calls his talk show ‘The Global Public Square’?

You will recall that a public sphere is a metaphor for a space that still exists in some contexts: the village square, the town hall… a place where people come together to talk about common concerns, a process that leads to the crystallization of public opinion.  Beyond the level of the village or the small town --- situations where most inhabitants can conceivably gather and talk – the public sphere becomes a grand metaphor, but a useful one. As Denis McQuail asserts in his classic text on communication theory, in most national contests today the ‘media are now probably the key institution of the public sphere, and its “quality” will depend on the quality of the media’. [See McQuail’s Mass Communication Theory, Fifth Edition, page 566.]

Learning from the Last Five Years: CommGAP and Good Governance

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

As CommGAP draws to a close, I've been reflecting a bit on what I've learned from the program over the last five years and the many interesting research, practice and policy questions still left to be explored.


For me, CommGAP was one of the first programs to take a critical look at the phenomenon we call "good governance" by drawing linkages between the related but conceptually distinct strands of accountability, transparency, access to information, citizen voice and mobilization, civil society capacity building, media development, public opinion formation, democratic deliberation, and state capacity/ resilience/ legitimacy. I still remember a conversation I had with Sina at a conference many years ago, asking him how he envisioned the "connective tissue" between all these concepts. The CommGAP program, in a sense, was Sina's answer, and I've been lucky to be able to help articulate some of this work.

Quote of the Week: John Kay

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"Public  opinion, well briefed and properly marshalled, is a decisive force in public policy. But since there are many issues in public debate, attention to any one is necessarily transient. The attention of vested interests to their own concerns, however, is permanent."

-- John Kay, Don’t listen to the lobbyists: they never go away, Financial Times, September 21, 2011

Of Legitimacy and Flash Mobs

Sumir Lal's picture

For those of us committed to democracy and interested in matters of governance and citizen accountability, the theatrics in India involving the anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare pose a neat little dilemma. For, we love freely-elected governments and positively swoon over articulate civil society advocates, and here we have a situation where the two are in a head-on collision. So who’s the good guy? Whose side should we be on?

Hazare is pushing an anti-corruption bill that would give immense (possibly corruption-inducing and governance-disrupting) powers to an unelected ombudsman. The government is countering with a version that would keep key functionaries out of the ombudsman’s purview, arguably defeating the very purpose. Take your pick.

Strategic Communication vs. Communication

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

As we reported on this blog, CommGAP organized an Executive Course in Communication for Governance earlier this month. The communication part of the course was characterized as "strategic communication" - which made me wonder what, exactly, strategic communication is, how it is relevant for our work, and whether it's different from "communication" per se. A faculty member from the course pointed us to an article by Hallahan et al., titled "Defining Strategic Communication," which states that "strategic communication" is "the purposeful use of communication by an organization to fulfill its mission." The purposeful use of communication makes it "strategic." The authors elaborate that : "Six relevant disciplines are involved in the development, implementation, and assessment of communications by organizations: management, marketing, public relations, technical communication, political communication, and information/social marketing campaigns." Although the authors see strategic communication as "an emerging paradigm," this clarification defines strategic communication as a set of tools, not as a discipline. Marketing, public relations etc. themselves are no disciplines, but approaches drawn from broader fields, such as economics and communication.

Answering the Right Questions

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

In good governance circles, we love to champion accountability tools: citizen score cards, civil society-local government linkages, participatory budgeting, etc. They sound wonderful on paper, and frequently work well off paper, but one can sometimes detect a certain weariness on the part of the supposed recipients/beneficiaries of these tools. These initiatives may be effective at times, but they simply don't address the underlying power structure, development practitioners often hear. What is one supposed to do about the shadowy but real network of frequently unaccountable elite, particularly in the context of a developing country that features a culture of impunity and lacks deeply rooted institutions of accountability?

A Peaceful Face of the Arab Spring: Morocco

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Moroccan citizens on the street in Rabat after the King's speech on constitutional reform. Just over a week ago I had the privilege of witnessing the Arab Spring unfolding - in a peaceful, and even joyful manner. On Friday, June 17, I joined several hundreds of Moroccans outside the Parliament building in Rabat, where they celebrated the reforms King Mohammed IV had announced that evening. In his speech to the nation, Mohammed IV spoke about establishing a new constitution that focuses on the rule of law and strong democratic institutions. The changes include the establishment of a democratic and independent executive branch of government, the recognition of the Amazigh language as official language alongside Arabic, the strengthening of the legislative branch, establishing an enabling environment for Parliamentary opposition, strengthening the autonomy of the judiciary, and strengthening good governance through, among other mechanisms, the establishment of an independent agency for the prevention and fight against corruption.

Quote of the Week: Ahmet Davutoglu

Sina Odugbemi's picture

 "If your foreign policy, however sophisticated it might be, doesn’t have a ground in public opinion, then that foreign policy is not sustainable."


-- Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.  As quoted in International Herald Tribune, Erudite candidate takes populist route, by Anthony Shadid, Saturday-Sunday, June 11-12, 2011.

Do International Relations Experts Exist?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

There is a lot happening in the world these days. It can truly be said that we live in interesting times. No wonder some are seeing the very end of the world. But one quotidian aspect of the nature of the times  -- revolutions raging, conflicts exploding, bombs going off in every direction -- is that the global media organs whose fare we all consume avidly call into their studios, or unto their pages or websites, certain persons known as  Experts in International Relations. For those so designated it is boom time.


Pages