Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Politics of Space: Creating Community

 As an undergraduate at UCLA studying political theory I was fortunate to have a Professor for whom political theory meant engagement with the community.  He challenged us to consider how political  theory connected to the design and practice of physical space in the tradition of Jane Jacobs, Christopher Alexander, and the spatial and cultural organization of daily life.   When Aristotle describes man as a political animal, a declaration that arises out of human interaction and the establishment of society, how people come together to form communities becomes a central concern.  The act of how resources get allocated, how problems are defined and solved, or the nitty gritty of who gets what and why in the words of Laswell not only communicatively constitutes society,  but it does so in a manner where the arrangement of space and place matter.

I've come to realize that way of looking at the world is some what unique.  Many of those who study public discourse, public participation, and democracy overlook the role of physical arrangements.  A sense of community, ease of physical access to community assets, and barriers that get in the way of participation in the process matter.  Public discourse studies may recognize the role of the internet in facilitating online discussions, but affordable access to high speed internet, or the private ownership of online message boards that effectively serve as public spaces, introduce problems that often merit too little discussion.  In discussing regulatory policy, whether a community "owns" the infrastructure for cable, internet, and phone lines, or lends that access to companies for use matters.

The tradition of regulation in the US has long included a consideration of the public good.  Early media regulation utilized a system for granting access to public airwaves that recognized the public good in the form of programming requirements.  Yet we are moving away from the role of the public good toward pure market analysis. The intrinsic value of the public good is beginning to be ignored in favor of instrumental value, to the detriment of public space, public assets, and public participation.

It seems media regulation is one area we can fruitfully expand our notion of political theory to address questions of space and the public sphere. How these assets are used by and in turn shape communities seems a vital component of understanding how online and meet space communities get created, maintained, and undermined.

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