Gerard Goggin

Democratic affordances: Politics, media, and digital technology after WikiLeaks

This paper considers the role of digital technologies and cultures in re-envisioning democratic media and ethics. Much hope is being invested in the potential of digital technologies to provide the way forward to addressing the impasse in democratic communication, especially through innovative online news and journalism tools and projects. In the context of such discourses and initiatives, this paper argues that we need to develop a serviceable notion of 'democratic affordances', the qualities of digital technologies, and the media ecologies in which they take shape, that allow individuals and collectivities to pursue democracy, ethics, and justice. I explore this idea via an analysis of the celebrated case of Julian Assange's WikiLeaks, perhaps the most singular and spectacular example of innovation in democratic affordances. For its instigators, the potential of WikiLeaks at its birth appeared revolutionary and straightforward. As it has turned out, however, the interactions between journalism, news, and the digital in this novel platform have not been straightforward at all. The case of WikiLeaks thus reveals the need to take a much broader view of the pluralistic system in which such digital technologies now unfold. In particular, the paper argues for a comprehensive, pluralistic approach to designing the communicative architecture for ethical and truth-telling practices that go hand-in-hand with the struggle for democracy, justice and the good life.

Keywords: democracy, digital technology, democratic communication, affordances, WikiLeaks


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Note on the contributor

Gerard Goggin is Professor and Chair of the Department of Media and Communications, the University of Sydney. He is published widely on the social, cultural, and political implications of new media, with books including Cell phone culture (2006), Internationalizing internet studies (2009), Global mobile media (2011) and Mobile technology and place (2012).