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Les arènes du débat public. comprendre les logiques de mobilisation des différentes arènes de discussion par les acteurs d'un débat public.

Abstract : The Habermassian concept of "public sphere" (1962/1988) can be characterized as a space where people discuss public issues through the use of public reason to bring out axiological principles universally applicable, and ultimately to find a consensus about them. This heuristic concept has generated a very significant academic literature which can be measured by the plethoric studies and the many criticisms produced since it has been published (Calhoun, 1992). Critics emanate both from historical studies which highlighted the role of the working classes in its emergence (Chartier, 1990, Favre 1992) and from socio-political studies which questioned its inclusive dimension (Paillard, 1995; Mansbridge, 1999; Miege, 1995, Bastien and Neveu, 1999; Dahlberg, 2001; Negt, 1972/2007). Those critics have led researchers to put its effects into perspective and to assess the accuracy of this concept. For these authors, public space is no more unified - has it ever been? - and has became diverse, differentiated and fragmented.Habermas himself has revised his early work and has analyzed the structural effects of new media on the emergence of normative structures within the modern public sphere, transforming it into conglomerates of isolated areas in which the public's are withdrawn and dispersed by the explosion of technical forms of public mediation (Habermas, 2006). Radio, television, newspapers and the Internet have favored the emergence of a "mosaic" of thematic spaces where publics are struggling to meet with each others because, according to Sunstein (2002), Internet creates a polarization of opinions rather than an open public space for public deliberation.The expansion of individual uses of the Internet, which can be analyzed through the paradigm of reflexivity (Beck, 2001; Lash, 1994), seems to reinforce this trend even if it generates a high production of networked and aggregated contents (Jenkins, 2006). Does this mean that any form of open public space, able to relay the normative preferences of societies, has been irretrievably lost? Or should we refine the analysis to focus on contents' circulation between those arenas in order to understand the logic of public problems circulations and actors' strategies in a complex mediated environment? That is our focus.In this perspective, we have analyzed a national public debate, organized in France by the National Commission for Public Debate (CNDP), to observe the emergence of dialogical dynamics that facilitate the circulations of arguments between several arenas (public meetings, organized and spontaneous discussions, online on the CPDP[1] web site, on association's sites). This circulation is considered as a key for the emergence of public problems (Dobry, 1992; Dodier, 1999): arguments which are limited to only one sphere cannot reach enough public to be legitimate and worthy of attention.Drawing on the concept of public sphere described by Quéré (1992) which distinguishes the "Scenes of appearance" (Quéré, 1992) - spaces where actors present themselves as legitimate speakers (the CPDP hybrid forum) - and "scenes of exposure" - spaces where actors discuss and deliberate (online and offline), we analyze these spaces as arenas of public discussion invested by actors who strategically use them to produce their arguments according to the specific rules of each arena.How do the actors appropriate these spaces? Our case study highlights two main factors: a social and strategic one and a communicational and technological one. Strategy depends on actors' position in the debate: their need for legitimacy and cooperation and their domination strategy; communication habitus depends on actor's competences and organization (cognitive resources, cultural and technical capital, communication and technological skills), (Monnoyer-Smith, Wojcik, 2010). Balancing these two registers becomes a condition for a circulation of information and visibility of actor's arguments in the debate. Our hypothesis is that each actor tries to optimize his presence in an arena, and incorporate the constraints of each type of arena in the deployment of their communication. Inappropriate expression in a given arena may put an actor under difficulties and weaken his speech. Based on a case study we will show that the investment of each actor in the different scenes of debate is differentiated: if no one is totally absent, either online or in public meetings (offline), a number of factors that have to be explored, explain their preferences.We shall support our analysis with field data about a public debate organized by the CNDP and held from September 4 to December 28, 2009 about the renovation of a waste incinerator. The setup included a series of public meetings and a website with participatory features. This study was part of a wider contract (CDE Concertation, Decision and Environment) which analyzed various deliberative arrangements and our multidisciplinary team has mobilized different methods to evaluate their quality (qualitative methods, semiotic analysis, content analysis). In this debate, the owner of the industrial plant (The SYCTOM) has mainly focused on public meetings and limited its online presence in a Q&A interface, avoiding the blog where heated discussions took place. The associations were also mobilized during the meetings but they were also able to use the technical specifications provided by the blog of the debate to voice their positions.We will argue that investment in different arenas of discussion is based on logics which are both connected to the technical skills and the communicational strategies of the actors. The analysis of this kind of device shows that the public space of the debate should not be approached in terms of separate spaces, but rather as a variety of spaces required to the actors to operate in a complex world. This paper will provide an opportunity to open a discussion with the research community about the inclusion of actors' contrasting abilities in the analysis of appropriation of the different arenas of the debate. Domination phenomenon can therefore be linked to these abilities, partly structured by the participatory device itself.
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  • HAL Id : hal-00826084, version 2

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Clément Mabi, Laurence Monnoyer-Smith. Les arènes du débat public. comprendre les logiques de mobilisation des différentes arènes de discussion par les acteurs d'un débat public.. Communiquer dans un monde de normes. L'information et la communication dans les enjeux contemporains de la " mondialisation "., Mar 2012, France. pp.281. ⟨hal-00826084v2⟩

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