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Social Media’s Role as an Enabler of the Public Sphere during Nonviolent Resistance Movements: The Case of Yellow Vests and Facebook

DOI: 10.15340/978-625-00-9894-3_6

Published: 2021 | Pages: 95 - 139

Solveig Beyza Evenstad
SIC.Lab Méditerranée Research Laboratory, University of Côte d’Azur, 98, bd Edouard Herriot BP 3209 06 204 Nice Cedex 3 France

Paul Rasse
SIC.Lab Méditerranée Research Laboratory, University of Côte d’Azur, 98, bd Edouard Herriot BP 3209 06 204 Nice Cedex 3 France

This chapter gives a comprehensive elaboration of the public sphere, a concept developed by Habermas, and how the public sphere evolved in the evolving media landscape. It will take us through how the public sphere and private sphere have developed in parallel when it concerns the development of ways of participating in political movements. We will see how the gap between private space (the 18th-century bourgeois house which diversified and appeared as the boudoir or the library, where people cultivated their personal reflection) and public spaces (cafes, learned societies, the theatre where people met and matured their points of view (reach the truth) in the exchange with others) gradually closed. We will see how public and private space merged through new media during the 19th and 20th centuries. Finally, in the 21st century, in the age of the internet, how smartphones are bringing the public and private spaces together in the palm of your hand is explored in the context of nonviolent political movements using Habermas’ public sphere theory. We will show how social media networks enable the modern public sphere, where you can, in your living room, look at your Facebook, find a political event, go out and join a peaceful protest, take photos and videos, post them in the various groups in Facebook and continue your political participation in a completely seamless and circular manner. All examples of major social movements of the last 20 years and how they have been using the internet and social media tools, constitute a ‘red thread’ that brings us to the Yellow Vests case study. It exemplifies thoroughly the way Facebook is an enabler of public spheres in which social movements take place.  In addition to a rich account of Habermas’ public sphere, a rich literature review on the role of social media, and the case study, the chapter also develops a model and argues for communication as constitutive of the public sphere and that there are multiple public spheres. The case study gave way to develop a theoretical contribution to the ongoing scholarly debates whether Facebook is a public sphere and our claim is it is an enabler.

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Solveig Beyza Evenstad is a Turkish-Norwegian Research Associate at the research unit SIC.Lab Méditerranée, Département Sciences de l’Information et de la Communication, Université Nice Sophia Antipolis, member of l’Université Côte d’Azur. Previously she was Associate Professor at Innland Norway University of Applied Science, Lillehammer. She obtained her Ph.D. from Département Sciences de l’Information et de la Communication, Université Côte D’Azur, where she taught organizational communication. She also holds a Master of Management, Organization and Leadership, a BA in Management, and a BSc in Informatics. Prior to her academic career, she gained 20 years experience as an ICT professional in global companies. She is currently responsible for the Leadership Development Program, Department of Lifelong Learning, College of Norwegian Correctional Service. Her interdisciplinary research, in ephemeralization, psychosocial risk factors, leadership development, organizational communication, social media, and interpretive phenomenological analysis, is published in Journal of Documentation, Futures, International Journal of Systems and Society, and Communication et Organisation.  


Paul Rasse is a Professeur des Universités (Classe Exceptionnelle) (French Full Professor) in Département Sciences de l’Information et de la Communication, l’Université Nice-Sophia-Antipolis, member of l’Université Côte d’Azur. He graduated from l’Université de Bordeaux, Grenoble, and obtained a diploma in advanced studies in sociology from l’École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris. He defended his thesis in sociology at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis. At Université de Nice Sophia Antipolis he founded and directed the diploma of specialized higher studies in mediation and cultural engineering, option current arts and museology, a pioneer in the university sector, which became a professional master’s degree in events, mediation, and cultural engineering. He founded and headed the research laboratory I3M, Information, Milieux, Médias, Médiation, now named SIC.Lab Méditerranée, in Nice. He was elected Vice-President of La Société Française des Sciences de l’Information et de la Communication (SFSIC) for two terms. He has published fifteen books as author or director.   


Cite this chapter as:

Solveig, B. E., Rasse, P. (2021). Social Media’s Role as an Enabler of the Public Sphere during Nonviolent Resistance Movements:  The Case of Yellow Vests and Facebook. In: Bakan U. & Lengel M. L. (eds) Social Media Archaeology from Theory to Practice (pp. 95-139). MacroWorld Pub.

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