Asserting disadvantaged communities’ deliberative agency in a media-saturated society

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This article investigates how communities experiencing poverty can exercise their deliberative agency in a media-saturated society. While empirical research on deliberative democracy tends to focus on the role of mini-publics in giving low-income households the opportunity in small-scale, carefully designed forums to characterise, justify, and reflect on their views, such conception of deliberative agency gets lost in the picture once deliberative theory begins thinking in systemic terms. This article proposes a remedy to this theoretical and analytical gap by characterising the hypermediated character of the deliberative system and identifying possibilities for communities experiencing poverty to maximise the affordances of digital media for them to make an appearance in the public sphere, speak in their own voice, and carry the embodied and storied character of their arguments. I present two illustrative cases drawing on the experiences of families with low income directly affected by the bloody war on drugs in the Philippines who utilise photojournalism and online music streaming to break in the public sphere and engage in systemic deliberations about the drug war. These examples demonstrate how communities experiencing poverty express their deliberative agency amidst fear, trauma and deprivation and democratise a media-saturated deliberative system under an increasingly authoritarian regime. Overall, this article hopes to strengthen the link between normative media studies and democratic theory and offering possibilities for reforming the public sphere that recognises the poor’s deliberative agency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)657–677
Number of pages21
JournalTheory and Society: renewal and critique in social theory
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


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