The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities presents
The Intellectual and Literary History Public Seminar Series



Against Enlightenment: Online Anti-Publics and Post-Normative Democracy

In this paper I outline a theory of online anti-publics, that is, online groups whose discourse contravenes and counterposes the ethical, ‘rational-critical’ norms and practices of democratic discourse and the Enlightenment traditions that underpin such discourse, and that are neglected in the scholarly literature on such things as ‘digital democracy’, ‘online publics’ and ‘online communities’. Building on earlier theorisations of anti-publics by McKenzie Wark (1997) and Bart Cammaerts (2007), the paper examines ideological and discursive continuities across online groups such as white supremacist groups, the ‘men’s rights movement’, anti-climate science groups, the ‘alt-right’, and neoreactionary groups. Such groups, it is argued, profoundly challenge Enlightenment precepts on which modernity and democracy are based, and at the same time raise questions about the limits and viability of those projects. The paper will suggest that, rather than being seen as an ‘extremist’ opposite of democratic culture, such discourse precisely mirrors recent populist trends in public discourse consistent with developments in neoliberal capitalism and a broader transition towards post-normative ‘late democracy’.Mark Davis

Mark Davis teaches in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. His current research focuses on the impact of digital media on democratic discourse and in particular the changing dynamics of expert knowledge and cultural gatekeeping. Current projects include an ARC-funded Discovery project investigating the impact of online media on literary tastemaking, and an investigation of online ‘anti-publics’ and the relationship between extreme and uncivil online discourse and the groups that foster it, and the mainstreaming of political populism in the wake of the culture wars.


Seminar Room, Level 4 Forgan Smith Tower (Building #1)