The public sphere and social capital: Unlikely allies in social media interactions?

Brendan O'Hallarn


The formative sociological concepts of the public sphere and social capital have traced similar paths through a range of social science scholarship over decades, evolving as new technology, such as connected Internet technologies, have altered the way society interacts. Interestingly, there is very little scholarship linking these two important theories. This conceptual paper examines the modest body of literature that has considered the public sphere and social capital in tandem. It offers a viewpoint that social capital generation could be a possible byproduct of rational-critical discourse in a public sphere-like space. Despite the reservations of Habermas himself about the ability of the Internet and social media to breathe life into his concept of the public sphere, this paper suggests that social media — notably Twitter hashtags — are a plausible place to look for evidence of social capital generation through deliberative democratic discussions.

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