What Constitutes a Local Public Sphere? Building a Monitoring Framework for Comparative Analysis

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

What Constitutes a Local Public Sphere? Building a Monitoring Framework for Comparative Analysis


  • Renate Fischer Department of Communication and Media Research, University of Zurich, Switzerland
  • Alexa Keinert Department of Political and Social Sciences, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
  • Otfried Jarren Department of Communication and Media Research, University of Zurich, Switzerland
  • Ulrike Klinger European New School of Digital Studies, Europa-Universität Viadrina, Germany


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Abstract:  Despite the research tradition in analyzing public communication, local public spheres have been rather neglected by communication science, although they are crucial for social cohesion and democracy. Existing empirical studies about local public spheres are mostly case studies which implicitly assume that cities are alike. Based on a participatory-liberal understanding of democracy, we develop a theoretical framework, from which we derive a monitor covering structural, social, and spatial aspects of local communication to empirically compare local public spheres along four dimensions: (1) information, (2) participation, (3) inclusion, and (4) diversity. In a pilot study, we then apply our monitor to four German cities that are comparable in size and regional function (‘regiopolises’). The monitoring framework is built on local statistical data, some of which was provided by the cities, while some came from our own research. We show that the social structures and the normative assessment of the quality of local public spheres can vary among similar cities and between the four dimensions. We hope the innovative monitor prototype enables scholars and local actors to compare local public spheres across spaces, places, and time, and to investigate the impact of social change and digitalization on local public spheres.

Keywords:  comparative research; local communication; local public spheres; participation and inclusion

Published:   23 July 2021


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/mac.v9i3.3984


© Renate Fischer, Alexa Keinert, Otfried Jarren, Ulrike Klinger. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.