With 1.35 billion active users (3rd qt. 2014), Facebook is now as big as China. If we include other social media, such as Twitter, Goggle+, YouTube, Instagram, etc., we seem to be witnessing an unprecedented migration into a networked social sphere that demands rethinking of topics such as globalization, transnational publics, global governance, and international relations. It will be objected that these topics have to do with real politics, with economics, war, terrorism, ecological threats, and issues of justice. However, it would perhaps be too hasty – considering the role that social media have played in political initiatives throughout the world – to assume that global communities of social media users are not also concerned with these issues and do not make a difference in the world of real politics. Traditional political theory is going through a crisis. Politics has always been the prerogative of sovereign nation states. Only citizens of a constitutional state were thought to be capable of political action, that is, participation in processes of deliberation and decision making with regard to the common good. Politics belongs in the domain of what Habermas called the “public sphere.” The public sphere is that social domain in which private individuals come together to freely and equally deliberate matters of common concern. In democratic societies the better argument and not violence or coercion legitimates governance. If legitimate and effective governance is only possible within the boundaries of a constitutional state, where rule of law and democratic procedures are established, what happens to the public sphere in a global network society? Globalization means that almost all important problems go beyond national borders. It means that the “emergence” of supra-national moral obligations such as Human Rights and global governance institutions such as the UN place the traditional idea of state-based politics in question. Globalization leaves the public sphere, it would seem, without a home.
Heidegger’s definition of space (in Building, Dwelling, Thinking) is unusual and thought provoking. Things don’t exist in space, they are space, that is, they exist by making space. In Heidegger’s view things are not mere objects lying about out there in the world waiting to be stumbled over or discovered, they are active. Things open up places in which humans dwell. Heidegger uses the example of a bridge. The bridge doesn’t merely connect the banks of a river, it lets them appear as banks from out of an anonymous and undifferentiated nature. Not only that, it creates a relation between the banks of the river and the surrounding land. They are “gathered” together as places of crossing, places of meeting, of communication, and of commerce. Such activities, or as architects would say, programs, are made possible by constructions of all kinds; roads, checkpoints, watchtowers, shops, houses, etc. Each thing, each building allows certain activities to “take place.” Buildings create places to live, to do business, to produce or sell goods, to learn, and much more. These constructions are not simply put into an abstract Cartesian space that was somehow already there. Buildings not only take up space, they make it appear and open it up for human dwelling.