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The Architecture of Political Spaces: Trolls, Digital Media, and Deweyan Democracy


The problem of trolls exemplifies the challenges of building democratic communities in the digital environment of social media. Distinguishing trolls from activists can be difficult; democratic theorists have yet to adequately address how to prevent the former while remaining open to the latter. In this article, I outline a theory of democratic politics that takes space as a central element in shaping democratic interactions. Using the work of John Dewey, I draw out two key characteristics of democratic space: boundedness and flexibility. Using these criteria, I then evaluate Kinja, Gawker Media's commenting platform, both before and after trolls attacked the site in 2014. I find that in altering its boundaries to successfully protect against trolls, Kinja introduced a new problem: a lack of flexibility that continues to affect the possibility for democratic discourse on the platform. I conclude by suggesting how this theory of democratic space might shape future research.

Corresponding author
Jennifer Forestal is Assistant Professor, Stockton University, 101 Vera King Farris Drive, Galloway, NJ, 08205–9441 (
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I am grateful to James Farr, Ellen Mutari, Menaka Philips, Chris Sardo, Joel Schlosser, and participants at the Northwestern Political Theory Workshop for their insightful feedback on earlier versions of this article. The article is also much improved thanks to comments from the three anonymous APSR reviewers and the APSR editors.
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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Bruce Ackerman , and James Fishkin . 2003. Deliberation Day. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

John Parkinson . 2012. Democracy and Public Space. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
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