Christian Pentzold

The digital public sphere is characterized by seemingly paradoxical tensions between centers and peripheries: While some actors leverage the affordances of digital platforms to garner attention and gain prominence in public discourse, others prefer to seek out a role of relative obscurity, or even attempt to evade observation. These tensions challenge established public sphere theories that assume a uniform orientation and attraction towards a center. In this article, we argue that in the digital public sphere, four distinct modes of recognition emerge: attention, resonance, allegiance, and engagement. These modes induce persistent yet contingent center-periphery distinctions among actors, issues, and even entire arenas. Since modes of recognition can carry positive or negative valence, they can prompt a purposive orientation towards peripheries rather than centers. We discuss how digital platforms afford, manifest and manipulate modes or recognition, and how actors leverage positions of relative centrality or peripherality within and across digital arenas.