Public Sphere

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  • Topic: Public sphere, Sociology, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere
  • Pages : 5 (1842 words )
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  • Published : November 3, 2011
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“The idea that a public sphere to which everyone can contribute on equal terms is simply a fantasy.” To believe that there exists a public sphere where every single member contributes on an equal level is highly unrealistic. Correspondingly, many academics have critically supported as well as argued against this view. There will be discussion of the public sphere and various writer’s views and concepts regarding it, with specific references to Howley (2007) and Turnbull (2006), as well as Hackett (2010), Holub (1994), Apppadurai (2000), Meikle (2008), and Fraser (1990). The different academics will introduce and discuss; an ideal and flawed public sphere, a democratic public sphere, and the important roles of audiences and participants. Furthermore, there will be a particular focus on Habermas, his theories and findings consequently deconstructing his ideas on his bourgeois public sphere theory. Overall, the key argument in this discussion is that the public sphere is ideally seen as an arena for equal opinions, however pragmatically this is not the case and it is difficult to achieve it because of the different factors that exist between individuals and participants. Holub (1994) explains the public sphere as;

“a realm in which opinions are exchanged between private persons unconstrained (ideally) by external pressures. Theoretically open to all citizens and founded in the family, it is the place where something approaching public opinion is formed. It should be distinguished both from the state, which represents official power, and from the economic structures of civil society as a whole. Its function is actually to mediate between society and state; it is the arena in which the public organizes itself, formulates public opinion, and expresses its desires vis-à-vis [face to face with] the government”. Similarly, a majority of modern conceptualisations of the public sphere relate back to Jurgen Habermas and his bourgeois public sphere. Habermas defines it as a space of reflective discussion about issues and subjects of a common interest, following an informed democratic procedure (Meikle 2008). Thus, a relevant example would be; supplying different resources of media to developing countries in preparation for an election or some sort political decision. By doing this, individuals are being provided an informed democratic process, allowing them access to sources of independent media to make a more informed decision before they elect. This is often present in events such as elections as it is an arena where private people come together as a public; as one. By looking back, the characteristics of the public sphere have not changed when comparing the old and contemporary. Meikle (2008) discusses how Habermas emphasized the role of periodical press in the development of his public sphere (p. 129), describing it as the ‘coffee-house culture’ and how at the time people would sit and discuss topics and events which would in turn lead to influencing the political culture of the 17th and 18th century. However, it must also be noted that Habermas’ accepted criticism to his notion, as well as making it clear that the public sphere is not given to every type of society, and it does not own a fixed status. Furthermore, Meikle (2008) also likens the public sphere to a place where participants can discuss their ideas freely. However, it is important to regard these definitions as the ‘idyllic’ public sphere, Holub (1994) mentions ‘ideally’ in brackets, because realistically it is unachievable to have this sort of ‘perfect’ public sphere where everyone contributes equally. Many academics have criticized Habermas’ bourgeois public sphere, questioning if it ever really existed, and if it did, would it really be able to ever exist again? On that note, Hackett (2010) brings forth the notions that this concept of Habermas’ public sphere that presumes rationality, equality is false, and consequently, he critiques it, alongside Fraser...
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