10 November, 2014
Do Contemporary Coffeehouses Function as a Habermasian "Public Sphere"?
In the mid 1700's coffeehouses began to be a place where many people could come and gather not only to sit and drink coffee but rather to socialize, carry out business , talk politics, and current events. The English coffeehouses were a prime example of what Jurgen Habermas's had in mind of what is a public sphere. According to Habermas, a public sphere is a place where one can have the freedom to speak his mind and everyone is accepted regardless of their rank. Another idea of Habermas's public sphere was to be able to talk politics in freedom, therefore the English coffeehouse were a perfect example of a public sphere. This is because anyone could go into a coffee shop and there were a lot of gossipers who went there to talk about the current events. A great benefit of coffeehouses were that it was a relatively quiet place with respect to the marketplace making it a very conducive environment for talking business and overall socializing. Occasionally, these coffee shop would also have alcohol, which would lead to some brawls here and there and aid in opening people up to truly speak one's mind. Coffeehouses nowadays are similar to the ideals that made Habermas believe that an English coffeehouse in the mid seventeen hundreds fit his mold of a public sphere. Overall coffeehouses today are similar to Habermas's public sphere in the area of anyone can come in to speak what they want and conduct business, but they differ in the area of talking politics.
Although there are some differences in contemporary coffee shop, in this day and age coffee shops by and large share many similarities to the ideal public sphere with respect the fact that everyone is accepted. To go even further today women are allowed to go into the shops making for an even more inclusive public sphere. In trying to establish if a coffee shop today would still be considered a public sphere, I went on a trip to a coffee bean in midtown around when people are getting off work and observed what was going on. While I was there many people came in, some to get a coffee on the go, some to do some work like myself, and the occasional couple on a date. From my time at the coffee shop it can be established that the idea of people coming to a place of freedom to speak their mind and be accepted is still a reality today.
Coffeehouses today are a place that could still be considered a public sphere because many people go there to conduct business this is mainly due to the fact that coffee shops are relatively quiet. Conducting business in a coffee shop came about through Habermas's public sphere because it became a think tank for many people. This happened with Habermas changing the way people can think and that everything would be under scrutiny in a coffee shop therefore a lot of deep thinking took place on a lot of new ideas. For example, a scene took place in an English coffeehouse where Sir Isaac Newton was at a coffee shop relaxing and talking with one of his colleagues when he realized one of the most pivotal ideas to modern physics today, the law of motion. He was conversing with Edmund Halley, Christopher Wren, and Robert Hooke in a coffeehouse when he discovered the law of motion. while I was at Coffee Bean I observed a few people who walked in with laptops and folders to discuss business ventures and or do work. To further stress this, I personally have many friends who have gone to coffee shops for meetings with business partners and to conduct research. These parallel situations display how coffee shops today would still be considered a public sphere according to Habermas's theory.
Coffee shops today actually have gotten better than the "model" public sphere that Habermas had in mind. This is because when he established his idea of a public sphere women did not yet have many rights but...
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