The Public Sphere Problem

Preparation Guide 2012

If rhetoric is central to community, morality, and practical reason, then the next question is: How healthy is this dimension of human life? Not healthy, answers Jürgen Habermas. The diagnosis and the cure are an object of study.

The heart of Habermas' critique lies in his concept of legitimacy -- patterns of discourse must underlie a public identity which guides relationships of public life. In doing so, his work contrasts with those who see themselves as political scientists, and most sociologists of our century who view public life in terms of structures and institutions. At the same time there is a second reorientation involved here which connects "public" more broadly than to government. Government is merely a particular solution to the public problem. Typically today politics is viewed as a subject of study in social contexts from the family to the office to the nation-state. Viewed this way, problems of social identity are fundamentally problems in our rhetoric. This opens up so many new ways of thinking about social relationships and political communication that the studies are practically reinvented. The diagnosis has now crossed from the academic to the public media. Laments for the low state of public discourse are a part of editorial pages and talk shows. It is a part of the same movement.

Given the locating of the problem in the quality of discourse, the theoretical issues which follow have to do with the preconditions and praxis of a satisfactory public discourse. Habermas' approach to addressing this problem has been markedly different from American approaches. You will read both. The European reading will be difficult because of the vocabulary and theoretical differences. Work through it carefully.

Clusters: Communicative Action; Argumentation in the Public Sphere; Publics and Counterpublics, Deliberative Democracy.

Questions to stimulate thought:

for October 22

Habermas, Structural Formation



DeLuca and Peeples


Van Djick

Basic Readings:

Additional Readings:

Recent Work: (Selected by Tiffany Bell, Lauren Harris, and Yvonne Slosarski)

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