The Public Sphere Problem
Preparation Guide 2014
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 that 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 merely 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.
Preparing for Discussion:
Scholars from many different disciplines have critiqued Habermas’s public sphere and the assumptions it makes about public deliberation. We consider two major criticisms--divisions in the public sphere, and the role of dissent--before considering whether modern technologies require a recapitulation, reconception, or renunciation of public sphere theory.
Questions While Reading
- How would you describe the two main criticisms found in the readings? Do you think they are legitimate? Why or why not?
- Which author responds to each criticism? How? Is that change productive? Do you have any additional ideas for addressing the criticism?
- How does each author use or revise Habermas's worlds (objective, social, life)? How do those differences chain out into different concepts of human communication? Do you find them to be theoretically useful in explaining why humans communicate as they do?
- How have the definitions of "public" and "counterpublic" changed since The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere? Do these changes place strength or weakness within a public, or in a public's place within the public sphere (see Fraser and Phillips)? Do you feel that the term "counterpublic" accurately describes the position and communication of the people to whom it is applied?
- Many of these analyses portray the Habermasian public sphere as degenerating. What replacement(s) do they see emerging? Do you agree / disagree with these assessments? Why?
- What role do new media or social media play in the public sphere? What role does the "public screen" play in this new, mediated environment (see Deluca and Baym)? How can we shift Habermas's basic theory to account for new technologies and spaces?
- Many of the authors question the relative value of consent versus dissent for democratic deliberation. How does each author frame ideal public sphere communication? How do those contrast with Habermas?
- How do the authors who write about deliberative democracy engage the idea captured in the chart on page 30 in Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere? What revisions/critiques do you find in Schudson's piece particularly? How can institutions work to promote public sphere?
- What responsibilities does each author attribute to citizens?
- What implications does Schudson’s concept of sociable and problem-solving conversation have for us as critics and teachers?
- * Foss, Foss, and Trapp on Habermas.
- * Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public
Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Trans. Thomas
Burger. 1962; Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989.
- Habermas, Jürgen. Legitimation Crisis. Trans. Thomas McCarthy.
1973; Boston: Beacon Press, 1975. 1-16.
- * Habermas, Jürgen. The Theory of Communicative Action.
2 vols. Trans. Thomas McCarthy. 1981; Boston: Beacon, 1985, 1987. Read pp. I:51-53, I:69-72
- John Dewey, The Public and its Problems. 1927; Athens, OH: Swallow Press,
- Mills, C. Wright. “Mass Society and Liberal Education.” Power, Politics and People. Ed. Irving Louis Horowitz. London : Oxford University Press, 1963. 353-73.
- Goodnight, G. Thomas. "The Personal,
Technical, and Public Spheres of Argument: A Speculative Inquiry into the
Art of Public Deliberation." Journal of the American Forensic Association
18 (1982): 214-27.
- Fisher, Walter. "Narration as a Human Communication Paradigm: The Case
of Public Moral Argument." Communication Monographs 51 (March
- Ahn, Ilsup. "Decolonization of the Lifeworld by Reconstructinig the System: A Critical Dialogue between Jurgen Habermas and Reinhold Niebuhr." Studies in Christian Ethics, 22, no. 3 (2009): 290-313.
- Asen, Robert.. “A Discourse Theory of Citizenship.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 90, no..2 (2004):189-211.
- Asen, Robert. "The multiple Mr. Dewey: Multiple publics and permeable borders in John Dewey's theory of the public sphere". Argumentation and Advocacy 39 (2003): 174-88
- Asen, Robert. "Seeking the 'Counter' in Counterpublics." Communication Theory 10, no. 4 (2000): 424-446.
Baym, Nancy K., and danah boyd. "Socially Mediated Publicness: An Introduction."Journal Of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 56, no. 3 (July 2012): 320-329.
- The Black Public Sphere Collective, ed. The Black Public Sphere: A Public
Culture Book. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995.
- Breese, Elizabeth Butler. "Mapping the Variety of Public Spheres." Communication Theory 21, no. 2 (2011): 130-149.
- Calhoun, Craig, ed. Habermas and the Public Sphere. Cambridge: MIT
- Chambers, Simone. "Rhetoric and the public sphere: Has deliberative democracy abandoned mass democracy?" Political Theory, 37, no. 3 (2009): 323-50.
Crack, Angela. M. Global communication and transnational public spheres. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
- * DeLuca, Kevin Michael and Jennifer Peeples. "From Public Sphere to Public Screen: Democracy, Activism, and the 'Violence' of Seattle." Critical Studies in Media Communication 19 (2002): 125-51. (Available through CMMC)
- Felski, Rita. Beyond feminist aesthetics: Feminist literature and social change. Cambridge/MA: Harvard University Press, 1989.
- * Fraser, Nancy. "Rethinking the public sphere: A contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy." In Habermas and the Public Sphere. C. Calhoun (Ed.) . Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996. (pp.109-142)
- Griffin, Cindy L. "The Essentialist Roots of the Public Sphere: A
Feminist Critique." Western Journal of Communication 60 (Winter
- Hauser, Gerard. Vernacular Voices: The Rhetorics of Publics and Public Spheres. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1999.
- Hogan, J. Michael. "George Gallup and the Rhetoric of Scientific Democracy." Communication Monographs 64 (June 1997): 161-79.
- Holub, R. C. Jürgen Habermas: critic in te public sphere. London, New York: Routledge, 1991.
- Marmura, Stephen. " Surveillance, Mass Culture and the Subject: A Systems/Lifeworld Approach." Democratic Communique 22, no. 2 (2008): 1-18.
- Miller, Carolyn R. "The Polis as Rhetorical Community." Rhetorica 11 (Summer 1993): 211-240.
Papacharissi, Zizi. A Private Sphere: Democracy in a Digital Age. Cambridge: Polity, 2010.
- * Phillips, Kendall R. "The Spaces of Public Dissension: Reconsidering
the Public Sphere." Communication Monographs 63 (September 1996):
231-48. (Available through CMMC)
- Robbins, Bruce, ed. The Phantom Public Sphere. Minneapolis: U of
Minnesota P, 1993.
Rostboll, Christian. F. Deliberative democracy as critical theory. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2008.
- Ryan, Mary P. "Gender and Public Access: Women's Politics in Nineteenth
Century America." Habermas and the Public Sphere. Craig Calhoun,
ed. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992. 259-87.
- * Schudson, Michael. "Why Conversation is Not the Soul of Democracy." Critical Studies in Mass Communication 14 (1997): 297-309. (Available through CMMC)
Squires, Catherine R. “Rethinking the Black Public Sphere: An Alternative Vocabulary for Multiple Public Spheres.” Communication Theory 12 (2002): 446-468.
- Warner, Michael. Publics and Counterpublics. New York: Zone Books, 2002. Also, Warner, Michael. "Pubics and Counterpublics" (abbreviated version). Quarterly Journal of Speech 88, no. 4 (2002): 413-25. Wittenberg, David. "Going out in Public: Visibility and Anonymity in Michael Warner's 'Publics and Counter Publics'." Quarterly Journal of Speech 88, no. 4 (2002): 426-33.
Recent Work: (Selected by Will Howell and Janna Soeder)
- Asen, Robert. "Deliberation and Trust." Argumentation & Advocacy 50, no. 1 (2013).
- Black, Laura W., Nancy L. Thomas, and J. Timothy. "The State of Our Field: Introduction to the Special Issue." Journal of Public Deliberation 10, no. 1 (2014): 1.
- Butterworth, Michael L. "The athlete as citizen: judgement and rhetorical invention in sport." Sport in Society 17, no. 7 (2014): 867-883.
- Chambers, Simone. "The Many Faces of Good Citizenship." Critical Review 25, no. 2 (2013): 199-209.
- Dahlberg, Lincoln. "The Habermasian Public Sphere and Exclusion: An Engagement with Poststructuralist‐Influenced Critics." Communication Theory 24, no. 1 (2014): 21-41.
- Dawes, Simon. "Press Freedom, Privacy and The Public Sphere." Journalism Studies 15, no. 1 (2014): 17-32.
- Einsiedel, Edna F. "Communities of fate and the challenges of international public participation in transnational governance contexts." Journal of Public Deliberation 9, no. 2 (2013): 4.
- Farkas, Kerrie RH. "Citizen (in) action: the limits of civic discourse in city council meetings." Critical Discourse Studies 10, no. 1 (2013): 81-98.
- Fraser, Nancy, and Kate Nash. Transnationalizing the public sphere. Polity, 2013.
- Gehrke, Pat J. "Ecological validity and the study of publics: The case for organic public engagement methods." Public Understanding of Science 23, no. 1 (2014): 77-91.
- * Goodnight, G. Thomas. "The Personal, Technical, and Public Spheres: A Note on 21st Century Critical Communication Inquiry." Argumentation and Advocacy 48, no. 4 (2012): pp. 258-267. (Available through CMMC)
- Gunderson, Ryan. "Habermas in Environmental Thought." Sociological Inquiry (2014).
- Habermas, Jürgen. "A Political Constitution for the Pluralist World Society?." Journal of Chinese Philosophy 40, no. S1 (2013): 226-238.
- Kahane, David, Kristjana Loptson, Jade Herriman, and Max Hardy. "Stakeholder and Citizen Roles in Public Deliberation." Journal of Public Deliberation 9, no. 2 (2013): 2.
- Lagos, Taso G., Ted M. Coopman, and Jonathan Tomhave. "“Parallel poleis”: Towards a theoretical framework of the modern public sphere, civic engagement and the structural advantages of the internet to foster and maintain parallel socio-political institutions." New Media & Society (2013): 1461444813487953.
- Outhwaite, William. "Bourdieu and Habermas:“Linguistic exchange” versus “communicative action”? A reply to Simon Susen." Social Epistemology 27, no. 3-4 (2013): 247-249.
- Prody, Jessica M., and Brandon Inabinet. "Sustainable Advocacy: Voice for and before an Intergenerational Audience." Voice and Environmental Communication (2014): 88.
- Rasmussen, Terje. "Internet-based media, Europe and the political public sphere." Media, Culture & Society 35, no. 1 (2013): 97-104.
- Sahlane, Ahmed. "Rhetorical citizenship and public deliberation." Critical Discourse Studies 11, no. 2 (2014): 250-253.
- Salvatore, Armando. “New Media, the “Arab Spring,” and the Metamorphosis of the Public Sphere: Beyond Western Assumptions on Collective Agency and Democratic Politics.” Constellations 20 (2013): 217–228.
- Van Coillie, Claire, Lorenzo Santamaria, Stephanie Redmond, and Gonzalo Alejandro Torres. "Online Activism - The transformation of the ‘Public Sphere’, and the creation of collective political identities around activism in the digital age–the case of the ‘Occupy’ movement’." PhD diss., 2013.
- West, Mark D. "Is the Internet an Emergent Public Sphere?." Journal of Mass Media Ethics 28, no. 3 (2013): 155-159.
- Yang, Guobin. The power of the Internet in China: Citizen activism online. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.
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