What is Public Space and What Does It Mean?June 27, 2021
Jürgen Habermas has written extensively on the concept of the public sphere.
He used dialogues from “cafés” (coffee houses) in France in the 18th century. The place where political questions were discussed rationally was in the public sphere, and parliamentary democracy became possible with the development of bourgeois culture around centers such as coffeehouses, intellectual and literary salons, and the print media. This, in turn, was able to advance the Enlightenment ideals of equality, human rights, and justice. A kind of rational exchange of ideas and critical debate was the norm in the public realm, and the strength of the ideas one was discussing was more important than one’s identity.
The variants of these factors, according to Habermas, ultimately resulted in the decay of the bourgeois popular sphere of the Enlightenment. Most importantly, the structural forces, especially the commercial mass media, have ended in a situation where the media has become more of a commodity—a commodity to be consumed—rather than a medium for public discussion and exchange.
Habermas defines this field as both a true internal structural that supports it and the norms and practices that help to nurture a critical political argument. He distinguishes between looking at the public sphere as a concept and looking at it as a historical formation. In his view, the idea of the public sphere also includes the idea that private beings will go together as a public existence and engage in rational considerations and decision-making that will affect the state. As a historical construct, the public sphere contains a “space” separate from family life, business and the state.
In his masterpiece, Theory of Communicative Action (1984), he criticizes the one-sided modernization process made by the forces of economic and managerial rationalization. Habermas dealt with the increasing interventions of official systems in our daily lives in parallel with the developments in the welfare state, big monopoly capitalism and mass consumption culture. These compelling tendencies rationalize larger and larger spheres of popular life, reducing them to the generalizing logic of effectiveness and control. Routine political parties and interest groups replace participatory democracy, and society is increasingly governed on levels away from citizens’ inputs. As a result, the boundaries between public (public) and private, individual and society, system and lifeworld are deteriorating. Democratic public (public: public) life can flourish where institutions allow citizens to publicly discuss important issues. It defines an ideal type of “ideal speech situation”; the actors are equipped with equal debating abilities, they recognize each other’s basic social equality, and the speech is not distorted by ideology or misconceptions.
Habermas is optimistic about the revitalization of the public sphere. The political society, which is transcending the nation-state on the basis of ethnic and cultural similarities, is hopeful for its future in the new era, provided that its citizens with equal rights and obligations are equipped with legal protection. This discursive theory of democracy requires a society that together can determine political will and implement it at the level of the legislative system. This political system requires an activist public space, where issues of common interest and political issues can be discussed, and the power of public opinion can influence the decision-making process.
Some important academics have made various criticisms of Habermas’s view of the public sphere. John Thompson, professor of sociology at the University of Cambridge, argues that Habermas’s view of the public sphere is obsolete due to the exponential growth in mass-media communications. Michael Schudson of the University of California, San Diego argues more generally, the public sphere is a place where purely rational independent discussion has never existed.
Habermas, in which he expressed his views on the place of secularism and religion in the European public sphere, in his article titled “On God and the World” in his book titled “Time of Transition” published in 2004, surprised his followers with the following statement: “The concepts of freedom, conscience, human rights and democracy on which Western civilization are based Christianity and Christianity alone are its foundations. Also, according to Habermas, “we still use this foundation today – we have no other choice; everything else is postmodern gibberish”
Habermas is famous as a scholar as well as a public intellectual, most notably for the use of the popular press in the 1980s to attack historians (i.e. Ernst Nolte, Michael Stürmer, and Andreas Hillgruber), who are arguably the Nazi administration and the Holocaust. they kept it separate from general German history, explained Nazism as a reaction to Bolshevism, and tried to partially improve the German army’s (Wehrmacht) notoriety in World War II. More recently, Habermas has declared that he is against the American invasion of Iraq.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Ataturk University Sociology