Public sphere, according to Habermas, is a democracy approach in which different groups of people coming together to share their opinion towards social and political issues (Lubenow, 2012). Harbermes point of view was based on the concept of deliberative democracy. To him, democracy is achieved through the involvement of public into the political system. Habermes’s concept was force moving towards communicative power in democracy terms. Habermas ‘s idea (as cited in Lubenow, 2012) communicated that the public sphere is an “interactive structure” which make-up by the state, the political system, and also the private sectors in this civil society. Thus, the function of public sphere is to provide a social platform where public opinion is heard. Added, the public sphere play the role of articulating public opinion which involves integrate themes, arguments and contributions, and to carried the voice of the public in discussing the issue faced by the current civil society and to generate resolution as well as to aid in decision making processes (Lubenow, 2012).
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Generally, the Habermasian idea on democracy is based on the central of public sphere. In simple words, public sphere is an open platform for each and every citizen to discuss and share their view on political issue in equal chances and status (Maia, 2007). The concept of public sphere emerges from two perspectives. The historical perspective which means a lots of different individual persons assembles to form a public to debate political issue or matters of common interest. Besides that, the public sphere is described from a normative perspective. This sphere constitute to a new source of power legitimation through rational and critical debates. This highlighted that democracy is a new form of domination which members need to give acknowledgement to the norms and decisions made (Maia, 2007).
However, there were some later theories that developed as advancement in explaining the public sphere. For instance, Hannah Arendt proposed the agonistic concept of public space. In his explanation, his criticize that the loss of public space in the modern society. Arendt’s political point of view stresses the changes in the social world contributed to the decrease of public sphere. The interaction of social with politics is more of not a concrete one whereby people behave accordingly to the social set of so called norms instead of acting and thinking critically. Arendt also accounted public space is the space for freedom and execution of power through speech and persuasion (Benhabib, 1992).
Another model that explained the public sphere is the liberal model of public dialogue. This particular concept is from Bruce Ackerman in which he conveyed liberalism is a form of political culture based on conversational constraints. Ackerman’s concern was the way different groups can resolve the problem of living together harmoniously yet do not share the same thoughts of good. “Conversational restraint” is the path to understand the phenomenon. The concept of it emphasizes on neutrality when dealing with disagreement between two parties. When disagreement occurs, in is important to not fight back in another dimension of moral truth or value but to use dialogue to identify the norms that enforce mutual trust and respect reasonably according to respective culture (Benhabib, 1992).
The difernces of this two model concept and model as compare to Habermas’s model of public sphere is that in Habermas’s view is that public sphere should be more democratic affected by both social norms and political decisions. Moreover, public sphere should not be based merely on legitimation from public dialogue, but instead judged by the model of “practical discourse” (Benhabib, 1992).
The history and development of public sphere begin as a “bourgeois society” to guaranteed free speech, free press, and free assembly (Fraser, 1990). Public opinion is formed as a result of these free discussion and debate. Public sphere therefore offered an idea on how democracy should be. It should be open, able to be accessible, and not restricted to any rational discussion of public matters (Fraser, 1990).
Having said that, the idea of Habermas on public sphere also has certain limitations. According to Fraser (1990), Habermas fails to recognize other, nonliberal, nonbourgeois, competing public spheres, which caused him only to focus on merely liberal public sphere. Besides that, Habermas idea rest on a class-and gender-biased and also a conflict when trying to adopt his idea in this new century and era since his idea was a way long ago developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Therefore, his idea was rethink and revisit by scholars from time to time in democracy term.
Another neglected yet important factor influencing the public sphere is the influence of media and mass communication on democracy (Maia, 2007). Habermas (as cited in Rasmusseri, 2007) elaborated that the function of media in public here is for members of the community to raise issues, provide arguments, specify interpretations and propose solutions. In his paper, Rasmusseri (2007) studied the use of internet and its contribution to the political public sphere among the multiple views in the diverse population which can be convenient yet complicated. Media included the main stream media (the press, cable TV, and broadcasting) and the new media (networking such as internet) is playing an important role in today’s society in communicating to the public audiences on social and political issues. However, the mass media filters the information before sending it out so that receivers more or less receive the same information more or less in the same manner (Rasmussen, 2007). The internet-based communication is called as the new media provides more opportunities for members in the public sphere to give feed-back and comment. However, there was also a problem of validity and reliability of the sources of information because such information comes from a wide range of users from the internet and different participants giving own individual opinions for events, topics, and views. The divergence of sources leaves validity and reliability of the information hard to be determined.
Habermas, later on, revise and clarify some of his earlier concept. He focuses more on sovereignty within large group instead of individuals’ preferences and choice. Thus, he made the conclusion that democracy is much determined on deliberation yet not one’s will (Maia, 2007).
Seyla Benhabib, “Models of Public Space: Hannah Arendt, the Liberal Tradition, and Jurgen Habermas,” in Craig J. Calhoun, ed., Habermas and the Public Sphere (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992), 73-98.
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