Critical Notes on Habermas's Theory of the Public Sphere

Sociological Analysis, 5(1), pp. 37-62.

26 Pages Posted: 22 Apr 2012 Last revised: 24 Apr 2012

See all articles by Simon Susen

Simon Susen

City, University of London

Date Written: February 14, 2011

Abstract

The main purpose of this paper is to examine Habermas’s account of the transformation of the public sphere in modern society. More specifically, the study aims to demonstrate that, whilst Habermas’s approach succeeds in offering useful insights into the structural transformation of the public sphere in the early modern period, it does not provide an adequate theoretical framework for understanding the structural transformation of public spheres in late modern societies. To the extent that the gradual differentiation of social life manifests itself in the proliferation of multiple public spheres, a critical theory of public normativity needs to confront the challenges posed by the material and ideological complexity of late modernity in order to account for the polycentric nature of advanced societies. With the aim of showing this, the paper is divided into three sections. The first section elucidates the sociological meaning of the public/private dichotomy. The second section scrutinizes the key features of Habermas’s theory of the public sphere by reflecting on (i) the concept of the public sphere, (ii) the normative specificity of the bourgeois public sphere, and (iii) the structural transformation of the public sphere in modern society. The third section explores the most substantial shortcomings of Habermas’s theory of the public sphere, particularly its inability to explain the historical emergence and political function of differentiated public spheres in advanced societies.

Keywords: critical theory, Habermas, modern society, normativity, public/private dichotomy, public sphere, transformation

JEL Classification: A00

Suggested Citation

Susen, Simon, Critical Notes on Habermas's Theory of the Public Sphere (February 14, 2011). Sociological Analysis, 5(1), pp. 37-62., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2043824

Simon Susen (Contact Author)

City, University of London ( email )

Department of Sociology
Northampton Square
London, England EC1V 0HB
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://www.city.ac.uk/people/academics/simon-susen

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