Contradicting Notions of the Public Sphere Essay
The notion of Public Sphere by Jurgen Habermas is representative of the social realities of his country. In the same way, Nancy Fraser’s comment on Habermas’s Public Sphere reflects the society she is in. Therefore, their notions of Public Sphere contradict due to their different backgrounds. Considering this idea, readers should consider the backgrounds of the two authors in analyzing their concepts.
In analyzing the notion of Public Sphere in the view of Habermas, let us consider the economic situation of Germany. On the one hand, we can say that Habermas’s notion of public is comprised of individuals who have enough food, shelter, clothing, education, employment, or other means of living. Germany is a stable country, considering its GNP, and small population. On the other hand, the United States is resided by people of different backgrounds, from the poor, the average, up to the rich and wealthy, the Whites, the Blacks, and other migrants, etc. These people who comprise the population of America dictate to Fraser her notion of the public sphere.
Considerably, Habermas’s concept of Public Sphere is very ideal. Its idealism actually makes it delimiting of the public it addresses. We can say that the public Habermas portrays or uses to conceptualize his thoughts is basically European. It does not consider the marginalized, the oppressed, or simply those who are experiencing sufferings and demarcation, such as the women, the uneducated, the unemployed or the multicultural population.
In conceiving the public sphere as private people coming together as a public, debating over some publicly relevant topics, Habermas was thinking of unity and understanding among the sectors of the public. As such, there is nothing wrong with his ideas of voicing out public opinion within the Public Sphere; in fact it would be beneficial to both the government and the people.
Habermas gives an account of the elements necessary to form a democratic country. He addresses this as the bourgeois Public Sphere, which has four primary elements. This sphere, he claims, entirely disregards status, and gives opportunity for everyone to share in the discussion. In other words, he proposes an inclusive Public sphere. Additionally, the discussion within the Public Sphere should address socio -political problems that need to be solved.
Habermas considers the evolution of the public sphere he conceptualizes. It started with the bourgeois discussing in coffee shops, salons, and other familiar places. It later comprised the media, as the bourgeois in the 18th century established printing press, news companies, etc.
Further consideration of this point suggests the use of media resources for gaining and expressing public opinion, which later limited the said public sphere to those in power.
On the contrary, Fraser considers the notion of having the Public Sphere comprised of individuals from all walks of life. She claims that what Habermas proposes is not inclusive, but rather exclusive of those who are educated, and well-to-do.
It therefore marginalizes the poor from the rich, and discriminates, in a way, the women and the multicultural individuals. She further argues that it is impossible to claim inclusiveness as marginalized groups are not considered part of the universal public. They themselves formed their own public spheres, which the author termed as counterpublics. She further offers a modern conception of the hegemonic public sphere, which opens up the political realm to everyone.
She states that rather than ruling by power, there is now rule by the majority. To deal with the hegemonic domination, repressed groups form into “Subaltern counterpublics” to represent those who share their ideologies. The marginalized have learned to express themselves, and are working together toward a certain goal.
Both authors have their good notions of the Public Sphere. Each works for the common good of the people. In Habermas, we can see that the Public Sphere he proposes is a way to resolve problems in the government and economy of a certain country. In addition, he proposes a body that watches over the public, an organized group of individuals who aim for an honest and successful governance.
In her paper, Fraser shares the view that people have formed a Public Sphere that recognizes and represents every individual. She formulates that this sphere would be more representative of the people as it listens and learns from the marginalized sector in society. She disagrees with Habermas that regarding forming a public sphere of the knowledgeable, the more privileged.
In evaluating these two views, we must remember to consider the perspective of the authors. As mentioned above, Habermas who came from Germany may have only considered the society he was exposed to, in coming up with his own notion of Public Sphere. In contrast, Fraser who was exposed to multiculturalism in America may have applied her views in the Public Sphere she proposed. As such, the two authors came up with contradicting beliefs, since they had conflicting societies.
Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. (English Translation). Cambridge Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1989.
Alterity. 13 February 2005. Retrieved 25 March 2008 .
Fraser, Nancy. Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy. Social Text 25 (26): 56-80. Duke University Press, 1990.