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The Social-Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

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The Social-Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

The Social-Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

The Social-Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

The Social-Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

The Social-Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere


The bourgeois public sphere evolved in the tense field between state and society, but remained part of the private realm. The separation of those two spheres initially referred only to the separation of political power and social reproduction, which, in the Middle Ages, were linked. Production was disengaged from public authority, and vice versa. Public power rose above privatised society. The increased state intervention of the nineteenth century did not lead to the interlocking of the public sphere with the private. Interventionist policy or neomercantilism was linked to the refeudalization of society. Interventionism transferred onto the political level conflicts that could not be settled in the private sphere. The basis of the bourgeois public sphere - the separation of state and society - was destroyed by the increasing statification of society and the increasing societalization of the state. A repoliticized public sphere emerged in which the public-private distinction did not apply. This also led to the disintegration of the liberal public sphere.

From 1873 onwards, trade policy shifted. The principles of free trade were abandoned in favor of protectionism. Mergers and oligopolies became increasingly in domestic and capital markets. Restriction of competition came to prevail in international commodity markets. During the late nineteenth century developments, society was forced to stop claiming to be a sphere free from power. The antagonistic structure of civil society was increasingly revealed; the more society became a nexus of coercion, the greater need existed for a strong state. But as long as the state was liberal, it was not interested in altering the private-public relationship. Only when new state functions arose did the barrier between state and society erode. This erosion pushed the economically weak into using political means against stronger market competitors.

The state engaged in new activities; it began to assume formative functions, like strengthening the middle classes and alleviating poverty. The state also assumed the provision of services that had formerly been private; it intervened in the sphere of labor and commodity exchange A repoliticized social sphere was formed, in which state and societal institutions fused into a single complex that was not entirely public or private. This new interdependence was also expressed in the breakdown of the classical system of law. The entire status of private law changed, and the state "escaped" out of public law. The tasks of public administration were transferred to institutions and agencies in private law.

The conjugal family became dissociated from social reproduction. The intimate sphere moved to the edge of the private sphere, which became deprivatized. The realms of labor and the family separated. Institutional and bureaucratic structures produced a type of work that was very different to work in a private occupation. The distinction between working for oneself and for others was replaced by a status of function.

The occupational sphere separated from the private sphere, and the family drew back on itself. It disengaged from the world of labor, and lost its ability to support itself. The state began to compensate for this with various types of assistance. The family became the consumer of leisure time and the recipient of public assistance. It also lost its power as an agent of personal internalisation. Now, individual family members are socialized directly by society. The loss of the private sphere and the loss of access to the public sphere became typical of modern urban life. Rational-critical debate gave way to the fetish of community involvement. Now the domain of leisure tends to take the place of the literary public sphere.

The literary public sphere was replaced by a pseudo-public and sham-private world of culture consumption. Rational critical debate was removed from the constraints of survival requirements, allowing the idea of humanity to develop. The link between the property owner and the human being relied on the public- private separation. But as the literary public sphere spread into the world of consumption, this changed. Leisure behavior was apolitical and could not constitute a public sphere. When the laws of the market entered the public sphere, rational critical debate was replaced by consumption. Individual reception replaced the web of communication. Real privacy was replaced by a travesty of the culture industry. New relations of dependence resulted from the uncoupling of the intimate sphere from the basis of property as capital. Now, the interior domain of subjectivity acts only as a conduit for the mass media and cultural consumption. From the nineteenth century, the institutions that guaranteed the coherence of a critically debating public were weakened. The family lost its role as a circle of literary propaganda, and the bourgeois salon went out of fashion. New bourgeois forms of sociability avoided rational- critical debate. Remaining debate was carefully controlled and organized, and therefore lost its publicist function.

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