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Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

Jurgen Habermas

The Social-Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

Bourgeois Public Sphere: Idea and Ideology

The Transformation of the Public Sphere's Political Function

Summary

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.

Mass culture adapted to the needs of a less-educated public. The public itself expanded at the end of the eighteenth century, but the type of culture they interacted with was not lowered to the masses. The market in culture goods effected this transformation. The modern market in books partly shows the operation of the culture through market process. Other transforming devices such as newspapers show how opinion and criticism recede into the background. Radio, TV and films restrict the viewer's response, and put him in "tutelage". The world of mass media is a public sphere in appearance only, and also a fake private sphere. The idea of human interest stories represents a cheapened kind of sentiment.

Even higher status groups participate in the mass-media world. Isolated intellectuals have been replaced by well-paid cultural functionaries. The avant garde is now institutionalized. The educated public is split into minorities of specialists who put their reason to use non-publicly and the uncritical mass of consumers. It lacks the communication necessary for a public.

The literary public sphere has lost its specific character. The public sphere assumes advertising functions. The new intermediate social sphere does not require public rational-critical debate. Now, one "political" public sphere is absorbed by another, which is depoliticised by the consumption of culture. Publicity is generated from above to give an aura of goodwill. Publicity hides the domination of non-public opinion. Critical publicity is replaced by manipulative publicity. The way that public opinion operates in the political realm is shown by the disintegration of the link between public discussion and legal norm. The foundation for a homogeneous public of private citizens is shaken. The consensus developed in rational-critical debate is replaced by a compromise between organized interests fought out or imposed non- publicly. The original connection between the public sphere in the private realm and the rule of law shown by Kant is lost. A mediatized public is called on for public acclamation, but is separated from the exercise of power.

Analysis

Habermas again addresses history and social structures to chart the decline and decay of the public sphere in the modern period. He argues that this decline was due to a variety of socioeconomic factors. When the bourgeois public sphere existed, state and society were separated. There could be no state intervention in the economy before the nineteenth century, Habermas believes. Interventionism, which is basically government involvement in civil society and the economy, was part of the process of "refeudalization". Habermas uses this term to describe the linking of the modern state and economy; in a way, it is a return to the unified state structure of the feudal period. The state began to take on the economic functions of civil society, and the interests of society began to involve themselves in the state. The two realms became blurred together.

Habermas links interventionism to specific economic policies such as protectionism, mergers, and oligopolies. The image of civil society as an arena of economic and personal freedom is dented by constant government intervention. But in a way this intervention is justified. As Hegel suggests, the chaotic and antagonistic nature of civil society demands intervention by the state.

Habermas does not believe that state intervention alone broke the barrier between society and state. The fact that economic interest groups in civil society begin to play out their conflicts in the political sphere is also important. The ultimate result is that something like what Hannah Arendt described as the "social" emerged: a fusion of state and social interests that merged their practical roles and legal definitions. In Germany, at least, more and more "state" tasks are transferred to private agencies, Habermas believes.

Changes occurred within society as well. The family separated from the economy. It is no longer the center of labor and property. The state effectively had to prop up the family through social assistance. The family is now involved with public authority.

The role of the family as a provider of emotional training also changed. People now learn how to feel, and how to love outside the family. The earlier model of private people who moved into the public sphere after gaining status and emotional ability within the family no longer applies.

Work changed also. People became involved with large corporations. Self- employment was no longer the norm. Workers now gained status within an organization instead of having autonomy in the private sphere.

Leisure was another development. Rational-critical debate was replaced by involvement in the local community and a range of non-political and uncritical activities. The consumption of products and experiences was related to leisure. It is a fundamentally uncritical act of receiving material from the media.

A whole new set of cultural relations evolved. People were now dependent in a variety of ways. They lacked the autonomy they previously received from property ownership and rational critical debate. Moreover, they were dependent on the mass media and on cultural consumption. Rational-critical debate died out slowly as the institutions that fostered it changed. Modern people, Habermas believes, now watch T.V. instead of talking about newspapers in a coffee house.

Institutional change is matched by changes in people themselves. There is now no basic similarity amongst educated people. Most people merely consume. Those who are more educated do not debate or criticize in public or enlighten others.

Habermas identifies a more serious note in these changes. Publicity is now purposely created to manipulate people. The non-public opinions of specific interest groups take over the public sphere, and all possibility of rational debate vanishes. All that remains is enforced compromise. There is no a suitable foundation for general laws, or acts as a check on the domination of state power.

Habermas's message is that the liberal and bourgeois public sphere depended absolutely on certain social and economic conditions. Once these conditions changed, the composition of the public and the nature of debate cannot be guaranteed in any way. The emergence of cultural consumption and leisure, a central concern of the Frankfurt School, create a new, debased form of publicity. The influence of Theodor Adorno's ideas about modern culture is clear in this section. It seems clear that Habermas approves of Adorno's critique.

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