The public sphere takes a variety of forms in Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. After the demise of representative publicity, the literary public sphere emerges, then transforms into the political sphere in the public realm; it is enshrined in the bourgeois constitutional state as the bourgeois or liberal public sphere. Particular institutions such as periodicals, the press, and coffee houses characterize it, and it is embedded in certain economic and social conditions. The public sphere is not so much an actual place as a social realm that developed within various structures. It only really existed in conversation and discourse.

The most important feature of the public sphere is its simultaneous strength and weakness. It is robust enough to act as a real check on the power of the state yet is so dependent on precise socio-economic conditions that its existence is threatened by change. Its collapse in the modern world is not preordained, however, and Habermas holds out the hope of its successful return.