Want study tips sent straight to your inbox? Sign up for our weekly newsletter!

Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

  • Study Guide
Summary

Social Structures of the Public Sphere

Summary Social Structures of the Public Sphere

The press now supported the public that grew out of coffee houses and salons. This was the public sphere of rational-critical debate. Private people using their reason appropriated the state-governed public sphere. This process occurred through the conversion of the literary public sphere. The ideas of the privatised section of the market economy were represented with the aid of ideas developed within the private family. The public sphere began to debate critically, rather than discuss common political tasks. Questioning absolute sovereignty and state secrecy was the beginning of criticism.

A political consciousness developed in civil society that articulated the demand for general laws and eventually asserted itself as the only legitimate source of these laws. This was public opinion. Bourgeois debate occurred according to universal rules; the results of this debate claimed moral authority, because according to reason they were right. The intimate sphere was in fact caught up in market operations. As a privatised individual, the bourgeois was bourgeois and man, human being and property owner. The people making up the two types of public were different; women and dependents were excluded from the political public sphere but participated in the literary one. But in its self- understanding, the public sphere was one and indivisible. The fully developed bourgeois public sphere was based on a fictitious link between the roles of property owners and human beings. The interest of property owners could converge with that of the individual in general.

Analysis

Habermas moves to discuss the social and institutional structures of the public sphere. Habermas describes the public sphere as private people transformed into a public. Private people come from the economic sphere of labor and exchange, but also form the family, and they oppose or debate with public authority. Their use of reason is "public" for three reasons: 1) because it occurs in public 2) because it is practiced by a public and 3) because it is opposed to the actions of public authority.

The conjugal family is the first important structure. Essentially, Habermas's version of the conjugal family is a bourgeois nuclear family. It is patriarchal, or male-dominated. However, it offers a way for private individuals to enter society; the family provides the economic credentials and emotional training necessary to participate in the public. It depends upon the wider field of civil society, but has its own autonomy. This autonomy derives from the fact that the conjugal family is also a property-owning structure. Its property gives it a degree of independence, and is protected by private law against state interference. The state cannot interfere with private property, and this makes the family strongly independent.

The independence granted by private property is the economic qualification necessary for a private person to join the public. But Habermas argues that the family also provides the individual with a certain emotional training that prepares him for interaction within the public. Relationships between people and the emotional life of the family are important. The family is the source of subjectivity or individuality and privacy. People are "taught" how to feel as part of a family, and this subjectivity is an important part of the structure of the private man in public. Habermas recognises that a tension exists between this image of the perfect conjugal family and the reality, however.

A key paradox comes from the role of the private man. Like the Greek citizen, who is both a householder and public man, the bourgeois is both property owner and human being. This stems from his dual identity as the owner of family property and someone who loves and feels emotion as part of a family. Ultimately, the bourgeois needs both economic qualification and emotional preparedness to use his reason critically as part of a public.

Popular pages: Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere