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Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere


The Social-Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

Summary The Social-Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

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 Isolated intellectuals have been replaced by well-paid cultural functionaries.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.


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.

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