Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

by: Jurgen Habermas

The Social-Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

Summary The Social-Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

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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