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Analysis of Habermas

Analysis of Habermas

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Published by: akosua_dodoo on Dec 28, 2012
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ANALYSIS OF HABERMAS’ PUBLIC SPHERE
The concept of public sphere and public opinion did not develop until the eighteenth centurywhen the distinction between opinion and public opinion was created. Public opinion differsfrom opinion (something that is taken for granted as part of a culture etc) in that it can only existif there is a public that engages in a cogent discussion.Public sphere, according to Habermas (1991, 398) is “a domain of our social life in which such athing such as public opinion can be formed.” In theory, the notion of public sphere is open to allcitizens. When citizens are free to deal with matters of general interest without being under duress along with the guarantee that they may assemble and unite freely, and express and publicize their opinions freely, the citizens can be said to be acting as a public. The kind of communication that exists in a large public requires particular means of dissemination andinfluences. In the 21
st
century, the media of the public sphere include newspapers, radio,television and the internet particularly social media. A political sphere is one in which the publicdiscussions involve objects associated with the practice of the state.In the liberal model of public sphere described by Habermas, society, by the modern constitutionis guaranteed as a sphere of private autonomy contrasted by a public power constrained to a fewfunctions.The public sphere in mass welfare-state democracies is characterized by an interconnection of the private and public domains where “large -scale companies strive for political compromiseswith the state and with one another, behind closed doors if possible; but at the same time theyhave to secure at least plebiscitarian approval from the mass of the population through thedeployment of a staged form of publicity” (Habermas, 1991, 403). In other words, some form of 
 
approval is required of the masses while political issues are rationalized between large-scalecompanies even as dealing with the state.In the contemporary society, it is possible to have a public sphere. Most contemporary societiesare democratic in nature. This democracy allows citizens the freedom to form opinions and toassemble as and when they wish. Jhally (1989) states that to ensure democracy, there must be theexistence at all times of a dynamic and diverse debate about social policy over a variety of subject areas. The First Amendment of the Constitution of America therefore guarantees freedomof belief, expression, and assembly. The following instances exemplify the existence of a publicsphere in a contemporary society. Occupy Wall Street began on September 17, 2011 in ZuccottiPark, located in New York City’s Wall Street financial district. According to its website, Thiswas a protest initiated by the Canadian activist group Adbusters against social and economicinequality, high unemployment, corruption and undue influence of corporations on government particularly from the financial services sector. The protests ignited similar Occupy protestsaround the world in cities such as Sydney, Hong Kong, Paris, Madrid, Berlin and many others.Occupy Wall Street was proposed in a blog post from July 13, 2011 by Adbusters MediaFoundation. The increasing popularity of social media such as social networking sites has madeit possible for citizens to engage in rational discussions about social issues and assemble. TheMiddle East and North African (Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and beyond) uprisings were widely attributed to the significant role social media played. Other examples are the 2011 Wisconsin protests opposing the Wisconsin Budget Repair bill and the2011 United States public employee protests which began in February 2011 against proposedlegislation which would abate the power of labor unions.
 
There are some instances where public sphere may not exist in the contemporary world.According to Bagdikian (2004, 6) in their ambition to command market control in only onemedium, most big media companies were geared into “a new and more powerful goal, a smallgroup of interlocked corporations that now have effective control over all the media on which theAmerican public says it depends”. In such a situation where the media is controlled by mediaconglomerates, they run what is fed to the public and this could hinder the development of publicopinion as what is manufactured for the public might not highlight the real issues at hand. Whenthe citizens do not have access to information that would stimulate the development of rationaldiscussion, then the public sphere might not exist.Bagdikian (2004) argues that media conglomerates manufacture a social and political world andstates the commercial mass media possess exceptional power over the knowledge and values of the country due to new technology. This power provides them with the ability to affect politicseven more than they have in the past. The dominance of the contemporary media would moreoften than not lead to the proliferation of information or views that are held by those in control of the media. What citizens know is therefore dependent mostly on the media. In such a situation,the existence of a public sphere is unlikely. This can be related to what Jhally (1989) states as tothe fact that other factors aside from government restrictions can prevent freedom of belief,expression, and assembly. Jhally (1989) also makes reference to the phrase coined by HansEnzensberger “Consciousness Industry” to describe a media which endeavors to create a form of consciousness in the audience that is advantageous to the class that controls the media andindustry in general. The creation of such a consciousness can hamper the existence of a publicsphere in the contemporary society where the citizens are not aware of the real socio-politicalissues that affect their lives.

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