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The Public Sphere and Comparative Historical Research: An Introduction

Andreas Koller

Social Science History, Volume 34, Number 3, Fall 2010, pp. 261-290
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Special Section:
History and the Social Sciences:
Taking Stock and Moving Ahead

Andreas Koller

The Public Sphere and Comparative
Historical Research
An Introduction

In state-of-the-field surveys of historical sociology and of historical social science at
large, the study of the public sphere is missing. The rise of historical social science has
not led to an established tradition of comparative historical research on the public sphere.
This article gives an introduction to this topic and to this special issue, seeking to clarify
the definition of the object of study and its stakes and providing an overview of ana-
lytic and historical dimensions relevant to the comparative historical study of the public
sphere. The article argues that this search for an integrative framework is a necessary
condition for well-defined comparative historical research, for incorporating the frag-
mented research from numerous disciplines, and thus for improving our understanding
of the historical formation and the transformations of this central sphere of social life.

This special issue on the comparative historical study of the public sphere
emerged from a Social Science History Association (SSHA) panel on the

Social Science History 34:3 (Fall 2010)
DOI 10.1215/01455532-2010-001
© 2010 by Social Science History Association

262 Social Science History

topic in the fall of 2007 in response to the conference theme “History and
the Social Sciences: Taking Stock and Moving Ahead.” The rise of historical
social science has not led to an established tradition of comparative historical
research on the public sphere. In state-of-the-field surveys of historical soci-
ology (Skocpol 1984; Delanty and Isin 2003; Adamset al. 2005) and of his-
torical social science more broadly (Mahoney and Rueschemeyer 2003; Revel
2003), the study of the public sphere is a missing chapter. This introduction
and the special issue as a whole cannot “take stock” of the contributions to
the comparative and historical understanding of the public sphere that are
dispersed over many disciplines and often proceed in multiple disciplinary
terminologies.1 What can be achieved here is limited to “taking stock” of
analytic dimensions relevant to the comparative historical study of the public
sphere and by virtue of this show directions to “move ahead,” exemplified by
the articles gathered in this special issue.
Some of the central stakes of the public sphere for modern societies
appear already in Immanuel Kant’s (1996: 59) well-known notion of the pub-
lic use of reason: “That a public [Publikum] should enlighten itself . . . is
nearly inevitable, if only it is granted freedom,” that is, “the freedom to make
a public use of one’s reason in all matters. . . . The public use of reason must
at all times be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men.”
Jürgen Habermas (1973: 358–59) expressed these central stakes inherent in
the Enlightenment notion of the public sphere already in 1960, even prior
to his major book from 1962: that the principle of publicness enables the
rationalization of politics and of the activities of the state. In the medium of
public discourse, political authority and coercive power are rationalized and
civilized. This principle of publicness, the liquefaction of politics and state
power by public communication, has been the central motive of Habermas’s
political theory ever since and explains his initial idealization of the historical
origins of bourgeois democracy in his early work (Habermas 2009: 14–15).
Despite its central relevance for the members of modern societies for
determining the course of their own history through reasoned debate and
public choice, the study of the public sphere is not an integrated research
field. Such an integrative approach was already formulated by John Dewey
and C. Wright Mills. But since Habermas’s work The Structural Transforma-
tion of the Public Sphere (Habermas 1989 [1962]), there has been no major
attempt for a synthesis. What such an integrative approach means is best
expressed by the later Habermas (1992c: 421), who recalls “that the original

” Such a broad interdisciplinary approach is an enor- mous but necessary challenge. Such a quest for an integrative framework is a necessary con- dition for well-defined comparative and historical research. since the “complexity” of the object of the public sphere “precludes exclusive reliance on the specialized methods of a single discipline. Constituted by an ongoing process of communication open to strangers. In English this double meaning is split into the separate terms public sphere and the public (Peters 2008: 134). Public communication is communication to an anonymous audience. and its capacity for reasoned public choice. the public good. Public communication is open to all laypeople. public communication emerges wher- ever a speaker cannot control the boundaries of his or her audience (Neid- hardt 1994: 10). . Nevertheless. on the one hand. Calhoun 2003a). . it is not a reified entity. and it refers to its object. scholarly discussions related to the “public sphere” often oscillate between the two meanings or enmesh them. As opposed to private communication. potentially engaging everyone. despite the existence of two separate terms. this object disintegrates” (Habermas 1989 [1962]: xvii). . The central conceptual feature of the public sphere is its openness to strangers (Warner 2002: 74. Comparative Historical Research 263 study emerged from the synthesis of contributions based in several disci- plines. There are no formal restrictions or formal requirements for active participation in public com- munication (Peters 2008: 76). Definition and Stakes of the Public Sphere The German term Öffentlichkeit has the double meaning of a social (com- munication) sphere and of a collective. This introduction seeks to provide an overview of analytic and histori- cal dimensions that enables one to decipher a number of discussions that are spread out over many disciplines and often proceed in multiple disciplinary terminologies. . The latter refers to a public of speaker(s) and audience that organizes itself and determines its own future by the force of the better argument. suffering from the lack of this crucial conceptual distinction. When considered within the boundaries of a particular social-scientific discipline. A feasible definition for research has to distinguish carefully between the public sphere as the physical and virtual sphere and institutional setting of communication open to strangers. whose number even at that time almost exceeded what one author could hope to master. rep- resenting the “minimal definition” of the public sphere (Calhoun 2003b). on the other.

or mere reproduction of cultural traditions. Accordingly. and outside political actors” (Tilly 2000: 4). Habermas (1996a: 373) later understands the public sphere as a “complex network” and “intermediary structure. It means that public communication can be something different than the mirror of mere power politics. Mills. While there is no purely domination-free deliberation and action.” As Habermas (1989 [1962]: 37) mentioned early on. refer to the possibility that the basic character of social life is more or less consciously chosen and not merely inherited. The public sphere is the realm between the private sphere and the sphere of public authority (ibid. “Public poli- tics consists of claim-making interactions among agents. or between state officials and citizens (Tilly 2007a: 12–13). challengers. everyday language distinguishes between communication “in public” and communication “behind the scenes. and outside political actors. public com- munication is in principle unclosed. between society and the state. or Habermas. mere expression of personal experience. the public sphere is an “interstitial space” (Mische and White 1998). subjects (persons and groups not currently organized into constituted political actors). Conceptually different from the discussed minimal definition of the pub- lic sphere is its capacity for reasoned debate and public choice. challengers (constituted political actors lacking that routine access). The same is implied in the notion of the public sphere as an “arena” or “forum” (Neidhardt 1994).” This basic element of the definition of the public sphere corresponds with the network-theoretical definition of publics that emerged from network analysts who have theorized publics. Accordingly. there are variations in the extent to which domination affects agree- ments and actions (Calhoun 1993: 273).: 30–31). This minimal definition of the public sphere is also compatible with Charles Tilly’s notion of the political public sphere or. polity members. among state officials. In that termi- nology. that is. as expressed by classic figures like Dewey. or dictated by mere necessity. . shaped by external determination. Public politics in this sense is distinguished from personal interactions among citizens. as he calls it. These stakes. The stakes of the notion of the public sphere focus not simply on the general existence of communication open to strangers but also on its capacity to guide social life (Calhoun 2003b). “pub- lic politics”: the interactive setting between agents of government.264 Social Science History The public sphere is the front stage. polity members (constituted political actors enjoying routine access to govern- ment agents and resources). distinguished from the private and institutional back stage.

the impact of superior stories that help detect and transform these very processes. For Dewey (1954: 126). “Indirect. This is determined by the extent to which public politics integrates trust networks. insulates itself from categorical inequality. The role of superior stories introduces a specifically epistemic dimension into Tilly’s notion of public politics. In striking resemblance to classic American pragmatism.” and its capacity is indicated by the extent to which indirect.). Tilly’s view corresponds with Dewey’s (1954: 126) formulation that “the problem of a democratically organized public is primarily and essentially an intellectual problem. Dewey’s (1982. enduring and serious consequences of conjoint and interacting behavior call a public into existence having a common interest in control- ling these consequences. unintended con- sequences of social interaction is “an antecedent condition of any effective organization” of the public (ibid. that is.” The stakes of Tilly’s special kind of public politics lie in its capacity to shape the social process. For empirical research. However. the notion of an unlimited capacity for rea- soned public choice serves as a methodological fiction to detect variations in the extent of this capacity. unintended consequences of social interaction can be identified and tackled. By identifying social mechanisms through cooperative intelligence it is possible to transform the social process. the stakes of the concept of the public sphere do not only consist of the capacity for reasoned public choice. The public sphere as an ongoing process of com- munication open to strangers is also a form of and a process for forming soli- darity and a sense of belonging (Calhoun 2002: 158–69). Social scientists in particular need to provide “superior stories” (as distinct from “technical accounts”) that capture the actual mechanisms and processes better than everyday stories (Tilly 2006: 171–72). Comparative Historical Research 265 The pragmatist formulation of reasoned public choice emphasizes the consequentialist element. not only a mecha- nism for debate and choice. In this sense. Such an assessment of the capacity of the public sphere moves from stiff dichotomies to conceptual gradualism. and suppresses autonomous coercive power centers (Tilly 2007a)—and by collective intelligence. 2000) notion of reasoned public choice was what he called “cooperative intelligence. extensive. Without the conceptual distinction between the public sphere as the .” The identification of the indirect. 1987. one can put things right. This enhances the quality of public politics. Tilly’s later work suggested that if one understands the recurrent causal mechanisms.

a high density of civic associations in itself does not necessarily promote both trust in government and high levels of political participation. but they inhibit public voice (Tilly 2007b: 22). trust in government and high levels of political participation depend on changes in the structure of public politics. The concepts of the public sphere and of the capacity for reasoned public choice have the conceptual advantage in that they treat as an open empirical question to what extent certain actors and set- tings contribute to social self-organization. the assessment of the epistemic and self-corrective capacity of the public sphere has to move from stiff dichotomies to conceptual gradualism. the distinct term real civil societies has been introduced into the lit- erature (Alexander 1998. Most of the decline theses or the depictions of the public sphere as a “phantom” or “utopia” indicate a lack of conceptual gradualism. A similar dis- tinction applies to an underspecified usage of the concept of civil society.” This is precisely not uto- . assuming an either/or rather than a continuum of the capacity of the public sphere for reasoned debate and public choice.2 Furthermore. As Tilly observed. Instead. If distinctions such as the one between “rational-critical public debate” and the “refeudalized public sphere” (Habermas 1989 [1962]: 179. Drawing on Bernhard Peters.: 178) turn into dichotomies. trust networks that segregate themselves entirely from public politics may provide their members with comfort and mutual aid. the later Habermas (1996b: 323) moves to such a conceptual gradualism by formulating the notion of unlimited rea- soned public choice as a “methodological fiction. the existence of the public sphere beyond its minimal definition is empirically often easily challenged. it will run into analo- gous empirical problems when confronted with certain social movements or other nonstate actors that evidently seek to decrease reasoned debate and public choice rather than increase it. If it does not make a similar distinction and simply implies a high capacity for reasoned public choice (social self-organization). For example. on the one hand. they become reified entities and thus empirically misleading. As a result of such definitional impli- cations. on the other. concepts of civil society often focus on the interpersonal level and much less on the large-scale level of public commu- nication that is of central importance in large-scale societies.266 Social Science History sphere and institutional setting of communication open to strangers. Rather. 200) or that between “critical publicity” and “manipulative publicity” (ibid. 2006). and its capacity for reasoned public choice in terms of a meth- odological fiction.

Neither the term Öffentlichkeit nor the sphere it denotes existed before the eighteenth century (Hölscher 1979: 9). “Sociologically. A potential way to integrate this insight into social-scientific terminology would be to reconstruct the institutionalized forms of these “as if ” practices in legislative and legal procedures in the language of causal mechanisms. and by Peter Uwe Hohendahl (2000). that is to say by reference to institutional criteria. This methodological fiction is a matter of approximation. for example. Comparative Historical Research 267 pian in the narrower sense but a methodological translation of Kant’s notion of the regulative idea. Conceptual History and Intellectual History Significant conceptual histories of the German term Öffentlichkeit and the related English terms were written. mere expres- sion of personal experience.” These communicative practices with the presupposition of the “as if ” can. by Lucian Hölscher (1979). The methodological fiction detects empirical varia- tions: the extent to which public communication and the direction of the social process can differ from the mirror of mere power politics. Mills’s formu- lation must suffice to hint at this separate analytic dimension: by acting as if we were in a fully democratic society we are attempting to remove the “as if. As presuppositions. according to Mills. In the limited space available here. In contemporary Western societies. Not a matter of approximation and thus conceptually different and again a separate ana- lytic dimension are the pragmatic presuppositions of the “as if ” practices that come along with the practice of reasoned debate and public choice. or mere reproduction of cultural traditions. it is hard to imagine how public life was conceptually captured at times when those terms were not yet available (ibid. Those terms cannot simply be applied retro- actively to medieval or ancient history. The later Habermas (1992a: 479. “public opinion” as a political con- cept is an invention of the eighteenth century (Peters 1995: 4). tracing the changed meanings of the adjective öffentlich (public) back to their Greek and Roman roots. a pub- lic sphere in the sense of a separate realm distinguished from the private sphere cannot be shown to have existed in the feudal society of the High . help build a democratic polity (Koller 2009). While the adjective public has such a long trajectory. 2006a) also calls this “self-correctiveness” or “epistemic dimension” of the public sphere. they are facts in themselves and can be a force in the pro- cess of democratization.: 37).

Other American contributions to public sphere analy- sis preceded the first English translation of Habermas’s early book in 1989 or even the original German publication in 1962. Historically. However. as a public sphere. Dewey’s contribution. and by other elite-centered democratic theorists. All these and other contributions have yet to be fully redis- covered. rather. American thought and research have had their own engagements with public sphere analysis. However. one crucial to the development of modern society” (Taylor 2004: 85). it was something like a status attribute” (Habermas 1989 [1962]: 7). The emerging public sphere in the eighteenth century as a “common space” rep- resents a “mutation of the social imaginary. triggered by Lippmann. 1998) contributions to public sphere analysis (see also Ben- habib 1992) were underrecognized on both sides of the Atlantic until the 1990s (Calhoun and McGowan 1997). when the first English translation of his work The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (Habermas 1989 [1962]) appeared. in particular Public Opinion (1922) and The Phantom Public (1925). Dewey’s book itself emerged as an answer to what he took as a challenge set up by Walter Lippmann (1960. The broader reception of Habermas’s early work on the public sphere began in the United States only in 1989. Dewey and Mills in particular provided earlier formulations of what came to be known as The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. that is.268 Social Science History Middle Ages.” The publicity of feudal power representation “was not consti- tuted as a social realm. These traditions have been largely forgotten in intellectual history. revealing multiple traditions of public sphere analysis in intellectual history. Since then Habermas has been the dominant point of ref- erence for American scholarship on the public sphere. Only in his later work does Habermas realize that Dewey’s Public and Its Problems from 1927 (Dewey 1954) could have been an important source for his early work on the public sphere. . 1993). The latter applies to Ameri- can pragmatism more generally and to the work of Mills (2000) in addition to Dewey’s work. Also. Hannah Arendt’s (1968. the public sphere as a realm between society and the state emerged in the national contexts of the European Enlightenment and the founding era of the United States. was by no means the only one.

the external boundaries and the internal divisions (differentiations) of the public sphere. his book The Power Elite (1956) (Mills 2000). encounters at social events or with strangers in public places) as well as between plenary meetings of certain organizations or membership-based associational life (internal public sphere) and public events. on the one hand. The fol- lowing section provides an overview of analytic dimensions. between publicity and intimacy. Their investiga- tion and discussion are spread out over many disciplines and often proceed in multiple disciplinary terminologies. The study of the first analytic dimensions. Somers 2008) speaks to some dimensions of the external boundaries and internal divisions of the public sphere discussed below. and to restricted institutional settings. citizenship studies often focus on the rights and obligations of citizens rather than on the public sphere processes at large. The external boundaries of the intermediary public sphere are demar- cated by the realm of secrecy and the private sphere. The realm of secrecy is constituted by the back rooms of power of public authority: interpersonal power networks and legal restrictions through censorship and repression. The boundaries around the public sphere are not clear- cut but somewhat diffuse. allows inferences on the capacity for reasoned public choice. Even though Mills’s underlying historical framework of the decline of the capacity of the public sphere and the correlative rise of arcane power net- works cannot be supported by the current state of comparative historical research. visibility and secrecy. There is a broad transition zone (Peters 2008: 77) between communication in private settings and communication in infor- mal public settings (communication with colleagues or distant acquain- tances. Comparative Historical Research 269 Analytic Dimensions The study of the public sphere is not an integrated research field. The recent literature on citizen- ship (Kivisto and Faist 2007. on the other. beside Floyd Hunter’s . The quest for an integrative framework is a necessary condition for well-defined comparative historical research. However. Boundaries of the Public Sphere The external boundaries refer to the “other” of the public sphere: processes closed to strangers. The adjectives semiprivate and semipublic are indicative of this transition zone from the intermediary public sphere to the private sphere.

freedom of asso- ciation (Gutmann 1998). these inter- connections of key actors. Also constitutive for the realm of secrecy are legal restrictions through censorship and repression of public communication. The external boundaries of the public sphere are further demarcated by the private sphere: the sphere of family and intimacy and the private econ- omy. see Domhoff 2006). and freedom of the press (Splichal 2003) and on the ongoing accountability pressure on political representatives and institutions. The literature on investigative journalism deals with the question of uncovering such inter- personal power networks. though it is always hard to reconstruct the full set of connections (for a selection of this research tradition. are of central importance (for an overview of this research field since Mills and Hunter. or rather dispersed and therefore plurally structured. fostered a line of research that takes into account the power networks of the arcane sphere. character- ized by “the shamming of communicative relations” (Habermas 1987: 386). that is. the condi- tions of intimacy and the conditions of publicity: The threshold separating the private sphere from the public is not marked by a fixed set of issues or relationships but by different condi- . the boundaries of the state and the public good and the cate- gorical inequality that seals off those boundaries between the private and the public. High-level legal restriction of public communication through censorship and repression refers to the simulated. the public sphere relies on freedom of speech (Peters 2005). However concentrated. operating in the sphere of secrecy. the back rooms of power. Dahl’s (1971: 4) definition of democracy in terms of granting public contestation. acclamatory public sphere (Ludes 1993. as the later Habermas (1996a: 366) points out. Other approaches to detect interpersonal power net- works are Pierre Bourdieu’s (1996) study of the rule of the “state nobility” or the tradition of network analysis that has tracked down interpersonal con- nections and demonstrated that their configurations are indeed “power net- works. that is. see Tilly 2005: 45). The boundaries between the public sphere and the private sphere are not fixed but.” significantly affecting the operations of societal organizations and institutions. Like Robert A. Taylor 1999: 169) in authoritarian or totalitarian settings (Arendt 1973) or to periods of actual or quasi-emergency government (Stone 2005). defined relation- ally in terms of the different conditions of communication. these networks are supposed to be.270 Social Science History Community Power Structure (1953) (see also Hunter 1959).

including gender and race. precisely because it managed to couple inclusion and deliberation to a considerable extent (Habermas 2007: 435). This includes boundary shifts like the formation of neoliberalism as well as the rise of business and financial news coverage. However. and dispositional accounts of the common good. underpinned by categorical inequality. The literature on the public sector includes assessments of transformations in . Despite all its limitations. they do not seal off the private from the public but only channel the flow of topics from the one sphere into the other. Recent literature focuses on major shifts of the sphere of influence of the private economy. that is. studies of private action for the public good. national democracy has been the only effective institutional- ization of democracy. Comparative Historical Research 271 tions of communication. These discussions helped establish a core distinction in the lit- erature dealing with the public sphere: the relationship and empirical ten- sions between deliberation and inclusion. Fraser 1992. shifts in economic policy and poli- tics that have redrawn the boundaries of public institutions. Studies of the history of the private sphere (Aries 1989. This fraught relationship between epistemic processes and democratic participation has also become central in discussions about the legitimacy of international organizations. and ten- dencies to a moralization of markets. There is an extended literature in particular on the long- standing gendered nature of the public sphere (Pateman 1988. can reify the boundaries between the private sphere and the public sphere. Chartier 1989) and its relationship to the public sphere raise two sets of boundary issues: that of blurred boundaries (privacy issues) and that of sealed boundaries. The external boundaries of the public sphere are further marked by the private economy. Certainly these conditions lead to differences in the accessibility of the two spheres. Public Institutions and the Public Good The state of public institutions and the public good is addressed by the varie- gated literature on the reach of the public sector. including the state and the public good. shifts from seeking government regulation of corporations or via organized labor to directly targeting corporations through public contention. Young 2000). safeguarding the intimacy of the one sphere and the publicity of the other. Categorical inequalities.

and the private sectors of the lifeworld and func- tional systems. the public sphere appears as an intermedi- ary sphere among the various institutional fields of society: the political field. as opposed to dispositions toward self-interest and the private good (e. medicine. public health.” . and intellectual property rights (Boyle 2008). nursing. and the art field. The literature on private action for the public good includes studies of the nonprofit sector (Powell and Clemens 1998. and the stratification associated with public communication.. this often refers to some internal differentiations of the public sphere in one or more of these dimensions. including the state. “The public sphere consists of an intermediary structure between the politi- cal system. public universities and public edu- cation. as a result of their interconnections. coproduce public communication. public interest. engineering. the media field. the welfare state and the privatization of risk (Calhoun 2006). there is a strand of literature featuring dispositional accounts of the common good. etc. the social segmen- tation. the academic field.272 Social Science History public administration and public service. on the other hand.). as well as studies of professionalism. clergy. The first refers to the form and extent to which certain societal fields are involved in the production structures of public communication and how they. Differentiation of the Public Sphere The internal divisions of the public sphere can be analyzed along three dimensions of differentiation: the production structures. The contribution of professionalism to the public good is seen as a result of the institutionalized inherent logics of pro- fessionalism and professional education (law. the economic field. Using Max Weber’s (1958) widely deployed distinction of spheres. As the later Habermas (1996a: 373) put it. Finally. Their insular status can be measured in those three dimen- sions of differentiation. including philanthropy. The second and third dimensions refer to the social segmentation and stratification that underpin public communication. and social capital. When the term public is used in the plural. The production structures of the public sphere are analyzed in the lit- erature in two dimensions: as the result of the interplay of institutional fields and on a center-periphery axis of political-administrative and economic power. Counterpublics are excluded by the dominant public sphere. on the one hand. Powell and Steinberg 2006).g. Putnam 2000). complemented by the media field. the religious field.

Hallin and Mancini 2004. not to be confused with state broadcasting. In an attempt to achieve relative field autonomy. as evident in the discussions about public social science or public sociology (Burawoy 2005) and about the changed importance of public intellectuals (Fleck et al. and the literature on the direct policy outcomes of social . Most recently. referring to the actors at the periph- ery. architecture. Hallin 2008) and of the changing face of public affairs media is rare in the literature. Among the significant literature speaking to the production structure of the public sphere on the center-periphery axis is the literature on civil society (Anheier 2004). if defined in an unambiguous way. Synthesizing studies with long-term historical perspectives on the relationship of the arts field (literary public sphere. visual arts) to the public sphere are largely absent. and with the economic field (commercialization). assessing the openness of the produc- tion of public communication and policy outcomes to the periphery. represents an approximate model of equidistance of the media field from other institutional fields. that is. Peters 2008: 20). on the other. distant from political-administrative and economic power. very different sense. a detailed historical periodization of the changing relationships among the media field. Comparative Historical Research 273 Many of these relationships—the form and extent to which certain insti- tutional fields are involved in the production structures of public communi- cation—are understudied. The second dimension in which some of the literature analyzes the pro- duction structures of the public sphere is the circulation of power between the center and the periphery of political-administrative and economic power (Habermas 2006a. and the economic field (Schudson 1998. there has been a certain increase of work on religion and the public sphere (Habermas 2006b) and some new work on the relationship between academe and the public sphere. Among the better-studied relationships are the overlap of the media field with the political field (party press).” though this term is also used in a sec- ond. the broader pub- lic (Turner 2003). public broadcasting (Scannell 1990). the political field. 2009). poetry. indicating a scale shift from face-to-face to media- mediated public communication. The broad lit- erature on agenda setting is a response to these issues. and how this affects the production of public communication. However. performing arts. the literature on the role of experts in relationship to laypeople. Some literature dis- cusses the effects of the decoupling of the media field from the political field under the heading of “mediatization. on the one hand.

The latter refers to deep party-political cleavages with respect to whole sets of issues and opinions. while a strong public has both. Strong publics. A special form of seg- mentation is expressed by the existence of diaspora public spheres.274 Social Science History movements (Giugni et al. often including foreign- language media. direct access to political-administrative power. Less studied is the relationship between social movements or nongovernmental organizations and established actors like major political parties and interest groups (Goldstone 2003). Habermas 1996b: 307. as Habermas (2006b) called it in his recent work on religion and the public sphere. It has communicative power but lacks political-administrative power. including the division . how- ever. divided from the main domestic public sphere by (among other things) the lan- guage in which public communication is conducted. Among the concepts used in the literature to grasp the segmentation of the public sphere is the distinction between issue publics. largely face-to-face public sphere of representa- tive institutions (like the parliament) regulated by legal procedures. A well-established distinction for analyzing the circulation of power on the center-periphery axis is that between weak publics and strong publics (Fraser 1992: 134. Segmentary divisions may or may not overlap with stratificatory divisions. this segmentation has also been studied under the heading of “pillarization. and by politi- cal inequalities and other hierarchical differences. The influence of weak publics is limited to the informal. which builds on Talcott Parsons’s (1967a. Brunkhorst 2002). 1999). including phenomena like the literacy divide or digital divide. In the cases of the deepest cleavages between the traditional political milieus in western Europe. Literature on the stratification of the public sphere assesses how the process of public communication is affected by differences in education. and camps. This rela- tionship indicates the more indirect influence of nonestablished actors on policy outcomes.” A weak public has moral influence but no legally regulated. The segmentation of the public sphere indicates the differ- ent networks of social solidarity and belonging within a given public sphere. which are bound together by single issues. reach into the formal.” The literature on “political machines” and “polarization” as well as “political realignment” speaks to these fragmentations as well. transmitted through actors closer to the center of political- administrative and economic power. 1967b) distinction between “influence” and “power. relatively “wild” or “anarchic” public sphere of the media.

broadcasting. public sphere pro- cesses proceed on three different scales: the level of the media-mediated public sphere and two levels of face-to-face public sphere. Further important analytic dimensions of the public sphere include the effects of technological innovation. counterpublics vary by the extent to which reasoned debate and collective choice also operate as a mechanism for their internal organization. protest group.. encounters and organized gatherings (Gerhards and Neidhardt 1991). Counterpublics can be under- stood as dissident networks of communication excluded by the dominant public sphere and its hegemonic discourse. and the analysis of public deliberation and public culture at large. In comparative perspective. which underestimated the exclusion built into it. since they often neglect or underestimate some of the relevant external boundaries or internal divisions of the public sphere. etc. Comparative Historical Research 275 between speaker and audience roles or active versus passive participation in large-scale public spheres. The micro level of the public sphere consists of more or less . as. To the extent that they underestimate these relevant processes. Some of the literature reserves the term counterpublics for the upper part of that scale.g. using different or more general terms (like movement. The concept of counterpublics was formulated by Oskar Negt and Alex- ander Kluge (1993 [1972]) and later by Nancy Fraser (1992) in response to the idealization of the bourgeois public sphere in Habermas’s early work. inferring either a decline or an improvement of the epistemic and self-corrective capacity of the public sphere. Such diagnoses are often empirically weak. for example. they argue according to what is called technological determinism. The distinction between encounters and organized gatherings. transnational public spheres and local public spheres). a consider- able literature emerges. Their insular status is indicated by their segmentary and/or stratificatory differentiation from the dominant public sphere as well as by their highly separate production structure. the Internet). Constituted by communication open to strangers. the political scale of the public sphere (national vs. It is a recurrent phenomenon that whenever a major tech- nological innovation takes place (e. is not a dichotomy but a continuum of the extent of organization and the relative randomness or spontaneity. however.) for dissident networks of communication with a low internal capacity for reasoned collective choice. the scale of public communication. discussed in the literature on so-called alternative media (Pajnik and Downing 2008).

A central focus is on the obstacles to the formation of transnational public spheres. This would require the pres- ence of a common agenda and shared key terms of reference. and an ongoing mutual reference of the media. Jacobs 1961: 72–96. with Europe as a paradigmatic case. that is. Ikegami 2000: 997–98). 2008). Thernstrom and Sennett 1969. Sen- nett 1977. and meanings in public culture. symbols. On the subnational political scales. The question of transnational public spheres has become an issue as a result of the relative shift of political and economic power to transnational institutions. The literature studying these scales of public communication in par- ticular deals with the question of a scale shift from the face-to-face level to the media-mediated level (Thompson 2005) and the related question of an increasing division between speaker and audience roles or active versus pas- sive participation in the public sphere. while standing in line. In particular.” Although internationalized issue publics have been emerging. even in the European Union. The meso level consists of organized gatherings and the macro level of media-mediated communication. a collective identity that linked its members to common public action and institutions (Peters 2008: 193). Some literature discusses this scale shift under the heading of “mediatization. Network theorists developed an analog threefold distinc- tion (Mische and White 1998.” a usage of the term that differs from “mediatization” as the effects of the decoupling of the media field from the political field. there is an extensive literature about the (largely missing) European public sphere (Wessler et al. More recently. as discussed earlier.276 Social Science History accidental “encounters” (Goffman 1961) of strangers. the role and transformations of urban public spheres has been a long-standing issue (Park et al. calling the ephemeral micropublic “Goffman public” as well. on the train. 1925. communication on the sidewalk. there has been research on how local public spheres have been affected by corporate ownership and control of local media (Klinenberg 2007). Another approach grasps the level of face-to-face public communication as “tiny publics” (Fine and Harrington 2004). and so on. That literature diagnoses the lack of a shared trans- national identity or transnational “social imaginary. an inter- national public realm comparable in any way with those in nation-states does not exist. 2000). . The political scale of the public sphere distinguishes national pub- lic spheres from transnational public spheres as well as from local public spheres.

using available information and opinions. as Mills formulated it. Several criticisms have emerged with respect to this research tradition. Fourth. Fishkin and Laslett 2003).. This broad focus on public culture at large allows us to capture cultural changes that are not easily reducible to advances or setbacks in the capacity . It is not merely about debating immediate political questions and not merely about decisions. the focus on deliberation alone misses the question of its outcome. if not conceptualized appropriately. This contradiction is at the root of studies (Polletta and Lee 2006) that look into questions of whether the allegedly low-quality expressive storytelling in the public sphere can under certain conditions improve deliberation because it increases accessibility and thus inclusion. It better grasps the stakes of who makes history and the role that rea- son plays in human affairs. the design of deliberation studies in that sense tends to be quite ahistorical. the stakes of reasoned public choice also include the identification of problems in the first place and the public search for new solutions (Peters 2008: 237). however. If underpinned by highly unequal access to education. Rather. there is a potential empirical tension between deliberation and inclusion. If a high complexity of discourse in the public sphere coincides with a high educational divide. The stakes of reasoned public choice. Third. In this sense. the identification of the public good is a social and cultural project (Calhoun 1998).g. delib- eration can serve as a mask for domination. That is why the term reasoned public choice captures the “stakes” better. capturing both the pro- cesses of cultural reproduction and innovation and learning processes. have a much larger meaning. Second. First. its actual translation into pub- lic choice. Comparative Historical Research 277 Public Deliberation and Public Culture at Large A large body of literature studies “deliberation” (Fishkin 1991. It is not just about people making up their minds on topics on the public agenda. the discourse will temporarily have exclusionary effects. This requires studying public culture at large. even if its potential is inclusive. Germany with its Nazi past or the United States with its past of slavery and legally sanctioned racial segregation). Key examples of such long-term transformations of public culture include the various national discussions about “coming to terms with the past” (e. many deliberation studies focus mainly on the decision process regarding immediate political questions and the “deliberative difference” (Schneiderhan and Khan 2008) during this short-term process.

covering several analytic dimensions formulated above and comparing France. and on the decline framework of its structural transformation. The realm in which this circulation takes place is the public sphere. Formation and Transformation of the Public Sphere In 1962 Habermas published the historically and comparatively most com- prehensive study. relevant to a society at large while not necessarily shared in the sense of commonly accepted (Peters 2008: 69). some studies provide insights into premodern settings of deliberation in medieval contexts (Symes 2007) and in particular in city-states (Ober 2008). Among the historical processes addressed by the literature are the formation and transformation of the public sphere. the role of the public sphere in periods of social and economic crisis and with respect to political geography (non-Western public spheres). and mean- ings that circulate publicly or are publicly accessible. synthesized in a conference volume edited by Cal- houn (1992). constituted by communication open to strangers. there has also been increased research on the transnationalization of public spheres. In addi- tion. This wide discussion and criticism. has prompted Habermas to make a wide range of revisions. In contrast. There has been a considerable amount of new work since Habermas’s original study about the formation of the public sphere in the eighteenth century in Western societies. there has . Public culture spans all key terms of reference (Williams 1958. 1983). History of the Public Sphere All the analytic dimensions laid out above are relevant to the comparative his- torical study of the public sphere. symbols. and Germany. More recently. England. on the other. on the one hand. The discussion and criticism of The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (Habermas 1989 [1962]) have focused on the formation of the Enlightenment public sphere from the representative publicity of the ancien régime. acknowledging many elements of criticism and largely discarding the former framework of decline (Habermas 1992c).278 Social Science History for reasoned public choice but are relevant for understanding the public sphere as a mechanism for social solidarity and belonging. The analysis of public nar- ratives (Somers 1994: 619) and of symbolic power is of central importance for the comparative historical study of the public sphere.

Comparative Historical Research 279 been little new synthesizing work on the transformation of the public sphere on the level of nation-states. Some of the literature on contentious poli- tics and social movements. 1993–99). he did not realize his intention. When that crisis occurs. actual or perceived. I believe. have been pointed out by several authors. Perhaps such a new study with deepened historical specifications would have led him to a periodization of the struc- tural transformation of the public sphere in terms of multiple transforma- tions rather than in terms of a single process. in Bourdieu’s sense). previously unidentified by public communication due to its limitations by historically conditioned taken-for-granted assump- tions (or doxa. Milton Friedman (2002 [1982]: xiv) put in a nutshell how it matters what kind of ideas “are lying around” in the public sphere in a time of crisis: “Only a crisis. crisis communication. American prag- matism already captured this with the doubt-belief cycle (Peirce 1986). 1983: 121–34). In the field of media and com- munication studies in particular.” However. the role of aggregate disappointment . In the early 1980s Habermas (1992b: 129–30) intended to conduct a new study on the structural transformation of the pub- lic sphere. to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable. leaving out their embeddedness in the wider society (Curran 1991. is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies. the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. In a different political context. That. dis- seminated through public communication (Cooley 1966: 378–81. However. 2006). moral entrepreneurs. there is little systematic and comparative research on the crisis-induced changes of public communication (Imhof et al. media history has been largely neglected or narrowly focused on the media organizations as such. produces real change. literature dealing with the contested nature of the public sphere gives insights into this central phe- nomenon in the social process. Key issues here are the role of unanticipated consequences of collec- tive action (Merton 1936). construction of social problems. and risk sheds light on the significant shifts in public communication in times of social and economic crisis. characterized by the dissemination of increased uncertainty about the future. providing a new synthesis of the fragmented literature. Periods of Social and Economic Crisis Significant changes of public communication in periods of social and eco- nomic crisis. scandals. Nevertheless.

Mills. A growing body of literature addresses emergent public spheres in non-Western societies (Eisenstadt 2002). On the other hand. A key pattern discussed in the literature is the oscillation between periods of intense private interest and concern about private welfare goals and periods of intense public action and concern about the public good (Hirschman 1982: 3–8. we return to the stakes of the public sphere with which this introduction started. and the relationship between economic crisis and a crisis of orientation.280 Social Science History experiences as a driving force in human affairs (Hirschman 1982: 14–24). it matters for the process of democratization or de-democratization. On the one hand. The classic figures focused on the his- torical formation and transformation of the public sphere in Western soci- eties. the public sphere is at the same time also a form of and process for forming social solidarity. including the question of emerging transnational public spheres in such non-Western contexts (Lynch 2006). and Habermas measure democ- ratization and de-democratization precisely in terms of variations in the capacity for reasoned public choice. Although democratic majority rule is seen as a legitimate way to come to decisions under pressures of time for addressing a certain social problem. its stakes lie in its capacity to shape social life through reasoned debate and public choice. Democratization and Social Boundaries and Solidarities After this overview of analytic and historical dimensions for the study of the public sphere. The latter refers to increased uncertainty and contingency in the face of mul- tiple future horizons. The classic authors like Dewey. The focus is on the deliberative processes preceding elections and votes and on how those decisions shape . Schlesinger 1999) related to the oscillation between relatively stable periods and periods of crisis. This leads to the question of patterns of social change (Imhof 2006). That is. Political Geography of the History of the Public Sphere: Non-Western Public Spheres A key issue in the study of the history of the public sphere is the variations with respect to political geography. the ultimate measurement of democracy rests on how a majority became a majority.

“moving ahead” in the compara- tive historical study of the public sphere is possible to a considerable extent through synthetic empirical discussions of the fragmented research litera- . More specifically. “Democratization is a special condition of public politics. Public sphere pro- cesses are key to social boundary processes. Comparative Historical Research 281 social life. These stakes were less emphasized by Dewey and Mills and by Habermas in his early work on the historical formation and the transformation of the pub- lic sphere. Eley 1992).” “Strictly speaking. Democratization means increasingly high levels of protected con- sultation (ibid. depends on the historically specific structural setting of the public sphere. social boundaries. Nationalism played a major role both in the formation of the Enlightenment public sphere and in its subsequent structural transformation in terms of the massive extension of the public (Deutsch 1966. the extent of reasoned debate and collective choice. then. The literature on “social imagi- naries” (Taylor 2004) emphasizes this issue as well. this has also helped explain why transnational public spheres have remained weak. Like the emphasis of the classic authors on public sphere processes. for the classic authors. Or in Tilly’s (2000: 2) formulation. Thus the brokerage between the so-called public sphere literature and the process-oriented democratization literature is promising. that is. Tilly’s process-oriented concep- tion of democratization also criticizes procedural definitions of democracy. the extent of democratization. The public sphere as an ongoing process of communication open to strangers is not only a mechanism for debate and choice but also a form of and a process for forming solidarity and a sense of belonging (Calhoun 2002: 158–69). the public sphere is at the same time a process for forming and maintaining social solidarity—or.). including affective investments (Berlant 2008). More recently. Anderson 1991. as Tilly called it.: 5). All dimen- sions discussed above require increased attention and comparative historical research. In many of the discussed areas. The empirically difficult relationship between deliberation and inclusion has been most effectively coupled on the level of national democra- cies (Habermas 2007: 435). the collective power of a regime’s population to deter- mine to some degree its own fate (Tilly 2007a: 6).: 8). that is. since they work with an extremely thin conception of the political processes involved (ibid. However. “Taking stock” of the analytic and historical dimensions above has highlighted the fragmentation of the study of the public sphere. democratization is not a consequence of changes in public politics but a special kind of alteration of public politics” (ibid.

282 Social Science History ture from various disciplines. However. The profound changes in frequency and character. Andrew Abbott studies an important period in the transformation of the public sphere (in the United States). his death prevented him from doing so. Charles Richmond Henderson. according to Calhoun. The overview of analytic dimensions can show the direction to a framework for well-defined comparative historical research of the public sphere. To come to a better understanding of this. Charles Tilly (1929–2008) investigates the historical formation of the public sphere in the form of the rise of the public meeting in Great Britain between 1758 and 1834. Craig Calhoun’s also focuses on Great Britain in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Like Tilly’s article. celebrating counterpublics is not a solution to this problem. Abbott uncovers a profound transformation .” The careful placement of cases of the public sphere on “analytically relevant continua” can reveal in depth how this central sphere of social life matters for both democratization and social boundary making. and the sharp decline in the relative frequency of violent gatherings serve as indicators of the expansion of the public sphere and its capacity to shape the social process. identifying a profound shift in the relationship between academe and the public sphere. Calhoun situates the public sphere within the larger field of power. since it evades the question of how diverse publics can contribute to the more general formation of public opinion on a scale sufficient to influ- ence the state or other social institutions. the enormous increase of public meetings. He had planned to revise it and extend it considerably for this special issue. investigating how the early bourgeois public sphere was structured precisely by exclusion. Sadly. “Moving Ahead”: Brief Overview of the Articles The articles gathered in this special issue “move ahead” in many of the ana- lytic and historical dimensions laid out in this introduction. the framework for what Tilly (2007a: 55) once called “measurement in a broad sense of the word: not so much precise numbers as careful placement of cases on analytically relevant continua. While Tilly and Calhoun investigate the historical formation of the pub- lic sphere (in Great Britain). Tilly had already finished his paper several months before the SSHA panel. By focusing on the most publicly visible of the prewar Chicago sociologists.

cosponsored by New York Uni- versity’s Institute for Public Knowledge. I thank both Adams and Gorski as well as the panel participants. Elisabeth S. an online guide provided at publicsphere. Tilly started to theorize his own notion of public politics in detail only later in the 1990s. eds. Calhoun. when he said that the concepts of civil society and the public sphere were morally admirable but ana- lytically useless (see Emirbayer and Sheller 1999: 145). Elisabeth S. History. NC: Duke University Press. Alexander. and Abbott and investigates the relationship and tension between inclusion and deliberation in the history of the public sphere.ssrc .ssrc. 2 Such an elusive. Clemens discusses the articles by Tilly. In this sense. Even though the con- current progress of increasingly inclusive democratic participation and the increasing quality of public deliberation is often absent in particular settings at particular times. and Sociology. and the editors of Social Science History. Abbott’s article portrays Henderson as one of the last great American sociologists to inhabit a public sphere that ranged across the boundaries that seem to us absolute. and Ann Shola Orloff. moving seamlessly from expertise to advocacy and back.org. the discussion about “public sociology” in recent years can be understood as an attempt to rediscover the world Henderson and his peers inhabited as a matter of course. underspecified usage of civil society (see also Tilly 2000: 14) also seems to have been Tilly’s underlying concern in the early 1990s. Julia. the contributors to this special issue. Durham. (2005) Remaking Moder- nity: Politics. Clemens points out that it is crucial for historical analysis to study how and why it sometimes happens that inclusion and public delib- eration progress in tandem. Jeffrey C. New York: Oxford University Press. See also the related online essay forum at publicsphere. 1 A more comprehensive attempt to take stock of the compartmentalized literature is the growing Public Sphere Guide.org/guide by the Social Science Research Council. Notes The initial encouragement for organizing an SSHA panel titled “The Public Sphere and Comparative Historical Research” came from Julia Adams after a talk with the same title that I gave at Phil Gorski’s invitation to the Comparative Research Workshop at Yale Uni- versity. . Clemens. Finally. References Adams. (2006) The Civil Sphere. In addition. Comparative Historical Research 283 from the prewar to the postwar sociological generation: the emergence of a sharp separation between advocacy and expertise.

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