FAU Aspects of an Actual Counter Public Essay


The purpose of this assignment is to use concepts from the readings assigned in class and class discussion to analyze some aspect of an actual public or counterpublic.  You should choose a concept or concepts from the readings or your notes and use it to analyze or explain some feature of a public or counterpublic.  In your analysis, you should 1) identify something that you think constitutes a public (or counterpublic) and 2) use some of the concepts from the readings or other scholarly writing on publics and counterpublics to support your argument.  You might, for example, argue that people living with cancer have constituted themselves as a counterpublic, and look at some of the ways that they recognize their exclusion from wider publics and articulate that exclusion (Asen 437-443).  Or you might consider whether (or the extent to which) a particular group on campus or in the community enacts some of the requirements of a public sphere (e.g. open access, participatory parity, social equality, [Fraser 63]).  Or you might consider the extent to which an online forum provides for true public deliberation (Bohman).  Or any other topic that interests you and allows you to explore course concepts in more depth.
Update:  Very shortly after I posted the original assignment, Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter and reaction to it hit the news. In explaining his decision, Musk tweeted, “Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy.”  In light of our discussion of publics and counterpublics and the role they play in modern societies, what do you think of Musk’s statement? Be sure to refer to course materials about the requirements for public deliberation and the role it plays in democratic societies  if you choose to write about this.
You should, of course, provide a full bibliographic citation (MLA 8th edition or Chicago Manual 17th edition) for the article and anything else you cite in your essay (e.g. other course readings, news or opinion sources you cite for specific empirical claims) and you should write in a formal (though not stiff or pompous) academic voice. The assignment will probably be easier if you find the article that most interests and engages you. Also, be sure that you have chosen an article marked with an asterisk.

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The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article (1964)
Author(s): Jürgen Habermas, Sara Lennox, Frank Lennox
Source: New German Critique, No. 3 (Autumn, 1974), pp. 49-55
Published by: New German Critique
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/487737
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The Public Sphere:
An Encyclopedia Article (1964)*
byJiirgen Habermas
1. The Concept. By “the public sphere” we mean first of all a realm of our
social life in which something approaching public opinion can be formed.
Access is guaranteed to all citizens. A portion of the public sphere comes
into being in every conversation in which private individuals assemble to
form a public body.1 They then behave neither like business or professional
people transacting private affairs, nor like members of a constitutional order
subject to the legal constraints of a state bureaucracy. Citizens behave as a
public body when they confer in an unrestricted fashion-that is, with the
guarantee of freedom of assembly and association and the freedom to
express and publish their opinions-about matters of general interest. In a
large public body this kind of communication requires specific means for
transmitting information and influencing those who receive it. Today
newspapers and magazines, radio and television are the media of the public
sphere. We speak of the political public sphere in contrast, for instance, to
the literary one, when public discussion deals with objects connected to the
activity of the state. Although state authority is so to speak the executor of
the political public sphere, it is not a part of it.2 To be sure, state authority
is usually considered “public” authority, but it derives its task of caring for
the well-being of all citizens primarily from this aspect of the public sphere.
Only when the exercise of political control is effectively subordinated to the
democratic demand that information be accessible to the public, does the
political public sphere win an institutionalized influence over the
government through the instrument of law-making bodies. The expression
“public opinion” refers to the tasks of criticism and control which a public
body of citizens informally-and, in periodic elections, formally as wellpractices vis-a-vis the ruling structure organized in the form of a state.
Regulations demanding that certain proceedings be public (Publizitatsvor*
Originally appeared in Fischer Lexicon, Staat und Politik, new edition (Frankfurt am
Main, 1964), pp. 220-226.
1. Habermas’ concept of the public sphere is not to be equated with that of “the public,”
i.e. of the individuals who assemble. His concept is directed instead at the institution, which to
be sure only assumes concrete form through the participation of people. It cannot, however, be
characterized simply as a crowd. (This and the following notes by Peter Hohendahl.)
2. The state and the public sphere do not overlap, as one might suppose from casual
language use. Rather they confront one another as opponents. Habermas designates that sphere
as public which antiquity understood to be private, i.e. the sphere of non-governmental opinion
schriften), for example those providing for open court hearings, are also
related to this function of public opinion. The public sphere as a sphere
which mediates between society and state, in which the public organizes
itself as the bearer or public opinion, accords with the principle of the
public sphere3- that principle of public information which once had to be
fought for against the arcane policies of monarchies and which since that
time has made possible the democratic control of state activities.
It is no coincidence that these concepts of the public sphere and public
opinion arose for the first time only in the eighteenth century. They acquire
their specific meaning from a concrete historical situation. It was at that
time that the distinction of “opinion” from “opinion publique” and “public
opinion” came about. Though mere opinions (cultural assumptions,
normative attitudes, collective prejudices and values) seem to persist
unchanged in their natural form as a kind of sediment of history, public
opinion can by definition only come into existence when a reasoning public
is presupposed. Public discussions about the exercise of political power
which are both critical in intent and institutionally guaranteed have not
always existed-they grew out of a specific phase of bourgeois society and
could enter into the order of the bourgeois constitutional state only as a
result of a particular constellation of interests.
2. History. There is no indication European society of the high middle ages
possessed a public sphere as a unique realm distinct from the private sphere.
Nevertheless, it was not coincidental that during that period symbols of
sovereignty, for instance the princely seal, were deemed “public.” At that
time there existed a public representation of power. The status of the feudal
lord, at whatever level of the feudal pyramid, was oblivious to the categories
“public” and “private,” but the holder of the position represented it
publicly: he showed himself, presented himself as the embodiment of an
ever present “higher” power. The concept of this representation has been
maintained up to the most recent constitutional history. Regardless of the
degree to which it has loosed itself from the old base, the authority of
political power today still demands a representation at the highest level by a
head of state. Such elements, however, derive from a pre-bourgeois social
3. The principle of the public sphere could still be distinguished from an institution which
is demonstrable in social history. Habermas thus would mean a model of norms and modes of
behavior by means of which the very functioning of public opinion can be guaranteed for the
first time. These norms and modes of behavior include: a) general accessibility, b) elimination
of all privileges and c) discovery of general norms and rational legitimations.
structure. Representation in the sense of a bourgeois public sphere,4 for
instance the representation of the nation or of particular mandates, has
nothing to do with the medieval representative public sphere–a public
sphere directly linked to the concrete existence of a ruler. As long as the
prince and the estates of the realm still “are” the land, instead of merely
functioning as deputies for it, they are able to “re-present”; they represent
their power “before” the people, instead of for the people.
The feudal authorities (church, princes and nobility), to which the representative public sphere was first linked, disintegrated during a long process
of polarization. By the end of the eighteenth century they had broken apart
into private elements on the one hand, and into public on the other. The
position of the church changed with the reformation: the link to divine
authority which the church represented, that is, religion, became a private
matter. So-called religious freedom came to insure what was historically the
first area of private autonomy. The church itself continued its existence as
one public and legal body among others. The corresponding polarization
within princely authority was visibly manifested in the separation of the
public budget from the private household expenses of a ruler. The institutions of public authority, along with the bureaucracy and the military,
and in part also with the legal institutions, asserted their independence from
the privatized sphere of the princely court. Finally, the feudal estates were
transformed as well: the nobility became the organs of public authority,
parliament and the legal institutions; while those occupied in trades and
professions, insofar as they had already established urban corporations and
territorial organizations, developed into a sphere of bourgeois society which
would stand apart from the state as a genuine area of private autonomy.
The representative public sphere yielded to that new sphere of “public
authority” which came into being with national and territorial states.
Continuous state activity (permanent administration, standing army) now
corresponded to the permanence of the relationships which with the stock
exchange and the press had developed within the exchange of commodities
and information. Public authority consolidated into a concrete opposition
for those who were merly subject to it and who at first found only a negative
definition of themselves within it. These were the “private individuals” who
were excluded from public authority because they held no office. “Public”
4. The expression “represent” is used in a very specific sense in the following section,
namely to “present oneself.” The important thing to understand is that the medieval public
sphere, if it even deserves this designation, is tied to the personal. The feudal lord and estates
create the public sphere by means of their very presence.
no longer referred to the “representative”court of a prince endowed with
authority, but rather to an institution regulated according to competence,
to an apparatus endowed with a monopoly on the legal exertion of
authority. Private individuals subsumed in the state at whom public
authority was directed now made up the public body.
Society, now a private realm occupying a position in opposition to the
state, stood on the one hand as if in clear contrast to the state. On the other
hand, that society had become a concern of public interest to the degree
that the reproduction of life in the wake of the developing market economy
had grown beyond the bounds of private domestic authority. The bourgeois
public sphere could be understood as the sphere of private individuals
assembled into a public body, which almost immediately laid claim to the
officially regulated “intellectual newspapers” for use against the public
authority itself. In those newspapers, and in moralistic and critical journals,
they debated that public authority on the general rules of social intercourse
in their fundamentally privatized yet publically relevant sphere of labor and
commodity exchange.
3. The Liberal Model of the Public Sphere. The medium of this debatepublic discussion-was unique and without historical precedent. Hitherto
the estates had negotiated agreements with their princes, settling their
claims to power from case to case. This development took a different course
in England, where the parliament limited royal power, than it did on the
continent, where the monarchies mediatized the estates. The third estate
then broke with this form of power arrangement since it could no longer
establish itself as a ruling group. A division of power by means of the
delineation of the rights of the nobility was no longer possible within an exchange economy-private authority over capitalist property is, after all,
unpolitical. Bourgeois individuals are private individuals. As such, they do
not “rule.” Their claims to power vis-d-vis public authority were thus
directed not against the concentration of power, which was to be “shared.”
Instead, their ideas infiltrated the very principle on which the existing power
is based. To the principle of the existing power, the bourgeois public
opposed the principle of supervision-that very principle which demands
that proceedings be made public (Publizitat). The principle of supervision is
thus a means of transforming the nature of power, not merely one basis of
legitimation exchanged for another.
In the first modern constitutions the catalogues of fundamental rights
were a perfect image of the liberal model of the public sphere: they
guaranteed the society as a sphere of private autonomy and the restriction of
public authority to a few functions. Between these two spheres, the constitutions further insured the existence of a realm of private individuals
assembled into a public body who as citizens transmit the needs of bourgeois
society to the state, in order, ideally, to transform political into “rational”
authority within the medium of this public sphere. The general interest,
which was the measure of such a rationality, was then guaranteed,
according to the presuppositions of a society of free commodity exchange,
when the activities of private individuals in the marketplace were freed from
social compulsion and from political pressure in the public sphere.
At the same time, daily political newspapers assumed an important role.
In the second half of the eighteenth century literary journalism created
serious competition for the earlier news sheets which were mere compilations
of notices. Karl Biicher characterized this great development as follows:
“Newspapers changed from mere institutions for the publication of news
into bearers and leaders of public opinion-weapons of party politics. This
transformed the newspaper business. A new element emerged between the
gathering and the publication of news: the editorial staff. But for the
newspaper publisher it meant that he changed from a vendor of recent news
to a dealer in public opinion.” The publishers insured the newspapers a
commercial basis, yet without commercializing them as such. The press
remained an institution of the public itself, effective in the manner of a
mediator and intensifier of public discussion, no longer a mere organ for the
spreading of news but not yet the medium of a consumer culture.
This type of journalism can be observed above all during periods of
revolution when newspapers of the smallest political groups and organizations spring up, for instance in Paris in 1789. Even in the Paris of 1848
every half-way eminent politician organized his club, every other his
journal: 450 clubs and over 200 journals were established there between
February and May alone. Until the permanent legalization of a politically
functional public sphere, the appearance of a political newspaper meant
joining the struggle for freedom and public opinion, and thus for the
public sphere as a principle. Only with the establishment of the bourgeois
constitutional state was the intellectual press relieved of the pressure of its
convictions. Since then it has been able to abandon its polemical position
and take advantage of the earning possibilities of a commercial
undertaking. In England, France, and the United States the transformation
from a journalism of conviction to one of commerce began in the 1830s at
approximately the same time. In the transition from the literary journalism
of private individuals to the public services of the mass media the public
sphere was transformed by the influx of private interests, which received
special prominence in the mass media.

4. The Public Sphere in the Social Welfare State Mass Democracy. Although the liberal model of the public sphere is still instructive today with
respect to the normative claim that information be accessible to the public,5
it cannot be applied to the actual conditions of an industrially advanced
mass democracy organized in the form of the social welfare state. In part the
liberal model had always included ideological components, but it is also in
part true that the social pre-conditions, to which the ideological elements
could at one time at least be linked, had been fundamentally transformed.
The very forms in which the public sphere manifested itself, to which
supporters of the liberal model could appeal for evidence, began to change
with the Chartist movement in England and the February revolution in
France. Because of the diffusion of press and propaganda, the public body
expanded beyond the bounds of the bourgeoisie. The public body lost not
only its social exclusivity; it lost in addition the coherence created by
bourgeois social institutions and a relatively high standard of education.
Conflicts hitherto restricted to the private sphere now intrude into the
public sphere. Group needs which can expect no satisfaction from a selfregulating market now tend towards a regulation by the state. The public
sphere, which must now mediate these demands, becomes a field for the
competition of interests, competitions which assume the form of violent
conflict. Laws which obviously have come about under the “pressure of the’
street” can scarcely still be understood as arising from the consensus of
private individuals engaged in public discussion. They correspond in a more
or less unconcealed manner to the compromise of conflicting private
interests. Social organizations which deal with the state act in the political
public sphere, whether through the agency of political parties or directly in
connection with the public administration. With the interweaving of the
public and private realm, not only do the political authorities assume
certain functions in the sphere of commodity exchange and social labor, but
conversely social powers now assume political functions. This leads to a kind
of “refeudalization” of the public sphere. Large organizations strive for
political compromises with the state and with each other, excluding the
public sphere whenever possible. But at the same time the large
organizations must assure themselves of at least plebiscitary support from
the mass of the population through an apparent display of openness
(demonstrative Publizitat).6
5. Here it should be understood that Habermas considers the principle behind the
bourgeois public sphere as indispensable, but not its historical form.
6. One must distinguish between Habermas’ concept of “making proceedings public”
The political public sphere of the social welfare state is characterized by a
peculiar weakening of its critical functions. At one time the process of
making proceedings public (Publizitat) was intended to subject persons or
affairs to public reason, and to make political decisions subject to appeal
before the court of public opinion. But often enough today the process of
making public simply serves the arcane policies of special interests; in the
form of “publicity”it wins public prestige for people or affairs, thus making
them worthy of acclamation in a climate of non-public opinion. The very
words “public relations work” (Oeffentlichkeitsarbeit) betray the fact that a
public sphere must first be arduously constructed case by case, a public
sphere which earlier grew out of the social structure. Even the central
relationship of the public, the parties and the parliament is affected by this
change in function.
Yet this trend towards the weakening of the public sphere as a principle is
opposed by the extension of fundamental rights in the social welfare state.
The demand that information be accessible to the public is extended from
organs of the state to all organizations dealing with the state. To the degree
that this is realized, a public body of organized private individuals would
take the place of the now-defunct public body of private individuals who
relate individually to each other. Only these organized individuals could
participate effectively in the process of public communication; only they
could use the channels of the public sphere which exist within parties and
associations and the process of making proceedings public (Publizitat) which
was established to facilitate the dealings of organizations with the state.
Political compromises would have to be legitimized through this process of
public communication. The idea of the public sphere, preserved in the
social welfare state mass democracy, an idea which calls for a rationalization
of power through the medium of public discussion among private
individuals, threatens to disintegrate with the structural transformation of
the public sphere itself. It could only be realized today, on an altered basis,
as a rational reorganization of social and political power under the mutual
control of rival organizations committed to the public sphere in their
internal structure as well as in their relations with the state and each other.
Translated by Sara Lennox and Frank Lennox
(Publizitat) and the “public sphere” (Oeffentlichkeit). The term Publizitat describes the degree
of public effect generated by a public act. Thus a situation can arise in which the form of
public opinion making is maintained, while the substance of the public sphere has long ago
been undermined.

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Public Sphere

Aspects of an Actual Counter public

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