Jürgen Habermas is a German philosopher, political scientist and sociologist in the tradition of critical theory, best known for his concept of the public sphere, the emphasis and development of public exchange of ideas throughout history, culminating in the Enlightment era debates between public intellectuals, the ruling class and members of the bourgeois. As a historical formation, the public sphere involved a "space" separated from family life, the business world, and the state.
According to Habermas, a variety of factors resulted in the eventual decay of the public sphere of the Enlightenment. Most importantly, structural forces, particularly the growth of a commercial mass media, resulted in a situation in which media became more of a commodity, rather than a tool for public discourse.
In his work, Theory of Communicative Action he criticized the one-sided process of modernization led by forces of economic and administrative rationalization. Habermas traced the growing intervention of formal systems in our everyday lives as parallel to development of the welfare state, corporate capitalism and culture of mass consumption. These reinforcing trends rationalize widening areas of public life, submitting them to generalizing logic of efficiency and control. Democratic public life only thrives where institutions enable citizens to debate matters of public importance. New Media scholars debate wether the Internet flips this paradigm, making it a media tool that encourages and supports Habermas' Neo-Marxian view of an ideal, public promoting, media.
- Summary of The Public Sphere
- Habermas bibliography, online texts, news; updated weekly
- Jurgen Habermas, On Society and Politics
- Habermas, the Public Sphere, and Democracy: A Critical Intervention by Douglas Kellner
- The Jürgen Habermas Web Resource
- Habermasian Reflections blog
- Democracy in the Age of Information: A Reconception of the Public Sphere by Denis Gaynor