The Contemporary Theory of the Public Sphere
Table Of Contents
- About the author(s)/editor(s)
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- List of Figures and Tables
- Foreword to the Paperback Edition
- The Public Sphere: History of a Concept from Structural Transformation to the Present
- Negt and Kluge’s Critical Cultural Sociology of the Public Sphere
- The Multi-Stranded Critique of Nancy Fraser
- Development of a Theory: The Later Habermas and the Public Sphere
- Bernhard Peters: Normative and Empirical Dimensions of Publicity
- The Public Sphere: Central Themes and Approach of the Book
- Part I Normative Theories of Democracy, Communication, and the Public Sphere
- Chapter 1 The Communicative Constructs of Normative Democratic Models
- Chapter 2 Rawlsian Liberalism and the Idea of Public Reason
- Public Reason and Public Deliberation
- Public Reason, Culture, and the Original Position
- Rawls: Public Reason and Public Autonomy
- Rawls and the Public Sphere
- Chapter 3 Republicanism and the Cultural Foundations of Public Autonomy
- Pettit’s Reorientation of Republicanism
- Pettit’s Critique of Deontological Arguments
- Republicanism and the Public Sphere
- Chapter 4 The Radical Tradition: Public Contestation of Subjugation
- The Dialectic of Rationalization and Subjectivation
- Radical Democracy and Institutional Politics
- Radical Democracy and the Public Sphere
- Chapter 5 Political Realism: Competitive Public Communication
- Realism and the Critique of Ideal Theory
- Political Realism and Liberalism
- Political Realism as Democratic Elitism
- Political Realism and Systems Theory
- Political Realism and the Public Sphere
- Chapter 6 Deliberative Democracy and Public Deliberation
- Deliberative Democracy and Communicative Politics
- Deliberative Democracy, the Communicative Turn, and Popular Sovereignty
- Deliberative Theory and the Theory of Society
- Public Deliberation and the Public Sphere
- Chapter 7 The Communicative Turn in Democratic Theory
- Comparative Political Philosophies and the Public Sphere
- Part II Habermas, Democracy, and Public Culture
- Chapter 8 Discourse Ethics, Democratic Discourse, and the Theory of Society
- Discourse Ethics: Communicative Epistemology and Democratic Justification
- Discourse Ethics and Political Epistemologies
- Discourse Ethics, Democratic Practice and the Theory of Society
- Moral Foundations and Political Conditions
- Complexity, Democracy, and Public Participation
- Chapter 9 Deontology and Democracy: Limits to the Primacy of the Right
- Democratic Theory, Social Theory, and Limits to Proceduralization
- Communicative, Functional, and Social Power
- Honneth: Society and Plural Contexts of Justice
- Difference, Agency, and Learning
- Chapter 10 Democratic Theories and the Theory of Society
- Democratic Theories and the Theory of Society
- Normative Theory, Communicative Action, and Social Integration
- Towards a Communicative Theory of Democracy: An Intermediate Assessment
- Part III Cognitive Sociology, Collective Learning, and the Public Sphere
- Chapter 11 Cognitive Sociology, Communication, and Social Theory
- Cognitive Sociology and Social Theory
- The Emergence of a Cognitive Sociology
- Cognitive Sociology and the Circuit of Structure and Action
- Filling in the Cognitive Picture: Systems, Interaction, and Explicit Action
- Towards a Conclusion: Eder’s Synthesis, Cognitive Sociology, and the Public Sphere
- Chapter 12 Discourse, Learning, and Social Integration
- The Sociological Theory of Collective Learning
- Towards a Social Pragmatic Theory of Collective Learning
- Collective Learning and the Cognitive Turn
- Collective Learning, Cognitive Order, and Social Integration
- The Cognitive Construction of Normativity and the Communication Community
- The Cognitive Organization of Social Integration
- Learning Pathologies and Discursive Co-ordination
- Chapter 13 Cognitive Sociology and the Public Sphere: Towards a Theoretical Framework
- The Modern Cognitive Order and Public Discourse
- The Cognitive Order, Communication, and Social Change
- Part IV Democratic Communication, the Cognitive Order, and the Public Sphere
- Chapter 14 Public Communication and the Public Sphere
- Theoretical Foundations of Democratic Publicity
- Realism, Ideology, and the Cognitive Order
- Chapter 15 Generalized Public Communication Media: Mass and New Media
- Media of Democratic Communication
- Institutionalized Media of Political Communication
- Chapter 16 The Macro-Social Structures of the Public Sphere
- The Macro-Social Context
- The Public Complex
- Civil Society
- Private Life
- Formally Organized Spheres
- The Macro-Social Order of Communication
- Chapter 17 The Dynamics of Public Communication
- Communicative Forms and the Institutionalization of Publicity
- Communicative Arenas
- Communication Structures and the Cognitive Order
- Communication Dynamics: Argumentation, Deliberation, and the Cognitive Order
- Immanence, Transcendence, and Communicative Democratization
- Chapter 18 Cosmopolitanism and the Transnational Institutionalization of the Public Sphere
- Between National and Transnational Society: Propitiating Societal Conditions
- Between National and Transnational Democracy: Structures and Dynamics of Communication and Culture
- Cognitive Sociology and European Transnationalism
- Conclusion: The Public Sphere and Democracy
- Series index
Figure 1: Democratic Theory and the Theory of Society
Table 1: A Typology of Political Norms
Table 2: Discourse, Learning, and the Cognitive Order
Figure 2: Cognitive-Communicative Learning
Figure 3: Spheres of Publicity
Figure 4: Forms of Democratic Communication
Figure 5: The Macro-Social Context of Public Communication
Figure 6: Societal Spheres and the Cognitive Order
Figure 7: The Cognitive Framework of the Public Sphere
Figure 8: Communicative Modes of Social Integration
Figure 9: Societal Spheres: Discourse, Culture, and Resonance
I have not made extensive changes to the original hardback text for the paperback edition. The majority of the changes that have been made are of an editorial nature to improve the flow of the language. I had considered introducing substantial new materials, but in the end reconsidered, because it would have created a type of cognitive dissonance between old and new, requiring substantial changes to the original volume. Nonetheless, there are some revisions to the use of terminology, changes of emphasis in arguments, and a general attempt to align the book with developments in my theoretical position since its original publication, albeit only to a certain level that would not require complex and overburdening elaboration.
More radical changes than those indicated above did not appear to be a high priority. Reviewing the book some five years after its original publication reconfirmed its original rationale. This was to consider the concept of the public sphere, and what it implies for the normative quality of social integration, with modern sociological tools. Neither the once dominant functionalism that continues to be used in building a theoretical context for the public sphere, nor the wide-ranging contemporary implications of the interpretive paradigm, are adequate on their own or in combination for the task. Hence, a book on the public sphere that employs a critical cognitive sociology, retaining a normative-critical edge within a communication theory of society, still seems timely in its original form.
As a work of cognitive sociology, one intellectual matter should be clarified at the outset. The idea of the cognitive is understood here as wide-ranging individual and collective competences for learning and reasoning. At its core, the cognitive consists of the mental and socio-mental mechanisms that are used in such tasks. The cognitive should therefore not be reduced, as it often is due to widespread repetition, to something of another kind, to, non-systematically listed here, the evaluative, the aesthetic, and feelings. So reduced, the ‘cognitive’ is often thought of today in the human and social sciences as excessively rationalistic and hence needing to be ← xiii | xiv → widely supplanted with more creative accounts of mentation. While there is no doubt that such a turn of thought has its point as a corrective to the presumptions about agents that are widely used in both the intellectual and ‘everyday’ worlds under the concept of ‘cognitive’, and while use of the concept in this book in some part shares the critique of existing usage, it does not abandon the concept of the cognitive. Rather, it builds upon it and makes it central to sociological thinking, understanding it as the indispensable foundation of signification and, corresponding to C. S. Peirce’s observations on logic, to be regarded as inextricably social in its nature.
A further thought is that the book is not complete. Of course, no book ever really is, always contributing to opening up something new rather than being the final word. But this book is also not complete because the tasks within it, the communicative reorientation of sociology, the relationship between normative philosophy and sociology in this light, and the foundations of an adequate critical theory with an intrinsic social science contribution, do not beyond the book receive the attention they merit. And beyond each of these individual tasks, integration across them is still less being given adequate attention. For these reasons, the book’s primary contribution may be to open up channels of thinking within and across these tasks. It seems frustrating and bewildering that, as the world we live in appears ever more to need the sustained attention of communicative-cultural thinking spanning a variety of disciplines, this intellectual project appears relatively unready, in spite of decades spent heralding the significance of culture. Viewed from another angle, though, perhaps it is diffusely becoming more ready and the great stirs of thought of the present will in the end converge on a more normatively incisive and more methodologically applicable interdisciplinary theory in this register.
The book, as a type of practice reconstructing theory, is designed to fill a space between theory and practice. So, while there is little in the book on those key issues that make ideas of the public sphere appear so pertinent today, such as populism, war, cosmopolitanism, or the relationship between social media and democracy, it offers a type of multi-level account of the kind of theory of society that could be applied to address any of these phenomena. It is therefore a space of thinking about a different type of sociology, communicative, cognitive, and normative and, ← xiv | xv → ultimately, with methodological intentions whose full expression will have to wait until another day.
A final point is that the author’s work on critical cognitive sociology has, of course, gone on since 2013. It is now, building on foundations offered in the current book, taking the form of a comprehensive sociological statement on communicative reason. Such a project, building both from Peirce’s semiotics, critical theory, and cognitive sociology, just to mention the major influences, aims for an integrated statement on how reason, the public sphere, and the communication theory of society are conceptually intermeshed. For this purpose, a semiotic restatement of both Peirce’s and discourse ethics’ guiding ideas in sociological light will be fundamental, opening towards a different way of cognizing both intellectual-political objects and aims. The interdisciplinary foundation of this work are ineluctable, and, if the years have taught me anything, it is just how much gets lost by the self-insulation of disciplines. But, of course, premature and superficial attempts to correct this state of affairs will not suffice, even if correction is essential. A concept like the public sphere demands interdisciplinary thinking, even listing possible disciplines that must contribute would go on a long time, and, hence, as much as philosophers and sociologists, I will welcome the thoughts on this project of others beyond these disciplines, including those outside specific disciplinary identities.
Kilbrittain, Summer 2018
This book has been some time in the making. It is composed of elements that have received attention at different periods over the last fifteen years, each generating their own intermediate output of various kinds while also moving in a general direction. Whether these now come together in a satisfactory way is for the reader to judge. But, for the author, it feels like a long road where a destination is at last reached. The destination is one of those that might have been expected as the journey began, but it was far from altogether clear at the beginning. It only became clearer with the passing time.
The motivation to write this book owes as much to a sense of impotence as anything else. This above all derives from the feeling that if only a number of theoretical and methodological currents in different disciplines could combine to advance common understanding of democratic culture, how much better scholarship in the field would be, and perhaps the world would be a little better too. Of course, it’s understandable that disciplines and fields of scholarship go about their business in their own ways, building up knowledge traditions that have standing for intellectuals and the world generally. But contemporary challenges appear to make both necessary and desirable some relaxation of borders, between disciplines, between individuals and groups, and within individuals. So, this book is partly dedicated to the realization of a kind of freedom that is based upon a responsibility to learn from others.
Though the book is not specifically addressed at methodology in any recognized sense of the term, it has a methodological intention at its core. This intention is to develop the kind of theory that can guide research, and learn from it, without sacrificing theoretical foundations. The goal is to understand what is at stake in public discourse so as to open a path towards better researching this discourse. And the intention is not just to do so to enable social actors generally to better see their contributions, but also to enable better academic interventions into public argumentation. ← xvii | xviii →
Leaving aside the relatively poor integration of normative horizons and research approaches general in the social sciences, a focus that is intrinsic to the public sphere, there are some promising research methodologies that could tell much about how discourses shape understandings, creating opportunities or closing them down. And some frustration arises from how little this has really been able to be done, given shortage of resources, across the vast universe of possible issues and spheres of application. Perhaps the difficulty in finding these resources has something to do with the limitations of the ambition. What, after all, is the true value of the kind of research that hides its own perspectives and denies itself the right to be anything other than a mirror of culture?
The concern for democratic inquiry, as Dewey saw a long time ago, could unite philosophical and social scientific inquiry with the discourses of all the other agents who shape the world for better or worse. The very good idea Dewey had was that democratic inquiry could make these discourses better and thus make the world better. So, in fact, by working from the perspective of the good of publics, whatever that may turn out to be, it is possible to have both normative and methodological intentions that support one another. And it might be the case that, in raising our sights in this way, academics that are concerned with normative questions might form a more acute sense of the relevance of what they do. And, then, they might be less inclined to leave what counts as publicly relevant research, the kinds of research that publics might interest themselves in, to the many kinds of research ‘realists’, even if they too make a valid contribution. And the first and most important task, beyond apathy, despair, and cynicism, is to draw attention to the discursive power of these publics, both the power they have and the power they should have, mindful of the fact that this power, like all power, must have limits.
In the gestation of this book, a number of people have been inspiring in many different ways. I would like to single out my colleague, Piet Strydom, who has been a in every way a major inspiration over many years and who has been a permanent, indispensable presence in my intellectual milieu. Intellectually, he has blazed a trail by developing a form of cognitive sociology from which this book has greatly benefited. This local milieu is small and I am greatly indebted to it for its remarkably high intellectual quality. ← xviii | xix → Another colleague, Tracey Skillington, has used her penetrating critical talents and general theoretical insight to good effect on my work over the years. My political philosophy colleague, Cara Nine, patiently and knowledgeably helped my education in this area. I am also greatly indebted to a number of postgraduate students who have contributed so much to making this milieu, though small, also vibrant. These include Roddy Condon, Mark Cullinane, Ronan Kaczynski, Richard Milner, Kieran O’Connor, Marie O’Shea, Siobhan O’Sullivan, April Park, Leonard Reidy, and Annie Schueler. Beyond this milieu, and yet part of it, I would like to single out Klaus Eder for being such a galvanizing presence during his many visits to Cork and, generally, for doing so much to develop the sociological dimension of critical theory. Jim Bohman’s single visit was later, but during that visit and a return visit I made to St Louis he has made a considerable contribution to the ideas in the book.
On both a personal and professional level, I would like to offer special thanks to the copy-editors of this book, Sarah Bologna, Nicholas McMurry, Ronan O’Brien, and Siobhan O’Sullivan, who contributed not just to the improvement of the style and the clarity of the language but also, through their acute comments, to the ideas themselves. Further gratitude is due to Ronan for being there right to the end when needed. Finally, I would like to thank my editor at Peter Lang, Christabel Scaife, for her helpful contributions and great patience.
On a personal level, I would like to thank Kate Kalin and Klair van Haght for sorting out my organizational deficiencies and improving my decision-making capacities so as to make it possible to do this book at all. I thank Kate also for delving into the motivational foundations of this Irish academic and helping to change them. My dear dogs, Emerald, Leo, and Ruby, were great company throughout, though they might not say the same in return about these last months. At another motivational level, I owe an indescribable amount to Daniel and Mary, who were my companions at the book’s origins. This book is dedicated to Daniel, who is a continuing presence, to my mother, Mary, who has since passed away, and to the dear memory of my father, Michael.
The concept of the public sphere asserts the centrality of communication by an enlightened public to democratic politics (Fraser, 1992; Fraser, 2007; Habermas, 1989). In contemporary sociology and social theory, this concept is regarded as important, but it is nonetheless poorly elaborated. It has acquired a kind of pragmatic coherence, achieved through the sum of the multiple ways in which it is deployed. This applies not just to its sociological usage, but also to its usage in philosophy, politics, geography, and the humanities. One important factor explaining the absence of profound theoretical elaboration is that the concept of the public sphere draws from many disciplines in circumstances where interdisciplinary theory building is not highly developed. In this light, at the core of this book is the attempt to harness the combined potentials of two disciplines that are intrinsic to the study of the political public sphere, philosophy and sociology, to advance the goal of better theoretical elaboration. If the main concentration is on the sociological theory of the public sphere, it is recognized that the normative core of the concept is critically depend on philosophical ideas.
In one respect, the fate of the concept of public sphere parallels that of many core concepts in sociology. Concepts such as class, state, institution, and system that once claimed privilege in explaining social organization have become substantially redefined. Redefinition is expressed through the rise of a different conceptual repertoire, embracing such concepts as interaction, fluidity, dynamics, contingency, and relationality, which give priority to process over structure, innovation over stabilization. This development is part of the micro-sociological recapturing of the sociological imagination, which has significantly changed assumptions about the relative importance of macro-structures and micro-processes (Delanty and O’Mahony, 2002; Emirbayer, 1997; Rehg and Bohman, 2001).
The concept of the public sphere appears suited to this shift. It resonates with conceptual complexes such as epistemological multi-perspectivism, non-linear thinking, creative ferment, and dislocated, disempowered ← 1 | 2 → subjectivity. Yet, such concepts emphasize only one important dimension of the concept of publicity, which regards it as contingent, open, pluralistic, and contestatory.1 The other important dimension, referencing classical and neo-classical traditions in sociology and their shared concerns with political philosophy, emphasizes society as a normatively structured reality. Translated into a communication theory by Habermas, such a normative perspective holds that modern society has to potential to reliably, transparently, and legitimately institute just and transparent organizational principles by the dual means of public discourse and democratic deliberation (Habermas, 1996).2
These two orientations draw from contrasting, yet interconnected, conceptions of society for which discourse is commonly central. The first emphasizes the erosion of any project of societal integration based on overarching ‘universalistic’ normative commitments; the other holds to a continuing enlightenment belief in the capacity of society as a whole to know and organize itself in the normative medium of morality, ethics, and law. Yet, generally, these approaches appear as incompatible alternatives. Sociologically, there is a further difficulty spanning both conceptions that has hindered the adoption of the concept of the public sphere. The discipline’s primary critical mode is that of critique of macro-structures and the agents assumed to control them, whereas the normative reach of the public sphere concept, in the prominent line of the later Habermas ← 2 | 3 → at least, encompasses not just critical but also ‘affirmative’ and disclosing normative moments. The affirmative normative moment attends to those institutional capacities of modernity that should be defended, and the disclosing moment to another kind of capacity, that of envisioning possible normative progress. For modern critical theory, these three normative moments are central to grasping the role of public discourse.
The divided orientations of sociology, as they respectively shape scholarship of the public sphere, emanate from what are assumed, historically, to be opposing intellectual projects. The first, more actor-centred approach, corresponds to certain lines in contemporary sociological theory, partly inspired by post-structuralism, together with particular strands of radical political theory and stresses the purely critical and transformative normative moment. In one important approach, political authority appears as an empty space to be temporarily filled by the institutionalization and de-institutionalization of discourses shaped in the crucible of power struggles (Lefort, 1988: Nash, 2007; Von Trotha, 2006). By contrast, the other, more normative and structured, drawing off strands of deliberative, liberal, and republican theory stresses an enduring, if evolving, democratic project at the core of the normative culture of modernity. This partial affirmation of the normative culture of modernity is in critical theoretical writing joined by critical and disclosing normative moments. In some other theoretical traditions, for example, some versions of liberal political theory, these normative moments are either absent or are less emphasized.
Such different currents of academic opinion on the relationship between political practice and potentials for normative integration are engaged in a kind of strife that permeates writing on the public sphere and, more generally, on democracy. There is manifest contention between the emphasis on non-institutional politics and the creativity of political discourse on one hand and, on the other, on institutional politics and recognizable and reproducible procedures of political justification, though, as will be argued in later chapters, it is theoretically and empirically unproductive to draw the line too sharply in either direction.
One implication is that the public sphere is a challenging and underdeveloped concept in sociology, due to the interdisciplinary contexts in which it finds itself and the general intra-disciplinary reorientation. Sociology ← 3 | 4 → draws on both currents of thought sketched above and sometimes manages to creatively combine them. Its thought operates within an inescapable interdisciplinary context that ever more reaches into the core of the discipline. Any primacy it might claim for elaborating and applying the concept of public sphere, arising from the at least partial provenance of the concept within the discipline, has therefore to be qualified by the powerful impact of the interdisciplinary context, as well as the intrinsic difficulty it has found in theoretically explicating the concept within the discipline.
This book is primarily concerned with the role of the public sphere in relation to normative foundations of the democratic project of modernity. It is assumed that certain necessary values such as equality, legitimacy, publicity, fairness, legality, dignity, esteem, and freedom are intrinsic to this project. Moreover, it is assumed that the quality of democratic discourse within public spheres is intrinsic to the meaningful realization of these values. For this task, it takes its cue more from the sociological orientation concerned with the processes of building a just and responsible macro-social normative order, but now strongly guided by the constructivist, political impulses of the first orientation and wider interdisciplinary horizons. It is concerned with how the public, through many forms of participation in the public sphere, is intrinsic to the possibility of a normatively well ordered, just, and responsible society, even if it still remains far from that. In its concern for normative order, the book returns with changed register to the macro-normative focus of classical and neo-classical sociology that itself was in debate with the liberal philosophy of its time (Honneth, 2011; Seidman, 1983).
Normatively well ordered is not understood as a one-sided product of an existing public reason vested in a political elite in the sense of John Rawls (Rawls, 1993). It is, rather, conceived as the fragile but real achievement of good justification in the complex and pluralistic actuality of modern society. From the perspective of the contemporary theory of the public sphere advanced in this book, society can only be normatively ordered, unlike Rawls’s conception, by means of extended public discourse that, rather than taking its lead from an elite public reason, instead specifies the latter’s agenda. Only a public reason shaped by a fully democratic process of learning and justification involving all reasonable political agents can satisfy standards of being fully inclusive, fair, and effective, and hence make for a normatively well-ordered society (Habermas, 1995; Habermas, 2001). ← 4 | 5 →
The conscious shaping of a just and responsible social order is an achievement of a discursively formed general public will. Such a view of democracy not only differs from the restricted Rawlsian conception of public reason, but also from the view that politics involves continuous contestation, whether conceived in liberal or agonistic terms.3 While contestation is absolutely central to the conception of politics offered in this book, it is regarded as only one part of a wider political process. Rather, in the tradition of certain strands of deliberative theory, the achievement of standards of justice and responsibility is taken to depend on the capacity to generate publicly justified principles and procedures that can be instituted with relative stability in the complex, contingent, and unpredictable conditions of modern society.
A fully developed sociological approach to communicative politics can demonstrate how the legitimate and effective operation of the public sphere can create a normative bridge between democratic politics and its societal environments or, indeed, demonstrate why such a bridge fails (O’Mahony, 2009). Normative principles and procedures are temporally and spatially subject to ongoing revision given the contingencies of the modern social order. Deontological commitment to such principles and procedures cannot be simply dogmatically asserted across time and place, as they are constantly subject to challenges arising from altered contexts and interpretive practices; hence, they must be redefined on an ongoing basis (Honneth, 2011). This sociological understanding of deontological commitment follows the discourse ethical project of the linguistification of Kant’s ethics of duty. Foundational moral commitments, worked out through the discourse of affected agents, underpin democratically organized modern societies – for example, standards of relative equality, dignity, fairness, and freedom. Such commitments are consequentially qualified; their interpretation and relational significance may change through processes of public justification animated by capacities for collective learning that lie within and beyond formal political contexts. ← 5 | 6 →
- XX, 502
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Softcover)
- Publication date
- 2019 (January)
- democratic theory circumstances process
- Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2019. XX, 502 pp., 9 fig. b/w, 2 tables.