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Cultural Transformations of the Public Sphere

Contemporary and Historical Perspectives


Bernd Fischer and May Mergenthaler

The last decade has seen renewed interest in political theories of the public sphere, reacting to new challenges posed by globalization, communication technology, and intra- and international conflicts. However, the role of culture and aesthetics in the formation of the public sphere has received insufficient analytical attention. The essays in this volume explore different strategies for enriching the ongoing debates on this issue, ranging from historical case studies to theoretical examinations of cultural interdependencies and the aesthetic potential of literature and art. The contributions implicitly challenge Jürgen Habermas’ assumption that the public discourse about art and literature should be seen as a mere precursor to the emergence of the public sphere in the eighteenth century, which, from his point of view, is best discussed in the terminology of political theory.
Topics range from the French Revolution’s exclusive social metaphors to Herder’s anticipation of virtual publics, from the distortions of public communication to revolutionary potentials of popular taste, and from postcolonial feuilletons to the global bio-political imaginaries evoked by mobile communication. The essays are intended for scholars and students in political theory and philosophy as well as in German, Latin American, and Modern Hebrew literature and culture.
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Fraternity as a Social Metaphor


The considerations I am going to put forward take their starting point from the significance of the social imaginary for the constitution and stabilization of political bodies.1 In particular, political bodies need fundamental narratives, social metaphors and self-dramatizations in which they represent themselves. Naturally, to talk of a political body is already in itself fundamentally metaphorical, whether it is called the corpus rei publicae, the body politic, the corps collectif or referred to by any of the other designations that have been applied in the course of European history. It is metaphorical insofar as these expressions are supposed to represent the social whole – the unity of a national or communal entity – as the unity of a natural body. The representative in which the social whole became visible and sensibly manifest was, for long stretches of Western history and in the Christian sphere, the body of the king – the sovereign’s body.2 This situation changes radically during the French Revolution, and especially after the execution of Louis XVI in 1793. How does a society which both executed its king and did away with the principle of monarchical representation as such – how does such a society represent its unity to itself? Which methods does it employ to find alternative ways to embody sovereignty?

The history of fraternity (or brotherhood) as a social metaphor began long before the French Revolution. At the latest, it begins with the New ← 41 | 42 → Testament, in which Christian fellow believers are referred to as...

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