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Cultural Transformations of the Public Sphere

Contemporary and Historical Perspectives


Edited By 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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The idea for this volume developed during a larger interdisciplinary project on ‘The Public Sphere and Modern Social Imaginaries’, a lecture series and a conference that took place at The Ohio State University between 2009 and 2012. We invited those participants and several additional colleagues, who were particularly interested in conceptual work on the cultural implications and aesthetic formations of the public sphere, to contribute to this volume. Our thanks go foremost to the authors, who responded so convincingly to our invitation; to the participants of the conference and the lecture series; and to the colleagues from OSU’s departments of Comparative Studies, History, Political Science, Spanish and Portuguese, and Germanic Languages and Literatures who participated in the conception and organization of the larger project. Special thanks are due to Alice Schlingman, who helped with the editorial work that fell largely into May Mergenthaler’s hands. Finally, we would like to thank the College (now Division) of Humanities for generously supporting the lecture series, the conference, and the publication of this volume.

Pondering the potentials, limits, hopes and hazards of expounding the role of aesthetics and culture in the formation of public spheres and social imaginaries, it is perhaps helpful to search for possible beginnings. When Immanuel Kant, in his ‘Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?’ (1784), introduced his notion of a public [Publikum] that has the potential to enlighten itself, his anticipated model was a yet to be established uncensored intellectual exchange of ideas and...

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