CMN 3109 Chapter Notes - Chapter 1: Fourth Estate, Satellite Television, Jürgen Habermas
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Introduction: How Are Media Public Spheres?
The new mass media of the 20th century threatened to subvert the public
sphere and democracy.
Movies, radio and television has great propaganda potential to truncate (cut)
the range of ideas in the public sphere and restrict debate.
New theories of mass culture and mass society explained the vulnerability of
modern democracies and the power of radio and film as tools for
Central to such theory was the use of media for propaganda to bind the
population to the fascist state.
Jurgen Habermas – Public Sphere
Habermas’s theory of the bourgeois public sphere addresses questions about
what makes democracy work.
•!Its primary focus is the origins of bourgeois public sphere in 18th
century social institutions and political philosophy.
There’s a second tradition, of publics, rooted in social rather than political
concepts and theory, framed in terms of different issues and questions, but
also placing mass media at the center of the idea of publics.
•!Unlike the liberal (open-minded) tradition of public sphere that
focuses on deliberation (debate), this tradition considers what
actions follow from the deliberation.
•!Study of crowds
•!Crowds were masses in action, and the tradition would turn
increasingly to talk about masses – and mass media audiences – in
contrast to publics, with the advent (arrival) of radio.
•!Contrast a constructive role in society for publics to the supposed
destructive role of crowds.
Walter Lippmann considered the mass incapable of performing its role as a
‘true’ public and in need of guidance through propaganda, i.e. mass media
messages, by an educated elite.
Dewey, on the other hand, conceived publics as the natural emergence of
community efforts to solve shared problems, with solutions then
institutionalized in government.
Both traditions of the concepts of publics and public sphere include media as
a necessary element for public deliberation (debate).
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But the media presumed in those traditions were subsidiary (secondary) to
the public sphere.
By contrast, given the growth in media variety, size and convergence in the
late 20th century, media have become the primary focus and force for
today’s public sphere.
Issues of the media and public sphere revolve around the central axis of
whether media enable or undermine a healthy public sphere with widespread
Debates about the good or bad impact of media institutions parallel past
splits between political economic and cultural studies approaches to media
institutions and culture, and between mass culture critics and those who
downplayed the effects of media.
HABERMAS: LIBERAL POLITICAL THEORY AND THE PUBLIC SPHERE
•!Participation in governance through public discussion.
•!As Habermas interpreted the history, mercantile (business)
capitalism required a public space where information could be freely
•!This would become, according the Habermas, the bourgeois public
sphere, where not only information about business, but information
about culture and politics might also be freely discussed.
•!Within evolving bourgeois (middle-class) public sphere institutions,
such as the coffee house, salon and the press, he finds conversation
among equals whose private interests and inequality are
temporarily suspended, which in turn allows for rational discussion
and debate on questions of state policy and action.
•!Habermas then asses the modern mass media as a public sphere
•!The large scale media of monopoly (domination) capitalism
transforms what had been a political public sphere into a medium
for commodity consumption.
•!A healthy public sphere requires small scale media not motivated by
•!Commercialization is the result of economic self-interest taking
precedent over the collective interest.
•!New mediated public sphere as representational rather than
•!Habermas refers to the re-feudalization of the public sphere,
returning to its function as a place for public display rather than of
public discourse and debate.
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