Public Sphere/Private Interests

According to Jurgen Habermas’ The Public Sphere:  An Encyclopedia Article, the public sphere is any place where people come together and form an opinion.  He notes that this formation of ‘public opinion’—defined as criticism and control of the ruling class– is most often done informally, and then “in periodic elections formally as well—vis a vis the ruling structure organized in the form of the state” (p.103)

Habermas believes that ideology grows out of these informal meetings, as one class after the other forms opining, rises up and becomes the ruling class—and they did it through the use of the media, as newspapers evolved from sheets with “a compilation of notices” (p. 105) to editorial newspapers designed to change public opinion. 

In the transition from the literary journalism of private individuals to the public services of the mass media, the public sphere was transformed by the influx of private interests, which received special prominence in the mass media. (p. 105)

Habermas and David Joselit in “The Video Public Sphere” both argue that while the model is in place for a free and equal discourse in the public sphere, it is not possible simply because of access, power and private interests.  Joselit describes the television talk show genre as a mirror of already formed public opinion.  The guests are “everyman” only to an extreme.  A person set up to be judged or pitied, but always to a person with whom the audience has some identification.

Are the shortcomings of the public sphere too great to form a “real” public opinion?  Yes.  The elite, no matter who they are at that time will always guide—gently or otherwise—public opinion.  The Internet has changed the equation slightly, but studies have shown that people tend to read the blogs that reflect their own personal opinion.  It therefore does not change their opinion, instead solidifying it.




3 Responses to “Public Sphere/Private Interests”

  1. mediasaucy Says:

    “The Internet has changed the equation slightly, but studies have shown that people tend to read the blogs that reflect their own personal opinion. It therefore does not change their opinion, instead solidifying it.”

    This is an excellent point. One might think with all of the many voices and facets of public thought that the common Internet peruser could be exposed to, the peruser might try checking out all the resources available on a particular subject, and not just journey straight towards like-minded opinion sites. Alas, each of us is limited by his or her own personal experience; we tend to go with what we know and feel comfortable with. It’s the same reason people travel great distances to return to their home towns to celebrate holidays; we like the comfortable feeling of the known and often shun the unfamiliar prickliness of things that are new and different. With the same-old, same-old, people feel safe. To me that is what makes this year’s election most fascinating and is keeping me engaged.

  2. katherineer Says:

    i definitely agree with you loragrass. I think you made a very valid point. I agree that a public sphere is a place where individuals come together and form opinions. I agree that in the video public sphere that all the talk of free opinion just simply can not be done because of power that some individuals have. It makes the discourse not equal. My favorite comment of yours was when you stated that the elite will always guide no matter what. I definitely agree with that because they have more opportunities to voice their opinions and more outlets to do so. I agree that the internet has changed that and made the average joe have a voice in society although people tend to look at blogs that they agree to. I do believe though that some individuals on the internet do change their minds and opinions when they look at others blogs, which I think it fantastic. Although at the end of the day, I think, “Who’s opinion is really original? Are we all just followers by what we hear?”

  3. I agree that the elite will always influence public opinion. Even though there is a much greater range of voices on the internet, at the same time there has been a huge concentration of the mass media in just a few hands, so the mere existence of the internet is not going to solve the problem. We’re only going to have a robust debate when we adopt a cultural value that having one is important — paradoxically, though, that value can only be popularized by the elite.

    Luckily, we will become the media elite, so it’s up to us!

    Sending this comment late because of my silliness at forgetting to make enough comments in September. Have a nice second semester, Peter C

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