Notes on Public Sphere

The public sphere is on a literal level, is a group of autonomous individuals and the forum in which they communicate with each other. The larger the group of people the more complex a system is needed for transmitting mass messages. The more the dialog between individuals in the public forum needs to pass through mechanisms, in this writing refers to those allowing for long distance communication, the more opportunity there is for the communication to become corrupted.

It is interesting to note that the concept of public sphere only began to take root in the eighteenth century, when a public discussion around the exercise of political power became necessary for the emerging bourgeois class to establish themselves as a relevant threat to the ruling elite. In this way, even the concept of a public sphere existing at all, is directly related to an ideology that needs such a group in order to survive. The public sphere largely relies on this group of autonomous individuals in question, to perceive themselves to have a collective identity and therefore a need to engage in discourse as a so-called public. This self-identifying public is the exactly the kind of people prepared to be controlled under a democracy. A democracy would have no control if there were not a public that believed itself to be in some way participating in this governing, I believe examples to support this could easily be found if researching some of the failed attempts to “export” democracy to groups of people who do not yet see themselves as a collective public.

I appreciated the inclusion of Joselit’s The Video Public Sphere as contemporization of Habermas’ initial concept of public sphere. He states that the personal becomes political when we are communicating within a public sphere. Much of the concept of public sphere has to do with individuals to identifying that their personal life is effected by larger social and political factors at play. While the public sphere can never entirely avoid corruption from the influence of propaganda, especially in the televisual public sphere we inhabit today, autonomous individuals can have more power when recognizing that when certain personal problems pervade within a large group. When individuals come together and identify themselves communicating within a public sphere, there is at least some potential for recourse when the lives individuals are negatively affected.


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