Philosophy and Political Engagement: Reflection in the Public Sphere

Philosophy and Political Engagement
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Palgrave Macmillan, Chapter 5. Causing Death and Saving Liv Library availability. Have you read this? Please log in to set a read status Setting a reading intention helps you organise your reading. Read the guide. Your reading intentions are private to you and will not be shown to other users. From the time that the theory of communicative action and the contrast between system and lifeworld became central to his project, Habermas's emphasis has been on political will formation through the process of "deliberative democracy," conceived as processes which cultivate rational and moral subjects through reflection, argumentation, public reasoning, and reaching consensus Habermas f.

Severing political discussion from decision and action, however, focuses the locus of Habermasian politics strictly on discussion and what he calls a discourse theory of democracy. Whereas theories of strong democracy posit individuals organizing, deliberating, making decisions, and actively transforming the institutions of their social life, Habermas shifts "the sovereignty of the people".

Of course, these opinions must be given shape in the form of decisions by democratically constituted decision-making bodies. The responsibility for practically consequential decisions must be based in an institution. Discourses do not govern. They generate a communicative power that cannot take the place of administration but can only influence it.

This influence is limited to the procurement and withdrawal of legitimation This is quite a shift from the perspectives of Structural Transformation where Habermas delineated an entire set of institutions and practices that could directly impinge upon and transform all realms of social life. Despite the pessimistic conclusion of Transformation , which posited the decline of the bourgeois public sphere in the contemporary era, Habermas earlier held out the hope for societal democratization of the major realms of politics, society, and everyday life, although he did not specify any particular tactics, strategies, or practices.

Over the past two decades, however, his work has taken a philosophical turn that focuses on the discursive conditions of rational discussion, anchored in communicative relations of everyday life. In his later work, I would argue, Habermas indulges in a romanticism of the lifeworld, appealing to the "true humanity" operative within interpersonal relations, assuming face-to-face communication as his model of undistorted communication, and replacing structural transformation with the ideal of cultivation of the communicatively-rational individual and group.

get link His analysis is discourse-oriented, developing discourse theories of morality, democracy, and law, grounded in a theory of communicative action. The crux of the problem with Habermas's analysis is that he makes too rigid a categorical distinction between system and lifeworld, constructing each according to their own imperatives, thus removing the "system" i. Against this conception, I would argue, as Habermas himself recognizes, that the lifeworld is increasingly subject to imperatives from the system, but that in the current era of technological revolution, interaction and communication play an increasingly important role in the economy and polity that Habermas labels the "system.

Earlier, Habermas made a similar categorical distinction between production and interaction, arguing that the former including technology was governed by the logic of instrumental action and could not be transformed, while "interaction" was deemed the categorical field for rational discourse, moral development, and democratic will-formation. In the remainder of my study, I want to argue that in an era of technological revolution in which new technologies are permeating and dramatically transforming every aspect of what Habermas discusses as system and lifeworld, or earlier production and interaction, and that such dualistic and quasi-transcendental categorical distinctions can no longer be maintained.

Andrew Feenberg will develop an argument in this volume concerning the need to theorize technology as a crucial "steering media" of contemporary society and to democratically transform technology to make it a force and field of societal democratization. I will focus here, as a subset of this concern, on the importance of communication media and technology for the processes of democratization and reconstruction of the public sphere.

In my book Television and the Crisis of Democracy , I contend that the media, state, and business are the major institutional forces of contemporary capitalist societies, that the media "mediate" between state, economy, and social life, and that the mainstream broadcasting media have not been promoting democracy or serving the public interest and thus are forfeiting their crucial structural importance in constructing a democratic society.

Hence, I am assuming that the communication media are something like what Habermas calls "steering media," that, as I suggest below, they have crucial functions in a democratic social order, and that they have been failing in their challenges to promote democracy over the last decades, thus producing a crisis of democracy. In the remainder of this article, I will address this situation and propose remedies grounded in Habermas's early work and the first generation of critical theory. In the conclusion to his "Further Reflections on the Public Sphere," Habermas makes a distinction between "the communicative generation of legitimate power on the one hand" and "the manipulative deployment of media power to procure mass loyalty, consumer demand, and 'compliance' with systemic imperatives on the other" Such a distinction can be analytically made and strategically deployed, but in Habermas's use, the media are excluded tout court from the realm of democracy and the possibility of democratic transformation, since they are limited by definition in his optic to systemic imperatives of manipulation, governed by "media" of money and power, and thus are excluded from the possibility of contributing to the politics of a broader societal democratization.

Hence, Habermas never really formulates the positive and indeed necessary functions of the media in democracy and cannot do so, I maintain, with his categorical distinctions. In Transformations , he sketches the degeneration of media from print-based journalism to the electronic media of the twentieth century, in an analysis that, as his critics maintain, tends to idealize earlier print media and journalism within a democratic public sphere contrasted to an excessively negative sketch of later electronic media and consumption in a debased public sphere of contemporary capitalism. This same model of the media and public sphere continues to be operative in his most recent magnum opus Between Facts and Norms , where Habermas discusses a wide range of legal and democratic theory, including a long discussion of the media and the public sphere, but he does not discuss the normative character of communication media in democracy or suggest how a progressive media politics could evolve.

Part of the problem, I think, is that Habermas's notion of the public sphere was grounded historically in the era of print media which, as McLuhan and Gouldner have argued, fostered modes of argumentation characterized by linear rationality, objectivity, and consensus.

Since writing is his medium of choice and print media is his privileged site of intervention, I would imagine that Habermas downplays broadcasting and other communication media, the Internet and new spheres of public debate, and various alternative public spheres in part because he does not participate in these media and arenas himself and partly because, as I am suggesting, the categorical distinctions in his theory denigrate these domains in contrast to the realms of communicative action and the lifeworld.

But these blindspots and conceptual limitations, I believe, truncate Habermas's discussions of democracy and undermine his obvious intention of fostering democratization himself.

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Hence, despite extremely detailed discussion of democracy in Between Facts and Norms , Habermas fails, in my view, to adequately explicate the precise institutional and normative functions of the media and the public sphere within constitutional democracy. As conceived by Montesquieu in Spirit of the Laws and as elaborated in the American and then French revolutions of the 18th century, a democratic social order requires a separation of power so that no one social institution or force dominates the polity.

Most Western democracies separate the political system into the Presidency, Congress, and the Judiciary so that there would be a division and balance of powers between the major political institutions. The Press was conceived in this system as the "fourth estate" and freedom of the press was provided by most Western democracies as a fundamental right and as a key institution within a constitutional order based on separation of powers in which the media would serve as a check against corruption and excessive power in the other institutions. But democratic theory also developed stronger notions of citizen participation, or what has become known as participatory democracy, in theorists such as Rousseau, Marx, and Dewey.

In this conception, famously expressed by Abraham Lincoln, democracy is government by, of, and for the people. For such a conception of radical democracy to work, to create a genuinely participatory democracy, the citizens must be informed, they must be capable of argumentation and participation, and they must be active and organized to become a transformative democratic political force. Habermas, as we have seen, limits his analysis of procedural or deliberative democracy to valorization of the processing of rational argumentation and consensus, admittedly a key element of real democracy.

But not only does he limit democracy to the sphere of discussion within the lifeworld and civil society, but he omits the arguably necessary presuppositions for democratic deliberation and argumentation -- an informed and intellectually competent citizenry. Here the focus should arguably be on education and the media, for schooling and the media play a key role in enabling individuals to be informed, taught to seek information, and, if effectively educated, to critically assess and appraise information, to transform information into knowledge and understanding, and thus to make citizens capable of participating in democratic discussion and deliberation on the role of education and the media in democracy see Kellner and From this perspective, then, the media are part of a constitutional balance of power, providing checks and balances against the other political spheres and should perform a crucial function of informing and cultivating a citizenry capable of actively participating in democratic politics.

If the media are not vigilant in their checking of corrupt or excessive power of corporations, the state, the legal system, etc.


Habermas's various analyses in his by now astoundingly prolific and monumental work recognizes these two sides of democracy, but does not adequately delineate the normative character of the media in democracy and does not develop a notion of radical democracy in which individuals organize to democratically transform the media, technology, and the various institutions of social life.

In particular, he does not theorize the media and public sphere as part of a democratic constitutional order, but rather as a sphere of civil society that is. To this extent, the public sphere is a warning system with sensors that, through unspecialized, are sensitive throughout society. From the perspective of democratic theory, the public sphere must, in addition, amplify the pressure of problems, that is, not only thematize them, furnish them with possible solutions, and dramatize them in such a way that they are taken up and dealt with by parliamentary complexes.

Besides the 'signal' function, there must be an effective problematization. The capacity of the public sphere to solve problems on its own is limited. But this capacity must be utilized to oversee the further treatment of problems that takes place inside the political system.

In Habermas's conception, the media and public sphere function outside of the actual political-institutional system, mainly as a site of discussion and not as a locus of political organization, struggle, and transformation. In fact, however, I would argue that while the media in the Western democracies, which is now the dominant model in a globalized world, are intricately intertwined within the state and economy, in ways that Habermas does not acknowledge, nonetheless oppositional broadcast media and new media technologies such as the Internet are, as I argue below, serving as a new basis for a participatory democratic communication politics.

Habermas, by contrasts, fails to perceive how new social movements and oppositional groups and individuals use communication media to both educate and organize oppositional groups and thus expand the field of democratic politics. Habermas himself does not distinguish between the differences in the public sphere under the domination of big media and state broadcasting organizations in Europe contrasted to the corporate and commercial dominated system of big media in the United States. In Europe's system of state-controlled broadcasting, a fusion emerged between the political sphere and the public sphere, in which state-financed and often controlled broadcasting organizations attempted to promote the national culture and in some cases to inform and educate its citizens.

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In the U. The difference between a state-controlled public broadcasting system contrasted to a more commercial model has, of course, itself collapsed in the era of globalization where commercially-based cable television has marginalized public broadcasting in most countries and where in a competitive media environment even public broadcasting corporations import popular, mostly American, entertainment, and are geared more toward ratings than political indoctrination, or enlightenment. Nonetheless, public broadcasting continues to offer an ideal of public interest communication geared toward the common good and, ironically perhaps, the proliferation of new media, including the Internet which I discuss below, have multiplied information and discussion, of an admittedly varied sort, and thus provide potential for a more informed citizenry and more extensive democratic participation.

Yet, the dis- and misinformation that circulates on Internet undermines democratic information and discussion, pointing to sharp contradictions within the current media system. Habermas, however, neglects intense focus on the vicissitudes of the media, excludes democratization of the media from the realm of democratic politics, and does not envisage how new media and technology could lead to an expansion and revitalization of new and more democratic public spheres.

In fact -- and this is the crux of my critique of his positions --, Habermas simply does not theorize the functions of the media within the contemporary public sphere, deriving his model more from face-to-face communication and discussion, rather than from media interaction or communication mediated by the media and technology. In this concluding section, I wish to argue that in the contemporary high-tech societies there is emerging a significant expansion and redefinition of the public sphere -- as I am conceiving it, going beyond Habermas, to conceive of the public sphere as a site of information, discussion, contestation, political struggle, and organization that includes the broadcasting media and new cyberspaces as well as the face-to-face interactions of everyday life.

These developments, connected primarily with multimedia and computer technologies, require a reformulation and expansion of the concept of the public sphere -- as well as our notions of the critical or committed intellectual and notion of the public intellectual see Kellner b for an expansion of this argument. Earlier in the century, John Dewey envisaged developing a newspaper that would convey "thought news," bringing all the latest ideas in science, technology, and the intellectual world to a general public, which would also promote democracy see the discussion of this project in Czitrom ff.

In addition, Bertolt Brecht and Walter Benjamin saw the revolutionary potential of new technologies like film and radio and urged radical intellectuals to seize these new forces of production, to "refunction" them, and to turn them into instruments to democratize and revolutionize society. Jean-Paul Sartre too worked on radio and television series and insisted that "committed writers must get into these relay station arts of the movies and radio" ; for discussion of his Les temps modernes radio series, see Previously, radio, television, and the other electronic media of communication tended to be closed to critical and oppositional voices both in systems controlled by the state and by private corporations.

Public access and low power television, and community and guerilla radio, however, opened these technologies to intervention and use by critical intellectuals. For some years now, I have been urging progressives to make use of new communications broadcast media Kellner ; ; ; and have in fact been involved in a public access television program in Austin, Texas since which has produced over programs and won the George Stoney Award for public affairs television.

My argument has been that radio, television, and other electronic modes of communication were creating new public spheres of debate, discussion, and information; hence, activists and intellectuals who wanted to engage the public, to be where the people were at, and who thus wanted to intervene in the public affairs of their society should make use of these technologies and develop communication politics and new media projects. The rise of the Internet expands the realm for democratic participation and debate and creates new public spaces for political intervention.

My argument is that first broadcast media like radio and television, and now computers, have produced new public spheres and spaces for information, debate, and participation that contain both the potential to invigorate democracy and to increase the dissemination of critical and progressive ideas -- as well as new possibilities for manipulation, social control, the promotion of conservative positions, and intensifying of differences between haves and have nots.

But participation in these new public spheres -- computer bulletin boards and discussion groups, talk radio and television, and the emerging sphere of what I call cyberspace democracy require critical intellectuals to gain new technical skills and to master new technologies see Kellner b and for expansion of this argument. To be sure, the Internet is a contested terrain, used by Left, Right, and Center to promote their own agendas and interests. The political battles of the future may well be fought in the streets, factories, parliaments, and other sites of past conflict, but politics today is already mediated by media, computer, and information technologies and will increasingly be so in the future.

Those interested in the politics and culture of the future should therefore be clear on the important role of the new public spheres and intervene accordingly. A new democratic politics will thus be concerned that new media and computer technologies be used to serve the interests of the people and not corporate elites. A democratic politics will strive to see that broadcast media and computers are used to inform and enlighten individuals rather than to manipulate them. A democratic politics will teach individuals how to use the new technologies, to articulate their own experiences and interests, and to promote democratic debate and diversity, allowing a full range of voices and ideas to become part of the cyberdemocracy of the future.

Now more than ever, public debate over the use of new technologies is of utmost importance to the future of democracy. Who will control the media and technologies of the future, and debates over the public's access to media, media accountability and responsibility, media funding and regulation, and what kinds of culture are best for cultivating individual freedom, democracy, and human happiness and well-being will become increasingly important in the future. The proliferation of media culture and computer technologies focuses attention on the importance of new technologies and the need for public intervention in debates over the future of media culture and communications in the information highways and entertainment by-ways of the future.

Habermas, of course, often argued himself that the expanding functions of science and technology in the production process undermined the Marxian labor theory of value see Habermas ff. Expanding this argument, I contend that increased intensification of technological revolution in our era undermines Habermas's own fundamental distinction between production and interaction, since production obviously is structured by increased information and communication networks, while the latter are increasingly generated and structured by technology.

Thus, I have argued in this paper that Habermas's project is undermined by too rigid categorical distinctions between classical liberal and contemporary public spheres, between system and lifeworld, and production and interaction. Such dualistic conceptions are themselves vitated, I have argued, by technological revolution in which media and technology play vital roles on both sides of Habermas's categorical divide, subverting his bifurcations. The distinctions also rule out, I believe, efforts to transform the side of Habermas's distinction that he considers impervious to democratic imperatives or the norms of communicative action.

My perspectives, by contrast, open the entire social field to transformation and reconstruction, ranging from the economy and technology to media and education. Yet it is the merit of Habermas's analysis to focus attention on the nature and the structural transformations of the public sphere and its functions within contemporary society. My analysis suggests that we should expand this analysis to take account of the technological revolution and global restructuring of capitalism that is currently taking place and rethink the critical theory of society and democratic politics in the light of these developments.

Through thinking together the vicissitudes of the economy, polity, technology, culture, and everyday life, the Frankfurt School provides valuable theoretical resources to meet the crucial tasks of the contemporary era. In this study, I have suggested some of the ways that Habermas's Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere provides a more promising starting point for critical theory and radical democracy than his later philosophy of language and communication and have suggested that thinking through the contributions and limitations of his work can productively advance the project of understanding and democratically transforming contemporary society.

In particular, as we move into a new millennium, an expanded public sphere and new challenges and threats to democracy render Habermas's work an indispensable component of a new critical theory that must, however, go beyond his positions in crucial ways.

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Trump is a fraud. Habermas presupposes reason, although it is merely the product of imperfect human Auseinandersetzung, critical and discussion debate, and believes that reasoned communication can weaken prejudices, increase the scope and power of the public sphere and strengthen democracy. But Habermas is not the final authority on the meaning and coherence of his career, the porousness or purity of its boundaries. At stake is a crucial intellectual issue: Are there certain basic standards underlying our behaviours, standards like reason and justice? Symmetrically, impressions are imposed on individuals by the discourse of the media and the officials, who construct propaganda-impressions that "spectacularize" September 11, thus make it a major event. Nan Lin,

Antonio, Robert J. Adorno, T. New York: Transaction Press. Benjamin, Walter Illuminations. New York: Schocken Books. Bronner, Stephen Eric and Douglas Kellner, eds. A Reader. New York: Routledge. Davis Years at Hull-House. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Calhoun, Craig , ed. Habermas and the Public Sphere. Oxford: Blackwell.

Czitrom, Daniel Media and the American Mind. Chapel Hill, N.

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Philosophy and Political Engagement. Reflection in the Public Sphere. Editors: Fives, Allyn, Breen, Keith (Eds.) Free Preview. Explores what type of contribution . “With Philosophy and Political Engagement: Reflection in the Public Sphere, Allyn Fives and Keith Breen present to us a timely and impressive set of.

This is an alternative vision of the locus of politics itself, emanating from the 60s nostrum of politics as personal. Fraser points to the ways in which feminist counterpublics have organized many public sphere spaces in the form of journals, bookstores, film and video distribution networks, lectures, local meeting places. Over time, those discourses have come to circulate more widely and generally — moving into the general discourses of the media, the mass circulation of the broader public sphere.

As socially and culturally-defined formations, they exclude more than they include. This is understandable and necessary: one does not expect feminists to routinely include men in their policy-making processes except for exceptional purposes. In this view, democracy implies both general open and specific closed discursive processes, because inequalities of power make separate structures necessary and desirable.

Such an approach points to the social basis of segmentation, recognizing that democratic deliberation must primarily ensure that the policy views of oppressed and minority groups are heard. This notion of the counterdiscourses of particular counter-publics has important implications: the rational-critical debate of middle-class readers has little place in the critical discourse of young punks, or skate-boarders or the disabled or trans-gender groups.

So dialogical modes of communication, where we can identify them, could arguably suggest that important political deliberation is happening. Importantly, this opens up the idea of public spheres inside popular culture. The new lifestyle politics are thus very different from party politics, and require a certain insulation and enclosure from publicity for policy development. Habermas would certainly not dispute this, but the pragmatic focus in some of his work on the political-administrative machinery of government can suggest otherwise.

In Between Facts and Norms, Habermas also pluralised his notion of the public sphere quite radically, explicitly abandoning any necessary connection with institutions, and directing our attention to the discursive pre-conditions of deliberative discussion as constitutive potentially of multiple, overlapping and even conflictual public spheres. Public spheres could be seen as constituted at any geographic level not just at the national political-administrative sluices , their status and their validity dependent on their discourse ethics.

However, it should be noted that neither Habermas nor Fraser abandon institutions completely — for both, they remain essential infrastructure, necessary but not sufficient pre-conditions of the public sphere, which is only constituted performatively, in deliberating on matters of public political concern.

Among other significant changes, this essay also radically rethought the role of women in the bourgeois public sphere. The term has since developed its own semantic life in contemporary sociology and cultural studies. The public sphere cannot be conceived as an institution and certainly not as an organization. It is not even a framework of norms with differentiated competences and roles, membership regulations, and so on.

Just as little does it represent a system; although it permits one to draw internal boundaries, outwardly it is characterized by open, permeable and shifting horizons. The public sphere can best be described as a network for communicating information and points of view i. Its emphasis is on the action necessary to constitute this special communicative form. So a library, a museum, or a community radio station can never be a public sphere, though like the coffee shops of Eighteenth Century London, any of them might under the right circumstances host it.

Habermas had come to agree with his critics that developments in areas such as the Internet require the revision of his pessimistic early public sphere theory, which cast modern media as structures of dominance rather than democracy. The capacity of the Internet to promote dialogue and share information, with inter-penetration of new and old media, has created new fora for political and cultural exchange, and many of these fulfil his requirement of deliberative democracy that political ideas should originate outside the central structures as well as in.

How can discourse ethics assist in the process of evaluating media policy? First, we need to reseat media policy as a subset of the larger communications policy and take opportunities as they come, sometimes inside new and unfamiliar frameworks such as Information Technology. The identification of some of these currently significant hybrid fields is a task of some pragmatic urgency.

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From his discourse ethics, and particularly its contrasting of non-communicative action — deception, manipulation and strategic communication — from open forms of communicative action, there are very specific analytical tools which have great practical applicability. Inside specific counterpublic spheres, a slightly different analysis is necessary. Here, it is necessary to mute the analysis of strategic communication, since that is what counterpublics routinely produce.

We must expect strategic contributions of this kind, even in the public sphere, where it is expected that participants will be prepared to change their minds, compromise, adjust their arguments and demands. Possibly the most important component of such evaluation, however, is the tracking of dialogical engagements between counterpublics and between counterpublics and mainstream public sphere institutions such as mainstream media , which, however marginal their claim to the public sphere, nevertheless specialise in tracking many engagements in their variably defensible constructions of public opinion.

Importantly, it may also perform an active and engaged function as a corrective. As Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor has pointed out, modern identity politics are more often than not transmitted and recognized in cultural rather than traditional political forms, but this is an inherently political process, as practice demands the universal recognition of group identities, a demand only achievable through political means. The discourse ethics approach is again useful in recovering some under-valued and un-heard voices into policy evaluation.

The use of these tools in tracking and evaluating political engagements, broadly defined to include alternative, counterpublic and even apparently apolitical formations has some clear advantages over the tools currently used in policy analysis: they encourage the documentation of significant engagements, they identify important flux and movement in dialogue, and they recognize and assert the importance of group identities — one of the major lacunae in liberal thinking.

For pragmatic and strategic reasons, and because discourse ethics defines the central purpose of community radio — strengthening democracy — this kind of analysis has many potential uses in the community sector. Formerly manager of industry surveys at the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, his research interests include radio history, discourse ethics, regulation policy and public sphere s theory. This was a counter-factual model of democratic communication only ever approximated in any process of communicative action. However, it provides a useful template for policy evaluation and political action because it is based in social norms of procedural fairness and values of liberty, equality and social justice: gross deficits exposed to the public view will almost invariably be generally condemned.

Dryzek, John S. New York: Cambridge University Press. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Felski, Rita Beyond feminist aesthetics: Feminist literature and social change. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.