Habermas’ heritage: The future of the public sphere in the network society

Pieter Boeder


In the digital age, the discussion about the public sphere has at the same time become increasingly relevant and increasingly problematic. The validity and relevance of post–modern critique to Habermas’ concept of the public sphere cannot be denied, yet the concept of a public sphere and Habermas’ notion of a critical publicity is still extremely valuable for media theory today.

The public sphere is subject to dramatic change; one might even argue that it is on the verge of extinction. Computer–mediated communication has taken the place of coffeehouse discourse, and issues such as media ownership and commodification pose serious threats to the free flow of information and freedom of speech on the Web. I don't believe the situation is quite that serious. I will give an introductory overview of Habermas’ theoretical concept and point out that it is conceptual rather than physical.

I will describe why Habermas’ key concept is valuable for media theory today. Further, I will give an overview of the main issues, debates and problems that arose around the concept of the public sphere in the decades that followed. I will conclude that the notion of the public sphere is not a static one, but subject to change, and show how the theoretical concept of the public sphere is being used to work out viable options for a digital future and models for positive change.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v10i9.1280

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