The Habermasian public sphere: Taking difference seriously?
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The public sphere conception continues to hold center stage in debates and visions of radical democratic society, and Jürgen Habermas’ work continues to be the most popular starting point for developing this conception. However, the Habermasian public sphere has also come under powerful and sustained criticism from many quarters. Here I concentrate upon the critiques of a group of theorists to whom I refer as difference democrats. I examine the three key arguments of these critics:that the public sphere conception involves the exclusion of aesthetic-affective modes of communication and hence the voices of certain groups; that it assumes that power can be separated from public discourse, which masks exclusion and domination; and that it promotes consensus as the purpose of deliberation, which marginalizes voices that do not readily agree. Against these claims I show that the Habermasian public sphere can be read as maximizing the inclusion of difference in deliberative exchange. I demonstrate how the conception extensively accommodates aesthetic-affective modes of discourse, how it accounts for both negative and positive forms of power in discourse, and how it promotes the process over the end-point of rational discourse in public opinion formation.
KeywordsPublic Opinion Public Sphere Public Discourse Opinion Formation Center Stage
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