Enhancing Habermas with Ray Oldenburg

  • Jack Fong


This chapter attends to Habermas’s notion of the public sphere as where communicative action takes place. Habermas takes great pains to outline how the dynamics of communicative action indicate a healthy democratic space for mutual consensus and intersubjective accommodations that build solidarity. Containing much utility for Death Café analysis, Habermas actually discusses cafés as public sphere sites where news and information about the economy, trade, finances, and the state intertwine, but at the price of excluding a grassroots community. The notion of a public sphere renders it useful for conceptualizing death talk as a means of democratic expression, one that can contest narratives from social institutions and the state. This chapter also provides an analogous rendering of a public sphere environment through Ray Oldenburg’s notion of the “third place”: pubs, coffee shops, bookstores, and even hair salons, which function to promote community interaction and civic engagement. As a useful concept for looking at communities that are formed in spite of the presupposed alienation among urban dwellers, Oldenburg emphasizes how such environments are vital for democracy. For Oldenburg, the converse is also hauntingly true: totalitarian systems would never tolerate public and informal gatherings of citizens critical of the government. This chapter also demonstrates how Oldenburg takes his ideas to the same horizons as Habermas’s in that public spheres are ideal environments for communicative action dynamics. Indeed, the formulation that will close this chapter is that Death Cafés are primarily third place or public sphere phenomena.


  1. Calhoun, Craig. 1994. Habermas and the Public Sphere. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  2. Childs, John Brown. 2003. Transcommunality: Fro the Politics of Conversion to the Ethics of Respect. Philadelphia: Temple of University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Cohen, J. 1997. “Deliberations and Democratic Legitimacy.” In Deliberative Democracy: Essays on Reason and Politics, edited by James Bohman and William Rehg, 67–92. Boston: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  4. Emden, Cecil S. 1956. The People and the Constitution. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  5. Garnham, Nicolas. 1994. “The Media and the Public Sphere.” In Habermas and the Public Sphere, edited by Craig Calhoun, 359–376. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  6. Goldstone, Jack. 2004. “More Social Movements or Fewer? Beyond Political Opportunity Structures to Relational Fields.” Theory and Society 33(3/4): 333–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gratz, Roberta Brandes. 1989. The Living City. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell Publishers.Google Scholar
  8. Gruen, Victor. 1964. The Heart of Our Cities. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  9. Gunther, John. 1967. Twelve Cities. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  10. Habermas, Jürgen. 1986. “The New Obscurity: The Crisis of the Welfare State and the Exhaustion of Utopian Energies.” Philosophy & Social Criticism 11: 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Habermas, Jürgen. 1991. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  12. Habermas, Jürgen. 1994. Justification and Application: Remarks on Discourse Ethics. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  13. Lofland, Lyn H. 1973. A World of Strangers: Order and Action in Urban Public Space. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, Inc.Google Scholar
  14. Marcuse, Herbert. 1964. One Dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  15. Oldenburg, Ray. 1999. The Great Good Place. New York: Marlowe & Company.Google Scholar
  16. Oreskes, Michael. 1988. “The Nation; An American Habit: Shunning the Ballot Box”. New York Times. WESBITE accessed on March 11, 2014.
  17. Schudson, Michael. 1994. “Was There Ever a Public Sphere? If So, When? Reflections on the American Case.” In Habermas and the Public Sphere, edited by Craig Calhoun, 143–163. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  18. Arendt, Hannah. 1970. On Violence. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World.Google Scholar
  19. Weir, L. H. 1937. Europe at Play. New York: A.S. Barnes & Company.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jack Fong
    • 1
  1. 1.Associate Professor of SociologyDepartment of Psychology & Sociology California State Polytechnic UniversityPomona CAUSA

Personalised recommendations