Representing the public sphere : the new journalism and its historians

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Transatlantic print culture, 1880-1940 : emerging media, emerging modernisms

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Although the heuristic concept of the “public sphere” has been frequently used by historians and media scholars of Britain and North America since the translation of Jürgen Habermas’s 1962 book into English in 1989, what we mean by the concept often remains hazy and, as Joad Raymond among others has noted, generally unsatisfactory. This stems from two causes. On the one hand, though Habermas’s account arguably remains the best general theory of the public sphere available, scholars have found much to criticize in it. Some have pointed out that Habermas was eliding normative and historically descriptive categories, and that in fact the idealized Habermasian public sphere, in which private citizens came together to discuss matters of public concern in an influential venue, has never existed in reality (Schudson, Eley). Others have taken Habermas to task for positing a unitary public sphere associated with a rising bourgeoisie as the public sphere. Rather, it should be recognized that there have been multiple publics that have always been oppositional; to characterize the dominant public sphere as the public sphere is itself a political, hegemony-seeking act (Fraser, Mah). In the face of such critiques we might be forgiven for wondering whether the term is even worth saving.



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ISBN of the source publication: 9780230228450

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Recommended Citation

Hampton, M. (2008). Representing the public sphere: The new journalism and its historians. In A. Ardis & P. Collier (Eds.), Transatlantic print culture, 1880-1940: Emerging media, emerging modernisms (pp. 15-29). New York: Palgrave.