Saturday, March 21, 2009

Teresa's questions

1- As Friedland et al.’s article demonstrates, Habermas’ public sphere theory has evolved, leaving behind the idea of a monolithic public sphere as well as the historical and normative accounts posed in Structural Transformation. Now, the theory seems to take into account the complex relationships between different parts of a society. These theoretical evolutions are common. The current state of, for example, agenda-settin theory is very different from the 1972 study. The same happens with feminist theory, knowledge gap hypothesis or any theory we may think of. How do we, as scholars, deal with this evolution? Is it fair to criticize a theory based on the early stages as it happens with public sphere? It seems that many of the criticisms –e.g., that there are multiple public spheres, that the notion of public sphere is based on an idealized historical account, etc—were addressed by Habermas. But many scholars are still relying on his first work. How should we deal with this?
2- The idea of public sphere is inherently linked to democracy. There is an underlying, taken-for-granted, assumption that the fact of getting together and talk should contribute to the democratic project. Schudson criticizes this notion by saying that not any kind of conversation serves democracy. Related to this idea, David asks what type of conversation would serve or be part of the public sphere.. civility? rationality? But I go beyond and wonder… Why the notion of public sphere is necessarily associated with a traditional role of politics, deliberativeness, rationality and so forth. Related to what Hermes posed in the article about popular culture, I go back to my question posed last class: Does a group of women talking about family issues and supporting each other constitute public sphere? This is just an example that comes to my mind but we can think of anything... a group retirees, etc. If we think that a public sphere has a traditional political role, the answer is no. But why should we link the concept of public sphere to democracy and traditional politics? Isn’t it beneficial enough for society to think about public sphere as a group of people who get together to support each other and organize themselves for whatever purpose? Has the concept of public sphere been hijacked?
3- Schudson distinguishes two types of conversations: the sociable and the problem-solving talk. He argues that the latter contributes to the democratic project rather than the former. Although it is a very good point, I wonder to what extent we should dichotomize both types of conversations. Aren’t they so closely related that one may lead you to the other? Although we can make a theoretical distinction, is it practical to make it?
4- Habermas asserts that the public sphere that serves democracy is the one where people get together and discuss in egalitarian terms. That is, people from different backgrounds assemble and form consensus. Schudson argues that is the problem-solving conversation the one that serves the democratic project. If Internet facilitates connection but, as Hermes said, “reflection” is not what Internet users want or do. So, I wonder to what extent the Internet is the new public sphere in Habermasian terms?
5- One of the goals of Heikkila’s article was to reveal ideas about the European public sphere that shape journalists’ work. In order to do so, the author interviews over a hundred of journalists, and admits that journalists found the questions “baffling and irritatingly theoretical.” The author argues that this reaction may be due to their self-perception as “down-to-earth.” I wonder whether is it meaningful or methodologically valid or fair to force our interviewees to think about the topic in our terms rather than use their language –or a common language-- and interpret their ideas afterwards?

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