Sunday, March 8, 2009

Week 8 questions from David

1) Does Habermas idealize the public sphere? Has public opinion ever been formed by genuinely open political debate aimed at forging consensus on public issues? Moreover, doesn't Habermas' public sphere essentially conform to the same basic rules and modes as bourgeois society in general (white, property-owning males?) If so, doesn't this suggest that 'public consensus' is at its root about forging agreements that protect private interests?

2) Habermas' underlying assumption appears to be that democracy without active participation is not truly democratic; that it is essentially rooted in "the conversation" ("citizens behave as a public body when they confer in an unrestricted fashion...about matters of general interest." D&K p. 73). Without repeating the question of whether this may be idealized, isn't Habermas overlooking those institutions that make it possible to have such a forum (from the people necessarily left out of the conversation because they're running the coffee houses, to the farms busy at work producing the milk and cream, the shop-owners, or even the police maintaining order in the streets)? In other words, is Habermas's conception of democratic participation too narrow?

3) Habermas' observations seem rooted in the idea of consumer passivity, in which citizens "ingest and absorb passively" entertainment and information (Kellner, p. 6). Can't consumerism be viewed as an active (albeit binary) function? That is, if consumption is either done or not done, entertainment or information is either accepted or rejected by the masses thereby forcing a change in production and tailoring production to suit the tastes and demands of the audience. Why does Habermas conceive the production/consumption role as a one-way street?

4) Why does Kellner believe that the media must 'mediate' between political spheres (Kellner, p. 16)? If the public spheres are sufficiently expansive, couldn't technology serve as a conduit for the transmission of information necessary to maintain the kind of watchdog role that Kellner imagines the media serving (a bit more like what McLuhan suggests)? Moreover, isn't media essentially a private function with its own interests and, therefore, not to be trusted?

5) Kellner seems to long for a kind of public access media (akin to his own 'award-winning' efforts in Austin, see Kellner p. 18) which would make it possible for the forging of legitimately public consensuses. But in the real world, is there any evidence that public access contributes to a greater (or even better) conversation, much less a healthier democracy? Whether one is talking about public access TV, or even the unhinged frontier of the internet, don't interest groups tend to coagulate rather than intermingle? In other
words, doesn't real-life tell us that in those places where public forums are created, they tend to be populated by private interests contending for broader public recognition?

David D. Brown

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