Nancy Fraser, “Rethinking the Public Sphere”

Nancy Fraser, “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy,” Social Text, 25/26, 1990, pp. 56-80.

  • Introduction
    • “the longstanding failure in the dominant wing of the socialist and Marxist tradition to appreciate the full force of the distinction between the apparatuses of the state, on the one hand, and public arenas of citizen discourse and association, on the other”(56).
      • “the conflation of the state apparatus with the public sphere of discourse and association provided ballast to processes whereby the socialist vision became institutionalized in an authoritarian statist form instead of in a participatory democratic form.” – jeopardize the very idea of socialist democracy.
    • Contemporary feminisms – the same expression “the public sphere” refers to everything that is outside the domestic or familial sphere. (57)
    • “the public sphere” in Habermas’s sense: “a theater in modern societies in which political participation is enacted through the medium of talk”; “the space in which citizens deliberate about their common affairs, hence, an institutionalized arena of discursive interaction.”
      • “a site for the production and circulation of discourses that can in principle be critical of the state.”
      • “not an arena of market relations but rather one of discursive relations, a theater for debating and deliberating rather than for buying and selling.”
    • “Habermas’s idea of the public sphere is indispensable to critical social theory and to democratic political practice”
      • “the upshot is an argument that, under altered conditions of late twentieth century “welfare state mass democracy,” the bourgeois or liberal model of the public sphere is no longer feasible. Some new form of public sphere is required to salvage that arena’s critical function and to institutionalize democracy” (Habermas).
      • “Oddly, Habermas stops short of developing a new, post-bourgeois model of the public sphere. Moreover, he never explicitly problematizes some dubious assumptions that underlie the bourgeois model” (Fraser).
  • The public sphere: Alternative histories, competing conceptions
    • “the idea of public sphere is that of a body of “private persons” assembled to discuss matters of “public concern” or “common interest””(58).

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