ccc feedback seminar, ‘the public sphere as a normative concept’, girard

on november 29, 08:00-10:00pm, at the graduate school of journalism, columbia university, room 107d, we will host the last ccc feedback seminar of the fall semester. charles girard (paris-1/sorbonne) will present work-in-progress on ‘the public sphere as a normative concept – from political theory to communication studies’. the abstract is below:

‘The Public Sphere as a Normative Concept – From Political Theory to Communication Studies’

 

 

Originated in social theory and political theory, the concept of the public sphere has become over the past forty years one of the most important conceptual references in communication studies. Inspired by the seminal work of Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, but also by some of his critics (for instance Nancy Fraser or Craig Calhoun), contemporary media research has turned the reference to the concept of the public sphere into one of its defining and legitimizing theoretical routines. However, uses of this concept in contemporary media research are characterized by a recurring ambiguity. Used as a normative concept, the public sphere refers to the set of ideal conditions that characterizes democratic public debate and satisfies demanding standards of transparency, rationality and inclusion. In that first sense, the public sphere is an ideal by comparison with which one can assess the deliberative value of actual media conversations. Nonetheless, used as a positive concept, the public sphere refers to all forms of communication taking place in a public setting, to all actual interactions happening outside of the private realm. In that second sense, the public sphere is a “space” that actually exists and can be described as well as explained. It is not an ideal and it is most of the time considered to be far from ideal. This presentation will outline the risks inherent to an undifferentiated use of these two very different conceptions of the public sphere. By studying the evolution of this notion from political philosophy to communication studies in the past forty years, I will emphasize the need to clearly distinguish between a positive concept and a normative concept of the public sphere and I will point out the theoretical difficulties inherent to this much needed separation.

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