Graduate Studies in Sociology Department of Sociology University College Cork




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Public Sphere Seminar


SC6626 / SC7626

Dr. Pat O’Mahony


The public sphere is an often-referenced concept in sociology, which has claims in the eyes of some to constitute one of its basic theoretical components. However, the concept is still relatively under-developed beyond the early pivotal contributions of Jurgen Habermas, the ongoing critique of this work, especially that inspired by Negt and Kluge’s contribution in the 70’s in, amongst others a feminist direction, Habermas’s own later contributions and some comparatively recent work such as that of Emirbayer and Sheller, Mayhew and Hauser. Much of this work is written from a normative standpoint addressing the relationship between the communication in the public sphere and the role of the public in democratic societies. While the normative tenor of this work is to be welcomed, since the concept must address the relationship between public communication and democratic institutions, much is also left out by a failure to attend to how public communication can actually be conceptualized and analysed in specific contexts and within and across issues. It might be said that the dimension related to how actual social and political conditions impact on the public sphere is less developed, or perhaps better put the extensive literature is less synthesised.

Readings for the course will follow the themes outlined below. The aim of the course is to equip students with basic familiarity with the sociological value of the concept of public sphere as a foundational concept for grasping all kinds of societal reflection, discussion and deliberation of a public nature, ranging from the literary to the political. The readings for the course will follow the themes outlined below. Some indicative readings are also supplied.




Course Themes





  • Habermas’s foundational account of the structural transformation of the public sphere and its later reception

  • Historical accounts of the evolution of the public sphere

  • Habermas’s later work on deliberation, discourse ethics and the public sphere

  • The public sphere and liberal-representative elitism

  • Radical alternative accounts of the public spheres

  • The cognitive pragmatic turn as a new foundation theorizing and applying the concept sociologically



Reading



Asen, R. and Brouwer, D. 2001 Counterpublics and the State State University of New York

Calhoun, Craig (Ed.). 1993. Habermas and the Public Sphere. Cambridge,

Massachusetts: MIT Press.


Cohen, J. L. & Arato, A. 1992. Civil Society and Political Theory. Cambridge, Mass:

MIT Press.

Emirbayer, M. & Sheller, M. ‘Publics in History’, Theory and Society, 27 (6), 727-779.

Ferree, M., Gamson, W. A., Gerhards, J., Rucht, D. 2002

‘Four Models of the Public Sphere in Modern Democracies in Theory and Society 31 289-324

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

Habermas, Jurgen. 1996. Between Facts and Norms. Cambridge: Polity

Press.


Hauser, G. 1999 Vernacular Voices: The Rhetoric of Publics and Public Spheres, University of South Carolina Press

Negt, O. & Kluge, A. 1993. Public Sphere and Experience. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


Format: 4 x 1-day seminars, taught during the second term


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