Communication and Citizenship: Journalism and the Public Sphere in the New Media Age

By Peter Dahlgren; Colin Sparks | Go to book overview

Introduction

Peter Dahlgren

The public sphere is a concept which in the context of today's society points to the issues of how and to what extent the mass media, especially in their journalistic role, can help citizens learn about the world, debate their responses to it and reach informed decisions about what courses of action to adopt. The essays collected in this volume all address aspects of the relationship between the mass media and the public sphere, both in Europe and the USA. From a variety of intellectual standpoints, they all touch upon topics and debates which are central to the daily functioning of a democratic society. In the discussion which follows, I briefly trace the evolution of the idea of a public sphere, especially as it was developed by Jürgen Habermas. Delving into some issues of Habermas's conceptual framework and methodology, I will argue that despite the undeniable pathbreaking quality of his work, there remains some troublesome ambiguity at the core. I then offer some reflections on the renewal of the concept of the public sphere.

Some version of what we have come to call the public sphere has always existed as an appendage to democratic theory. As the vision of democracy has evolved historically, so has the view of the desirability and feasibility of fora where the ruled can develop and express their political will to the rulers. And clearly the view among rulers and ruled has often been at odds. The development of mass-based democracy in the west coincided historically with the emergence of the mass media as the dominant institutions of the public sphere. As the political and cultural significance of traditional and localized arenas continue to recede in the wake of social transformations and media developments, the notion of the public sphere moves to the fore and takes on a particularly normative valence. It becomes a focal point of

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