Feminism, the Public and the Private

By Joan B. Landes | Go to book overview

5
The Public and the Private Sphere: A Feminist Reconsideration

Joan B. Landes

After a quarter-century delay, Jürgen Habermas Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit appeared finally in English translation in the MIT Press series "'Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought'", edited by Thomas McCarthy. Habermas's philosophical-historical critique of the concept and function of the public sphere in England, France, and Germany (with some parting glances at the United States) from the Renaissance to the twentieth century served as a direct inspiration for the German New Left and opened up new lines of scholarship and political debate in Germany and Western Europe. The 1989 translation coincided with a series of events (radical transformations in Eastern Europe, the bloody suppression of the democracy movement in China, and the bicentennial celebrations of the French Revolution) which once again pointed to the pertinence of Habermas's diagnosis of civil society for democratic theory and practice. Originally submitted to the Philosophical Faculty at Marburg as the author's Habilitationsschrift, the book deserves to be celebrated as a classic: It has stood the test of time, surviving the fortunes of mercurial literary tastes and changing intellectual seasons; its new translation has markedly widened the author's circle of readers. Nowadays, one is just as apt to hear ' Habermas talk' at humanities or legal studies meetings as among social scientists, philosophers, media critics, or feminist theorists.

In the spirit of dialogue, I approach The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere from the interrelated standpoints of critical theory, political thought, and intellectual history, with a special interest in questions of gender. I will review the model

____________________
Chapter 3 in Johanna Meehan (ed.), Feminists Read Habermas: Gendering the Subject of Discourse (Routledge, 1995), 91-116. Reprinted by permission of Routledge Inc., New York.

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