Mary P. Ryan
In the twenty-five years since The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere was written, public life has shifted, convulsed, and been transformed anew. With those changes the political and intellectual project that the book inaugurated has become more crucial than ever. The word 'public' has long served as the place- marker for the political ideal of open, inclusive, and effective deliberation about matters of common and critical concern. Early in the 1960s such a public discourse was hardly audible in the United States amid the manipulative communications of consumer culture and consensus politics. Before that decade ended, however, the staid surfaces of welfare-state mass democracy had been fractured. The civil rights and anti-war movements disturbed the equanimity and passivity of public discourse, shattered consensus, and revitalized a conception of politics based on participatory democracy. Those movements and student activism around the globe opened a narrow wedge in entrenched political structures and permitted their participants to experience, however briefly, a more commodious public space.
In that same historical moment, a rekindled feminism ignited the consciousness of that sex whose relationship to the public had been most tenuous and ever problematic. The illumination that the women's movement cast over public life exposed the gendered limits on participation in the public sphere and at the same time gave new urgency to the ideals that the term encapsulated. The strictures of gender were quickly discerned as among the tightest, oldest, most categorical restrictions on public access. Women were patently excluded from the bourgeois public sphere, that ideal historical type that Habermas traced to the eighteenth century, and____________________