Jurgen Habermas, author of “The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere”and once student of the Frankfurt School defined the ideal ‘Public Sphere’ as “The space in which citizens debate about common concerns, that is separate from the state, separate from the official economy and egalitarian and open” (Middlemost and Turnbull, 2019).
Habermas’ version of the public sphere was primarily comprised of those who were of a respected background, owned land, or were wealthy, white and male – excluding all minorities. For Habermas, the success of the public sphere was founded on rational-critical discourse – every participant is deemed equal and the supreme communication skill is the power of argument.
This ideal of the public sphere has never been fully achieved by most accounts, as gender, ethnic and class exclusions were gradually removed through the 19th and 20th centuries. Whilst Habermas’ version is no longer directly implemented in today’s age, the idea itself remains applicable.
Nowadays, a more contemporary “Public Sphere” is recognised. It is generally conceived as a ‘social space in which different opinions are expressed, problems of general concern are discussed, and collective solutions are developed communicatively’ (Wessler and Freudenthaler, 2018). This concept allows for the formation of online public spheres.
Twitter, an online news and social networking service, is one such example. Millions of Australians (Business Queensland, 2018) – myself included – use Twitter as a means to retrieve and discuss news, follow high-profile celebrities or form online connections with friends.
The service operates on a microblogging basis, allowing users to broadcast short posts called ‘Tweets” (Rouse, 2015).These tweets are instantaneous and most commonly posted as expressions of opinion regarding social, political and cultural issues.
One such example discussed on the platform was the Christchurch Mosque Shooting, where millions of individuals across the world took to Twitter to spread the news and to express their view on the horrific incident. Some tweets included:
Unlike the limited access to Harbemas’ sphere, Twitter maintains an extremely low barrier of entry – meaning just about everyone can participate. However, strict age regulations result in the exclusion of those under the age of 13, and the service’s online access requirement sees those without smartphones or internet connection also excluded.
Irrespective of these exclusions, Twitter still remains extremely accessible, with 261 million users (Omnicore, 2019). Such a huge participatory level is attributed to the highly mediated nature of today’s public sphere. Media – including social media (such as Twitter) – simultaneously provoke debate about issues whilst also providing a space to debate issues (Middlemost and Turnbull, 2019).
I encourage you all to become participants in my public sphere – jump on Twitter! Let me know what you think of it! And if you are already a registered member, comment below if you consider it to be your public sphere as well!
Until next week,
- Habermas, J. (1962). The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. [online] Pages.uoregon.edu. Available at: https://pages.uoregon.edu/koopman/courses_readings/phil123-net/publicness/habermas_structural_trans_pub_sphere.pdf [Accessed 10 Apr. 2019].
- Wikipedia (2019). Frankfurt School. [online] En.wikipedia.org. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankfurt_School [Accessed 10 Apr. 2019].
- Middlemost, D. and Turnbull, S. (2019). The Media Theory Toolbox (RM).
- Wessler, H. and Freudenthaler, R. (2018). Public Sphere – Communication – Oxford Bibliographies – obo. [online] Oxfordbibliographies.com. Available at: http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199756841/obo-9780199756841-0030.xml [Accessed 10 Apr. 2019].
- Business Queensland (2018). Who uses Twitter? | Business Queensland. [online] Business.qld.gov.au. Available at: https://www.business.qld.gov.au/running-business/marketing-sales/marketing-promotion/online-marketing/twitter/who [Accessed 10 Apr. 2019].
- Rouse, M. (2015). What is Twitter? – Definition from WhatIs.com. [online] WhatIs.com. Available at: https://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/Twitter [Accessed 10 Apr. 2019].
- 9NEWS (2019). Christchurch Mosque Shooting: News updates & headlines. [online] 9news.com.au. Available at: https://www.9news.com.au/christchurch-mosque-shooting [Accessed 10 Apr. 2019].
- Wodinsky, S. (2018). Twitter is banning users who created their accounts while underage. [online] The Verge. Available at: https://www.theverge.com/2018/7/24/17595112/twitter-banning-underage-users-lie-age [Accessed 10 Apr. 2019].
- Omnicore (2019). • Twitter by the Numbers (2019): Stats, Demographics & Fun Facts. [online] Omnicoreagency.com. Available at: https://www.omnicoreagency.com/twitter-statistics/ [Accessed 10 Apr. 2019].