Public Sphere according to Habermas and Papacharrisi
Analyzed by both Habermas and Papacharissi, the public sphere is classified as a realm of our social lives in which public opinion is both formed and encouraged by all citizens. The term public connotes and implies ideas that of citizenship, commonality, and accessed by all citizens – together in which they form a public body, something defined by both Habermas and Papacharissi in their works.
Within the public sphere lies the virtual sphere, a newer form of the public space being facilitated by the Internet and social media. The virtual sphere encourages discussion amongst users on social media. According to Papacharissi, “Proponents of cyberspace promise that online discourse will increase political participation and pave the way for a democratic utopia… on the other hand, skeptics caution that technologies not universally accessible and ones that frequently induce fragmented, nonsensical, and enraged discussion, otherwise known as ‘flaming,’ far from guarantee a revived public sphere,” (Papacharissi, 10). In other words, access to digital forms of media encourage citizens to participate in democratic discussion, as well as to speak for themselves in the public eye. Citizens report and discuss the economy, politics, social issues, and personal conflicts at ease with the capabilities of reporting on their own pages and accounts. As Habermas put, “Citizens behave as a public body when they confer in an unrestricted fashion – that is, with the guarantee of freedom of assembly and association and the freedom to express and publish their opinions – about matters of general interest,” (Habermas, 49).
However, one of the biggest complications within the expansion of the virtual sphere is that not all citizens have the means or access to participate. With that said, access is not always affordable to the general public – therefore limiting the voices available for public consumption. In the words of Papacharissi, ‘The fact that online technologies are only accessible to, and used by, a small fraction of the population contributes to an electronic public sphere that is exclusive, elitist, and far from ideal – not terribly different from the bourgeois public sphere of the 17th and 18th centuries,” (Papacharissi, 14). Simply put, those who are in charge of elitist thought are in charge of the information being represented. However, access to information does not necessarily mean we are more informed or more active citizens.
Lastly, the commercialization of our market continues to diminish citizen involvement. In other words, internet technologies will offer new tools to advance citizen communication in the public sphere, but they have yet to transform political culture. In other words, the newest technology is not needed to communicate online in a public or virtual sphere.
All in all, the public sphere encourages and promotes citizen activism and journalism, as discussed by Jürgen Habermas and Zizi Papacharissi. The virtual space is also promoted within the public sphere to encourage collaboration of ideas via social media. However, one of the disadvantages of this method implies lack of access to technology and therefore, the means to do so.
Habermas, J. (n.d.). The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article. In New German Critique(pp. 49-55). Duke University Press. Retrieved February 17, 2017, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/487737
Papacharassi, Z. (n.d.). The virtual sphere: The internet as a public sphere. In New Media & Society(pp. 11-27). SAGE Publications.