Enpowerment of Words: Social History of the Modern Public Sphere


Mónika Mátay: 

Enpowerment of Words: Social History of the Modern Public Sphere

Two decades after the publication of Jürgen Habermas's classical analyses of modern public communication, the American scholar, Michael Schudson poses the question: Was there ever a public sphere? The liberal form of public sphere, which was characterized by Habermas as "a realm of our social life in which something approaching public opinion can be formed... access is guaranteed to all citizens" and from which no individuals are eo ipso excluded, has nowhere emerged in its ideal form. History, even in the politically most "advanced" European countries has provided only distorted realizations. 

The course is an introduction to the various interpretations of the modern public sphere and to its social and cultural context. The weekly seminars will explore the main theories and problems of public communication. First, we will discuss the seminal work of Habermas on the structural transformation of the public sphere. Accordingly, the seminar will focus on the challenging critics of Habermas's model developed by prominent historians and sociologists in the last 20 years. Second, we pay attention to concrete historical examples from western countries, such as England and France. We will examine the role of civil society, religion, political institutions, the family, different social gruops, etc. in the emergence of the public realm. We will also explore the scenes of public discussions such as salons and coffeehouses, the economic and political mechanism of the underground literature, the participants of the underworld, and the function of early modern urban riots in the formation of public opinion. The period extends from the late seventeenth to the second half of the nineteenth century. Finally, we explore some of the major issues, political, social, and economic conditions of the national public spheres in Eastern and Central Europe. 

The term paper is the major written work for the course (about 3,000 words). The essay may focus on one of the main topics discussed during the semester. Students are expected to attend weekly class meetings and to participate in group debates. 


1. Introduction: Habermas's Model of the Public Sphere

Habermas,Jürgen, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. An Inquiry into the of Bourgeois Public Society, (Cambridge,1989), pp.1-102, 129-140

2. The Modification of the Model: The Origins of Public Communication in England and in France

Zaret,David, Religion, Science, and Printing in the Public Spheres in Seventeenth-Century England, In Calhoun,Craig,(Ed.), Habermas and the Public Sphere, (Cambridge,Mass.,1992), pp.212-235

Chartier,Roger, The Public Sphere and the Public Opinion, In The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution, (Durham and London,1991), pp.20-37

Baker,Keith Michael, Politics and Public Opinion Under the Old Regime: Some Reflections, In Censer,Jack,R., Popkin,Jeremy,D.(eds.), Press and Politics in Pre-Revolutionary France, (Berkerley,Calif.,1987), pp.204-246

3. The Rhetoric and Symbolism of the French Revolution

Hunt,Lynn, The Rhetoric of the Revolution, In Hunt, Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution, (Berkeley,L.A.,1984), pp.19-51

Gay,Peter, Rhetoric and Politics in the French Revolution, In Gay, The Party of Humanity. Essays in the French Enlightenment, (New York,1954), pp.162-181

Outram,Dorina, The Body and the French Revolution. Sex, Class and Political Culture, (New Haven and London,1989), pp.1-5, 68-89

4. Places of Discussion: Salons & Coffeehouses

Pincus,Steve, '"Coffee Politicians Does Create": Coffeehouses and Restoration Political Culture,' The Journal of Modern History, Vol.67, 1995, pp.807-834

Goodman,Dena, 'Filial Rebellion in the Salon: Madame Geoffrin and Her Daughter,' French Historical Studies, Vol.16, No.1, 1989, pp.28-47

Gordon,Daniel, Citizens without Sovereignty, (Princeton,1994), pp.107-116

5. Do Phamplets Cause Revolution? The Culture of the Underworld

Darnton,Robert, The High Enlightenment and the Low-Life of Literature, In The Literary Underground of the Old Regime, (Cambridge,Mass.,1982), pp.1-40

McCalman,Iain, Radical Underworld. Prophets, Revolutionaries and Pornographers in London, 1795-1840, (Oxford,1993), 204-237

6. Politics at the Street: the Shocking Experience of Rumour & Riot

Farge,Arlette, Revel,Jacgues, The Vanishing Children of Paris. Rumor and Politics before the French Revolution, (Cambridge,Mass.,1991)

7. When Private Matters Become Public Issues: Interpreting Trial Briefs 

Maza,Sarah, 'Domestic Melodrama as Political Ideology: The Case of Comte de Sanois,' The American Historical Review, 1989, No.5, pp.1249-1264

Maza,Sarah, Private Lives and Public Affairs. Upper Class Scandal, 1774-1778, In Private Lives and Public Affairs. The Causes Celebres of Prerevolutionary France, (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London,1993), pp.112-131

 8. Women's Exclosure from the Public Realm

Landes,Joan B., The Gendered Republic, In Women and the Public Sphere in the Age of the French Revolution, (New York,1988), pp.169-200

Fraser,Nancy, 'What's Critical About Critical Theory? The Case of Habermas and Gender,' New German Critique, 1985, No.35, pp.97-131

Goodman,Dena, 'Public Sphere and Private Life: Toward a Synthesis of Current Historiographical Approaches to the Old Regime,' History & Theory, pp.1-20

Further reading:

Scott,Joan, 'French Feminists and the Rights of "Man": Olympe de Gouges's Declarations,' History Workshop, 1989, pp.1-20 

9. The State, the Nation, and Public Communication

Eley,Geoff, Nations, Publics, and Political Cultures: Placing Habermas in the Nineteenth Century, In Calhoun (Ed.), pp. 289-339

10-11. The Emergence of Public Spheres in Eastern and Central Europe

(Readings will be selected during the course due to the interest and language proficiency of the participants.)