public sphere theory

I’m working on understanding J¸rgen Habermas’ theory of the public sphere as well as the responses of others to that theory. From the Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory & Criticism:

Habermas’s interdisciplinary research has touched on matters important to students of literature at several points. Perhaps his most influential work for literary studies in Germany was the book Strukturwandel der ÷ffentlichkeit (1962, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere). The “public sphere” is a realm in which opinions are exchanged between private persons unconstrained (ideally) by external pressures. Theoretically open to all citizens and founded in the family, it is the place where something approaching public opinion is formed. It should be distinguished both from the state, which represents official power, and from the economic structures of civil society as a whole. Its function is actually to mediate between society and state; it is the arena in which the public organizes itself, formulates public opinion, and expresses its desires vis-ý-vis the government.

Habermas’s discussion makes clear that the public sphere is not a given for every type of society; nor does it possess a fixed status. The Middle Ages had no public sphere in the sense in which Habermas defines it, but rather a sphere of representation of feudal authority. Only in the eighteenth century, with the breakdown of religious hegemony and the rise of the middle class, does a public sphere emerge. The liberal model of the public sphere, in which private individuals and interests regulate public authority and in which property owners speak for humanity, is eventually transformed during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries into a realm in which the activities of reasoning and the formulation of public opinion are superseded by mass consumption and publicity.

In my research, a key question is this: How was the development of a public sphere in eighteenth-century Britain affected by the participation of religious movements such as Methodism?

Here are my relevant links.

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how journalists distort science

Via Slashdot:

The scientist’s job is to discover truth about the natural world, and the journalist’s is to report the world’s events accurately. Why are these two professions so often at odds? Chris Mooney discusses how journalism fails science in this month’s Columbia Journalism Review. If you applauded Jon Stewart’s plea to “stop hurting America,” Mooney’s analysis will strike a chord; the he-said-she-said approach to truth fails in all kinds of venues.

Mooney’s discussion has a compelling opening:

On May 22, 2003, the Los Angeles Times printed a front-page story by Scott Gold, its respected Houston bureau chief, about the passage of a law in Texas requiring abortion doctors to warn women that the procedure might cause breast cancer. Virtually no mainstream scientist believes that the so-called ABC link actually exists ó only anti-abortion activists do. Accordingly, Goldís article noted right off the bat that the American Cancer Society discounts the ìalleged linkî and that anti-abortionists have pushed for ìso-called counselingî laws only after failing in their attempts to have abortion banned. Gold also reported that the National Cancer Institute had convened ìmore than a hundred of the worldís expertsî to assess the ABC theory, which they rejected. In comparison to these scientists, Gold noted, the author of the Texas counseling bill ó who called the ABC issue ìstill disputedî ó had ìa professional background in property management.î

Goldís piece was hard-hitting but accurate. The scientific consensus is quite firm that abortion does not cause breast cancer. If reporters want to take science and its conclusions seriously, their reporting should reflect this reality ó no matter what anti-abortionists say.

But what happened next illustrates one reason journalists have such a hard time calling it like they see it on science issues. In an internal memo exposed by the Web site, the Timesís editor, John Carroll, singled out Goldís story for harsh criticism, claiming it vindicated critics who accuse the paper of liberal bias.

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the news we follow

Two hundred people died in Spain when bombs exploded on commuter trains. Did you also know that 337 people were killed in Uganda last month at a camp for displaced people?

According to American media, mayhem in Europe is big news, apparently, but mayhem in Africa is not.

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tomorrow’s professor

Although it’s aimed at scholars in the fields of science and engineering, the Tomorrow’s Professor Listserv archives feature some useful advice regarding teaching and research for academic professionals in any field. Anyone know of a similar resource aimed at the humanities?

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