what’s a public sphere?

Public Sphere. Two words I’m sure you know, but together they seem a bit nonsensical. The concept of a public sphere was first theorised by Jurgen Habermas. Habermas wrote this book in 1962 called ‘The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere’ which I assume sums it up pretty well, but if you, like me, can’t spare the time for the 250 pages during the school week, I’ll give you the simple version we got given. A public sphere is ‘a place you can get news and debate about ideas.’- Renee Middlemost in a BCM110 lecture.

Jürgen Habermas.

Habermas saw it as similar to an 18th-century coffeehouse, as a space where you meet us and can chat about concerns. A place that isn’t involved in the economy, but more focused on deliberation instead. A great example is the TV show Q&A. A panel of people, generally experts in various fields and maybe politicians as well, sit around and answer questions the audience may be pondering about general concerning topics of the time – gender reassignment, climate change, gun law etc.

So that’s a basis of a Public Sphere, but how does Habermas’ theory translate in the 21st century? See a public sphere isn’t always a physical place, and the growing of the internet in the past few decades has definitely created more opportunities for people to create and engage in different Spheres. AskReddit, a forum on the internet site Reddit, is a public sphere I engage in personally. It revolves around the community continually posting various questions for others to weigh in on. Replies that users like, they can ‘upvote’, and yes, same for posts they don’t feel too fond of. This system means that higher rated replies are shown first, and hence the popular opinion is often obvious. Questions can be opted to have the [serious] tag, which prevents any non-serious answers. It is a closely moderated forum with a strict set of guidelines put out for all to read before posting or commenting. Anyone who has an internet connection and follows the guidelines is welcome to post or reply. In my opinion, it is an excellent version of a Public Sphere – topics that concern people are brought up and others take time to respectfully discuss or debate them.

Web-page banner for the AskReddit forum.

The media is often reflected within what people post on AskReddit and thus influences conversation. It’s a site where anyone is welcome to have a debate or discussion, reassured that they’ll be protected from abuse. Posts often lead to talk of how the media is affecting the world, and the site itself is more a tool used for reflection of media rather than a tool used by media to convey media. Definitely worth checking out if you ever have a desire to kill time, procrastinate, or just want that old, 18th-century coffeehouse feel.



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