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Guy-Uriel Charles & Luis Fuentes-Rohwer, Habermas, the Public Sphere, and the Creation of a Racial Counterpublic, 21 Mich. J. Race & L. 1 (2015).

Abstract: In The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Jürgen Habermas documented the historical emergence and fall of what he called the bourgeois public sphere, which he defined as “[a] sphere of private people come together as a public . . . to engage [public authorities] in a debate over the general rules governing relations in the basically privatized but publicly relevant sphere of commodity exchange and social labor.” This was a space where individuals gathered to discuss with each other, and sometimes with public officials, matters of shared concern. The aim of these gatherings was not simply discourse; these gatherings allowed the bourgeoisie to use their reason to determine the boundaries of public and private and to self-consciously develop the public sphere. As Habermas writes, “[t]he medium of this political confrontation was . . . people’s public use of their reason.” The bourgeois public didn’t simply participate, but it did so both directly and critically. The development of the bourgeois public as a critical, intellectual public took place in coffeehouses, in salons, and table societies. In Great Britain, Germany, and France, particularly, the coffeehouses and the salons “were centers of criticism—literary at first, then also political—in which began to emerge, between aristocratic society and bourgeois intellectuals, a certain parity of the educated.” Intellectual equals came together and deliberated, an equality that was key in ensuring the requisite openness and deliberation. No one person dominated the discussion due to his status within the deliberative community. Instead, and above all else, the “power of the better argument” won out. Two conditions were critical to these deliberations. First, equality was key to the public sphere. Membership in the public sphere meant that no one person was above the other and all arguments were similarly treated and scrutinized. Second, the principle of universal access was crucial.8The doors of the deliberative space were open to all comers and no group or person was purposefully shut out. Seen together, these two conditions provide a blueprint for deliberative practices in a democratic society.