Sunday, September 14, 2008

When A Newbie Reads Habermas...

Even I've been working on communication "business" that dealt with quite an amount of political issues, I'm a total newbie in Academic Political Communication field. The previous two weeks was such a torture for me, as in the midst of my bump and bruising of adaptation, I had to understand a very special book written by Jurgen Habermas titled "The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere". The hardest part was that we were requested to write a summary and brief analysis of the theories in that book.

Was it that hard? Hm, when you read more about it, you'll know...

That afternoon, at Barnes and Nobles bookstore in my campus, when I first held that book in my hand, I couldn't help but thinking, "Gee, this book cover is so ugly!" Seriously, it looks so far from attractive, with plain grey textured paper cover and title printed in white (I think) Book Antiqua font, it looks like a warranty for me to get bored of it or to fall asleep. Anyway, as my professor kept on mentioning that Habermas works are great, and it's a must for anyone learning political communication to read it, I built my expectation that it should be something really, really good.


This is how the book looks.
Now you know what I mean by "far from attactive"?
(photo taken from here)
So, I started to read it. This book, which originally titled Strukturwandel der Offenlichkeit (yes friends, originally it was written in German), is said to be one of Habermas' most influential and widely translated works. The introduction part mentioned that this book is a historical-sociological account of the emergence, transformation and disintegration of the bourgeois public sphere. With his ability to combine observations on sociology and economics, law and political science, and social and cultural history, Habermas grasps preconditions, structures, functions and inner tensions of the modern society's central domain. Hm, how does it sound? :D

Anyway, the strongest thing I felt about this book is that it really ruined my confidence, that I really master English as my third language. My high TOEFL score felt nonsense as I couldn't help but having my laptop on in front of me, with MS-Words opening up as time to time I would need to hit Shift+F7 function... to read the thesaurus. I did severely felt that I was undergoing another GRE exam, live, with the difficult vocabularies and sentence structures, that I needed to read them over and over, and over again until Icaught the meaning of it. Even if I may say, only slightly. *sigh*

The enlighting moment came three days before our deadline. A mail from my classmate in the class mailing list broke the silence of worries. She is a native American, who was born, grew up and has been living American Education, and she said that this is the most difficult book she had ever read!

Oh. I felt much better even it didn't reduce my worries of the paper that I had to submit. I decided to write about the role of publicity in public sphere, and this is what I got from my understanding in reading Habermas:

The subject of publicity is the public as the carrier of public opinion. As publicity contains the elements of public recognition, thus publicity is the efforts done deliberate public opinion into public recognition through the representation in a public sphere. Public sphere is seen as a specific domain in comparison to private sphere, while the sphere first emerged and took on its function at a certain period. As the consequence, the specific representation and manifestation of the publicity itself has been changing from time to time, following the dynamics of social structure including the power structure within the public sphere.

Originally, in its Greek origin public sphere was constituted in discussion which includes the forms of consultation and of sitting in the court of law, as well as in common action such as speeches.
The history noted that the role ranges from status attribute, prince court, representative publicity, until in modern era it evolves into public authority, where publicity has political function to make public works asthe control of critical public.

In the era after the growth of liberalism, the original relationship of public and private sphere is dissolved and the form of bourgeois public sphere is modified. As there are more spheres in the society, gradually publicity lost this political function. As publicity contains the element of public recognition, it involves public representation. I see that publicity in public sphere always involves public opinion on certain issues, especially the ones related to social order.

As time to time public sphere is determined with different concepts of power-relation, the publicity grows in line with the acceptable social pattern at a certain period. The publicity is reflected by the needs of the society and by their way in envisioning the power.

Some examples mentioned by Habermas showed that there have been significant evolution of publicity concepts and activities as the social structure and power relation in the society took place. An example was when public was accepting the absolute power (i.e. in Feudal Period) publicity becomes the medium to justify the symbol of power of the ‘noble’ group such as the insignia and the rhetoric.

As the person involved in publicity also holds more than one function, as an person (that represent private sphere), and an additional function such as a property owner like in bourgeois public sphere, or as citizen like in Rosseau theory, we can see that in this stage publicity becomes the representation of private in public sphere. In this case public sphere is also recognized as an element in political realm and publicity helps to deliberate the information within public.

The interesting part of publicity is that the different realms perceive publicity with different meaning. An example is as in the realm of the mass media, where publicity has become the attribute of whatever can attract public opinion instead of a function of public opinion. To become more acceptable, publicity is represented through various media that are accessed and approved by different social classes and became part of their lifestyle. It involves culture, art, journalism, letters, and so forth, where at some points, subjectivity, which is known as the core of the private sphere would be reflected to public and might affect other individuals’ opinion. It might help public to be informed and become more aware of the issues in their society, including the political issues, yet it can invite opposition as well.

All of the above-mentioned tendencies showed that private realms, as well as more specified groups, hold strong identity. Regarding that in civil society those individuals and those small groups hold strong identity and represent their own ideas or opinion, public sphere likely holds the representative publicity.


I was happy that I could identify the ideas. In a way, after reading most of the chapters, I agreed that Habermas had set the ground for further discussions on Political Communications, as he had wrapped up the elements of it. However, as most of my friends feels, I also felt that he is pretty pesimistic about the power of the public sphere. Later also, non-related to the content, we agreed on the suspicion that it was the translator of the book that might made it sounds more complicated to read.

Whatever it is, reading books loaded with strong theories made me feel that I want to write books too someday. For that day on, I promised myself that I would write it in the easiest way to understand manner so I woudn't harm any English as the foreign language speaker, plus any newbies; like ME, today. :)

Habermas, how can I become as smart as you?
(photo taken from Wikipedia)

1 comment:

  1. Yes please..while you have time to write a book of your own, would you please write more summaries of those books you read. Please...blink blink

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