Now, if you haven’t got the Friends theme song in your head already, I am very sorry. To begin, I introduce Jurgen Habermas, the man who created the public sphere theory. Habermas was another Marxist student of the Frankfurt School in Germany as previously mentioned in my post about media ownership. In 1962 he wrote the critical piece“The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere”. Habermas spells out the public sphere as being “made up of private people gathered together as a public and articulating the needs of society with the state” (p.176). This ‘imagined’ public sphere, according to Professor Sue Turnbull, is alike to an “18th century coffee house, a place for news and debate about ideas”.
This, of course, just conjures up the image of my favourite 6 television friends sitting around ‘Central Perk’ drinking coffee and complaining, talking, supporting… and dating each other. Their discussions were common concerns, separate from the state (mainly also from common sense). They had their own economy (made up of ego, embarrassment and personal jabs) and it was, in a sense, egalitarian and open. This is what Habermas had imagined.
Public discussions tend to find a way to create controversy, and thus, enticing further discussions. But in a modern public sphere who are excluded? For a long time it was the lower classes, and minorities that weren’t able to have a voice. One particular point I have started to realise is that the input of feminist, modern and powerful voices have been dulled, and brought down as unimportant and irrelevant in the public sphere of modern Australia. A highly mediated public sphere that raises and nurtures issues of feminism is rare to find. One that contributes to the basic equality debate in a equal and non-didactic way even so. Twitter has allowed itself to become a platform for public discussion about items like TV shows, events, world happenings, movies and social issues around the world.
Essentially Twitter is a public sphere, an online coffee house if you will, and it is the epitome of private people gathering to make something public and showing the needs of a society. This can be seen by the involvement of tweets whilst TV shows such as “Q and A” on ABC, Nine’s “The Block” and the ever constant ‘live-tweeting’ award shows such as The Logies and The Oscars. As open as these seem, they are a mediated type of public forum, with the tweets having to go through mediators before being aired. “Q and A” and the ABC have even been accused of censoring tweets from the public about public matters which I find ironic, yet they willingly let through controversial transphobic comments and immature homophobic tweets.
Twitter’s hash tag system makes it so much easier to access a wide range of audiences all engaged with a type of media and everyone can have an opinion. This is the future of our public spheres, the coffee shop of the 21st century. I might stick with twitter but to really get into Habermas’s theory, maybe I’ll iView this weeks “QandA” with a latte, a tweet and an honest opinion.
What shows do you watch and either tweet along to or discuss with friends?
- Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a category of Bourgeois Society. Trans. Thomas Burger with Frederick Lawrence. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991.
- Turnbull, S 2015, Lecture 5 Media Mythbusting: ‘Big Brother is Watching You’ powerpoint slides, BCM110, presented 31 March 2015.