Un-Haber-mas

I found Lister’s use of Habermas throughout section 3.8 (Networks as Public Spheres) a little too simplistic and reductionist. Starting with the description of the ‘idealized public sphere’ and following with the notion that the early internet was awash in dialogic democracy to such a point that it had the makings of Habermas’ ideal. (176) The newsgroups, bulletin boards and email groups that Lister mentions doesn’t do justice to Habermas’ notion of administrative power mutually reinforcing the communicative power of these forms of dialogue and communication in the establishment of a democratic salon culture of political thought (176). Lister does reference Habermas quite effectively however, in writing, “mass media had played a key role in the dissolution of a public sphere by replacing a discourse of critical reason with entertainment and spectacle” (177). Its initial effect is only slightly damped the criticism summarized by Garnham on the following page noting, “the public sphere described by Habermas was far from democratic or even public” (178). (Really, you don’t say Garnham, well the pre and post text internet isn’t really democratic or public either factoring in half the world isn’t even on the net… far from ‘ideal’ I would say)  This supposedly culminates in a ‘postmodern triumph’ over universal enlightenment values.

Unfortunately, both Lister and Garnham don’t account for Habermas’ later work in Facts and Norms and other publications available at our texts pressing in which Habermas answers and acknowledges these claims as part of the body of critique leveled at the model of systematic philosophy popularized by the Frankfurt school. I find it a little amusing that the new media text reads in such a way as to hold up Habermas as an egregious example of the modern schism with the post-modern when Habermas himself worked with closely with Derrida in refining his later work focusing on the multiplicity of distinctions between ethics and morality, facts and norms and the power and authenticity structures of institutions. I can see where the Lister et. al. is going by bringing in this infamous philosophical debate as an example but ultimately I believe it to be too flawed an analogy. Anybody else rubbed the wrong way by this?

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