No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Jürgen Habermas


Jürgen Habermas (* 1929) is a philosopher and sociologist of the Frankfurt School. Habermas added communicative rationality to Weber's list of types of rationality. In his early thinking he was critical of attempts to master everything with technology. In his "Technik und Wissenschaft als Ideologie" he made a distinction between the (purpose-rational) political-economic system and the (communicatively rational) environment. According to Habermas, due to increasing differentiation and complexity (see also Elias), the system detaches itself from the environment and begins to dominate it. Habermas saw that independent, rational discussions - necessary for the public sphere - came under increasing pressure in modern times. (See Tönnies' Gesellschaft and Adorno's cultural critique.)

Communicative action

Habermas argues that everyone should be able to participate in discussions and only arguments should determine what is right. He showed that in every conversation three assumptions are made or questioned: the interlocutor (1) speaks the truth; (2) is entitled to make the statements he/she makes; (3) means what he/she says and takes the discussion seriously.

The structural transformation of the public sphere

According to Habermas, the public debate is in danger, under the influence of the government and the mass media. Habermas describes the modern social world as the consequence of various forms of rationality. With his concepts of System and Life World he tried to build a bridge between structuralists and constructivists. While Habermas likes to preserve democracy, universal human rights and the increased individual freedom of the modern age, he is critical of "the colonization of the life world by the system". The system ensures that social relations become more businesslike and frigid. Where systems are almost purely instrumental, e.g. to make money with media outlets, we lose the conversation about what is morally right and sincere to do. This creates dissatisfaction, and with it all kinds of protest movements.

How did the public sphere come about?

Jürgen Habermas developed the concept of the public sphere for the space in which individuals can come together to engage in rational and critical public discourse, independent of the influence of the state or other institutions. The public sphere arose as a result of the transformation of the feudal system in Europe, creating new forms of social interaction and communication. With the rise of the bourgeoisie and the development of a market economy, individuals were able to come together in a more equal and open manner to discuss and discuss issues of common concern.


Habermas argued that the public sphere has been subject to a process of "colonization" by forces such as the mass media and consumer culture, which have come to dominate and shape public discourse. As a result of this colonization, the role of the public sphere as a space for genuine critical and democratic communication has diminished, turning instead into a space for the manipulation and control of public opinion by powerful interests.