The Public Sphere of Imagination

When I was younger, recess and lunch in the school playground was a crucial space, where discussions of canteen chicken nuggets, annoying teachers and the latest toys occurred. Communication is part of human nature. It is instinctual; we want to openly talk about our interests and concerns, and it’s a good feeling when we share common views with someone (Hewett, 2011, p3). As we progress through life, humans are drawn to a space where one can discuss collective social interests; this has come to be known as the modern day Public Sphere. In the 18th century, middle-class men encountered face-to-face social and political squabbles in local salons and coffee houses. Philosopher Jürgen Habermas described the Public Sphere as ‘a network for communicating information and points of view’ (1996). In the 21st Century, when we see the words “network” and “communication” we don’t tend to grab our newspapers and head down to the local café to have lengthy debates with our neighbours. The modern day Public Sphere(s) is tucked into our pockets, or sitting on your desk. Humans can now digitally access what seems like an infinite number of platforms, to receive, respond and circulate information.

Everyday we consume mediated images and expectations of life, through popular media discourses presented in entertainment programs. This epitomises the notion of a Cultural Public Sphere, where aesthetic and emotional modes of communication are articulated affectively (McGuigan, 2005, p435). While traditional journalistic institutions distract audiences from “serious” cultural concerns, viewers begin to respond and reflect on personal, public and political interests through social networking platforms. TV shows such as ABC’s Q&A become agents of critical intervention in the mainstream media, by providing public debate. The program allows viewers to hashtag and tweet in real-time, highlighting the value of independent criticism about widespread dissent and ideologies in the Public Sphere (McGuigan, 2005, p440).

asylum qanda



#qanda tweets acting as commentary about issues being raised.

With anybody being able to participate in The Public Sphere, modern anxieties arise over the deterioration of balanced discourse about public affairs. Some critics argue that mass media has expanded the Public Sphere; while others state that it has transformed the nature of publicness all together (Munday & Chandler, 2011).


Habermas, J 1996, Between facts and norms: Contributions to a discourse theory of law and democracy,MIT Press, Cambridge

Hewett, D 2011, The Nature of Human Communication, Sage Publications, pp.3-8

McGuigan, J 2005, ‘The Cultural Public Sphere’, Cultural Studies, vol. 8, no. 4, pp. 427–443

Munday, R & Chandler, D 2011, ‘Public and Private Spheres’, Dictionary of Media and Communication, Oxford University Press


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