Category: Debates and Approaches

Debates and Approaches Reading Log Week 4

Week 4 Reading Log


Anna Curtis



Boeder, P. 2005, Habermas’ heritage: The future of the public sphere in the networked society, First Monday, Vol 10, Number 9, Sept 5


Boeder’s article explores the evolution of Habermas’ Public Sphere through the advancement of technology and the increasing access to information and to generate information within the Public Sphere by private individuals.  Boeder examines the theories of several different intellectuals in relation to news vs narrative, commoditisation and commercialism and our very notion of democracy when entering into the unchartered territory of the technological network age.


Boeder explores news media’s tendency toward public relations where managing consensus rather than providing an avenue to establish it has become priority.


Arguably the event of the internet should advance Habermas’ notion of the Public Sphere by providing a vehicle for private individuals to engage in public discourse, however in the early days of internet those with access where largely white, wealthy males and they were able to shape the discourse carried out. It would be interesting to follow up on the theorists Boeder has drawn on now to see what their evolving opinions are given the much greater accessibility to internet than in the mid 1990s.


Boeder argues that mass media requires the public to be active participants in the generation and distribution of information, decentralised ownership of the internet and access, and a discerning public. The public does have more ability to contribute than they did with traditional media, as we can see by the prominence of private individuals, via blogs who have catered to niche markets on a global scale and become social commentators.


Boeder addresses the global nature of communication in the modern day. He explores Hjarvard’s contention that global access does not result in a public sphere on a global level, but that rather the public sphere will no longer be a unitary concept but rather an amalgamation of sub-spheres.


Finally Boeder talks about our tendency to abstract technology from cultural meaning when it is a vital component in our capacity to generate cultural meaning.

Readings: The Lens of Fear

Altheide, D 2002, ‘The Lens of Fear’, in Creating Fear: News and the Construction of Crisis’, Aldine De Gruyter, New York, pp. 175-198

Altheide argues the pervasive nature of Fear through Media in modern day society. Using an analogy of the Lighthouse which once gave sailors exactly as much information as they needed for safety, in the modern era we have so much access to information that we are ‘blinded’ by it so as not to be able to recognise what is actually required for us to conduct our individual lives in a reasonable manner.

Altheide explores Danger, Risk and Fear. Danger is a qualitative element – it is or it isn’t dangerous. Risk is a quantitative element – How dangerous is it? Both Danger and Risk are elements of general interest

Fear is an orientation to the world.  It is atmosphere and emotion. Fear is a private interest which is cultivated by mass media.

Fear’s evolution from Religion offering salvation, to governments offering security. There has also been the increase in information communicated which has coincided with the reduction in real threats.


“…the focus of media attention has taken a toll on our ability to see our way clearly.” pp 175

Fear is an orientation to the world. God and organized religion provided salvation from fear in a sacred society. The state and formal social control promise salvation from fear in our secular society.” pp 176

“…popular culture has been the key element in promoting the discourse of fear.” pp 177

“However, it is not just “fear of crime” or a particular thing, but rather a sense or an identity that we are all actual or potential victims held in common by many people.”

“… identity, social context, perceptions, and social definitions are very relevant for how safe people feel.” (Farral et al. 2000; Ven der Wurff, Van Stallduinen, and Stringer 1989)

“… the techniques and exclusions by which which those objects are constituted a danger persists.” (Campbell 1998,13)

“It is the fear of the “other” that we anticipate; we see numerous reports about very atypical occurrences, but we see them night after night.” pp178

“Cultural and political contexts contributed to the emergence of fear as a perspective that pervades everyday life. A massive expansion of electronic media outlets overlapped historically with unprecendented consumer growth and Gross National Product, te decline of “real” international threats, and conservative political agendas that used crime and especially drug-related issues to gain political legitimacy.” pp179

“…as audiences were transformed into markets. Involvement in the public realm increasingly shifted to mass-mediated information emphasizing fear and crises.” pp179

“… In this way, the state project of security replicates the church project of salvation. The state grounds it legitimacy by offering salvation to its followers who, it says, would otherwise be destined to an unredeemed death.” (Campbell 1998, 50)

“There can be no fear without actual victims or potential victims. In the post-modern age, victim is a status and represntation and not merely a person or someone who has suffered as a result of some personal, social, or physical calamity.” pp 180

[Discussing religion] “… an ambiguous situation arose in which there was (and is) a demand for external guarantees inside a culture that has erased the ontological preconditions for them.” (Ashley 1989, 303)

“… conservative political agendas have benefited from joining fear and victim with crime control agendas, the issue is much bigger, particularly the relationship between fear and every-day life culture.” pp 182

“group sense” … “These boundaries occur through institutional processes that are grounded in everyday situations and encounters, including language, discourse, accounts, and conversation” pp 182

“…the mass media, social control, and surveilance are connected is that common perspectives and communication styles are involved. They are coproducers, and if the images that they are promoting are inaccurate and individually or socialy destructive, then they are involved in mass-mediated terrorism, which was defined earlier as “the purposeful act or threat of violence to create fear and/or complaint behaviour in a victim and or audience of the act or threat” (Lopez and Stohl 1984) pp185

“…our risk society is a feature of people having more information about risks and then acting on this information by either seeking more information, avoiding activities, or demanding protection.” pp187

“All must recognise their constitutive weakness or, better, recognise that by their very existence they are a risk to others. Each individual must bed to the imperatives of group solidarity.” pp188

“The term prevention does not indicate simply a practice based on the maxim than an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but also the assumption that if prevention is necessary it is because danger exists.” pp 188

“… the problem frame which promotes risk and danger as fear.” pp188

fear is a fundamentally different psychological experience than perceived risk. While risk entails a cognitive judgement, fear is far more emotive in character. Fear activates a series of complex bodily changes aletting the actor to the possibility of danger. (Ferraro 1995. 95) (pp188)

“Fear produces victims and reinforces the notion that everyone is actually or potentially a victim.” pp189

“Fear, after all, is a perspective that is learned from others. Except for exceptional and pathological instances, we become what our salient “others” model and affirm for us.” pp191

“stereotypes are easy to accept even when they are false” pp 195

“When it comes to violence, media stories may unintentionally form public images of right and wrong… …formatting of violent accounts may be constructing social opinion rather than reflecting it.” pp195

“Social fears are related to personal fears in complex ways. Unraveling the reltaionships for specific fears is an avowedly psychoanalytical task that has been largely neglected, thus opening up another opportunity for social researchers. For example. fear of crime may be connected to certain compulsive behaviours, paranoia, and so forth, but these are now sanctioned by public officials as reasonable prudent, responsible, and even intelligent activities.” pp195


Readings: The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article

Habermas, J 2009 ‘The Public Sphere: An Ancyclopedia Article’, in Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks, Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken, pp. 73-78

Habermas’ conception of the Public Sphere requires the following: (Normative claim. “Should” does not equal actual conditions or what “is”)

– Access to citizens

– Freedom of association

– Freedom of assembly

-Reasoning public — — — (the bourgeois public sphere)

-Media of communication

-The general interest.


“Only when the exercise of political control is effectively subordinated to the democratic demand that information be accessible to the public, does the political public sphere win an institutionalised influence over the government through the instrument of law-making bodies.” pp. 73

“Through mere opinions (cultural assumptions, normative attitudes, collective prejudices and values) seem to persist unchanged in their natural form as a kind of sediment of history, public opinion can by definition come into existence only when a reasoning public is presupposed.” – pp74


The historical context of Habermas’ public sphere was the emergence of the concept in society. And the distinction between society and state where society represents the private individuals and state the governing bodies.


“… the link to devine authority which the Church represented, that is, religion, became a private matter. So-called religious freedom came to insure what was historically the first area of private autonomy.” pp74

“Continuous activity now corresponded to the permanence of the relationships, which with the stock exchange and the press had developed within the exchange of commodities and information.” pp75

The Liberal Model of the Public Sphere

The liberal model was the institution of the concept into public life. Driven by the bourgeois class.


“Newspapers changed from mere institutions for the publication of news into bearers and leaders of public opinion…” pp76

“the press remained an institution of the public itself, effective in the manner of a mediator and intensifier of public discussion, no longer a mere organ for the spreading of news but not yet the medium of a consumer culture.” pp76

Public Sphere in the Social Welfare State Madd Democracy

Where the Public Sphere sort of works and sort of doesn’t. It has worked in that there is a “normative claim that information be accessible to the public” however the state still plays a role in determining the conditions of society without respect to the public sphere model of collective decision making.


Laws which obviously have come about under the “pressure of the street” can scarecly still be understood as arising from the consensus of private individuals engaged in public discussion.” pp77

“The very words “public relations work” betray the fact that a public sphere must first be arduously constructed case by case, a public sphere which earlier grew out of the social structure.” pp77

“The demand that information be accessible to the public is extended from organs of the state to all organisations dealing with the state/ To the degree that this is realised, a public body of organised private individuals would take the place of the now-defunct public body of private individuals who relate individually to each other.” pp78


Debates and Approaches Reading Log Week 2

Anna Curtis


Wednesday 4:30 Tutorial


Week 2


According to Habermas, what role did newspapers play in the emergence of the public sphere?


Habermas speaks about the public sphere and public opinion. For public opinion to come into being, a reasoning public is presupposed Public opinion is a vital component of the public sphere as it is the representation within the public sphere of citizens positioning within the public environment they live.


Because reasoned opinion is the key to public opinion it follows that the press and circulation of information plays a huge role in the formulation of public opinion and the public sphere. Habermas states that “the bourgeois public sphere could be understood as the sphere of private individuals assembled into a public body, which almost immediately laid claim to the officially regulated “intellectual newspapers” for use against the public authority itself.” Habermas indicates that newspapers and therefore the circulation of information allow for the public sphere (collection of private individuals) to promote debate and criticism of public authorities and rules of social intercourse.


Bucher stated that “Newspapers changed from mere institutions for the publication of news into bearers and leaders of public opinion… that [the editor] changed from a vendor of recent news to a dealer in public opinion.” The press acted as a representation of the public both mediating and driving public discussion.


Basically reasoned opinion relies on information to be formed and for a public to form opinions collectively access to information is vital. Newspapers allowed for this and by enabling public opinion, a public sphere was able to present itself.

Debates and Approaches Reading Log Week 3

Week 3


Anna Curtis



Altheide, D 2002, ‘The Lense of Fear’, in Creating Fear: News and the Construction of Crisis’, Aldine De Gruyter, New York, pp. 175-198


How, according to Altheide, does the mass media construct a discourse of fear?


Altheide argues that popular culture is the culprit in the pervasion of a discourse of fear throughout society. He claims that fear is an orientation to the world and in the pre-industrialised society (and continuing into modern day) religion provided the discourse of fear in order to establish its authority. As society has evolved into one where religion is no longer the reigning power it once was, and the public sphere has come into effect, media has become the ‘fear peddler’.


Altheide claims that the media’s discourse of fear has created a pervasive sense of fear as part of our identity; that we are all potential victims of something. That this fear has evolved from being connected to actual real threats to a general sense of insecurity becoming the norm.  The way this fear is constructed by the media is through constant publicising of rare events, to the extent that they seem to become normal. E.g. If we watch the news we are flooded with stories about murder, plane crashes, natural disasters, terrorism etc. Which if any single event was viewed in context and isolation we could recognise the rare and unthreatening nature of such an event on our individual lives but within the context of the Media and our constant exposure we are lead to believe that bad things happen all the time to anyone and everyone and that we should be ready to be the next victim.


Advertising uses fear to sell products, “If you don’t have the latest technology you wont fit in with your peers”.

Narrative uses fear to build an emotional connection between the audience, “what if it was you that woke up and all your loved ones were killed…”

Governments use fear to push agendas and “sell” the governed issues that the government can then be seen to act on.


Altheide illustrates that fear is a learned emotion that relies on their being a victim, even if only perceived. He states that discourse of fear thrives on repetition and that stereotypes are easy to accept even when false. The media prays on our personal fears and expands them into societal or public fears, so that paranoias can be seen as an acceptable rather than an extreme psychological state.