'Ambivalent Public Spheres' - On Modern Public Discourse Theory

seminar presented by Dr Jordan McKenzie, University of New England

27th March 2014

The aim of this paper is to develop an interpretation of the Habermasian public sphere that is capable of incorporating ambivalence as a form of participation. This is not simply a matter of individuals responding to circumstances with ambivalence, but rather a public sphere that has adopted the characteristics of ambivalence into its normative functioning. Traditional models of the ideal public sphere have seen ambivalence as a problem that must be resolved rather than a structurally necessary aspect of civic participation (Habermas 1975; Calhoun 1993). Therefore, an ambivalent public sphere is not a discourse that has fallen into shambles as a result of the disinterest or apathy of citizens, but rather a public sphere whereby responding to underwhelming distinctions through ambivalence is the most reasonable action for the individual to take. I argue that if this is the case then there is something missing from traditional models of public sphere participation – whether it be for selecting a government or developing a policy, or for the normative regulation and reinvention of cultural standards.