Turkish Journal of International Relations

Turkish Journal of International Relations

Volume 4, Numbers 1 and 2, Spring-Summer 2005


The Ideological Transformation of the Public Sphere: The Case of Turkey
By Ömer Çaha



Jurgen Habermas’s book The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere has attracted considerable attention in recent discussions regarding the relationship between the public and private spheres. The book was first published in the 1960s atmosphere of political radicalism. In the foreword to the new edition published in 1989, Habermas considers his work a natural outcome of recent tendencies toward democratization. According to Habermas, the structural transformation of the public sphere is a development from the bourgeois public, which takes the “homogenous” and “abstract” individual as the focal point, to a “differentiated” public created by civil society in social life.

Indeed, Habermas’s emphasis on this point is based on a valid justification. However, today’s understanding of public is profoundly different from the one described by Habermas, who discusses the notion of the bourgeois public in the context of the history of seventeenth-eighteenth century Europe. During this period, public allowed the existence of something like publicity, which allowed different tendencies in the private realm and brought them together on common ground. In other words, it was a public where rivers from different basins joined with one another, losing their original riverbeds. Contrary to this, the idea of the public discussed in the 1990s is not a public that harmonizes with the private sphere. This is because the new understanding of the public allows the flow of diverse rivers in their own basins, with unrestricted borders. It is a public in which diverse “identities” that have taken shape over the course of social history and deep social interactions continue to live on without any assimilation or destruction. Therefore, even though Habermas’s stress on the differentiated dimension of the public sphere is significant, it is not enough to understand the recent transformations in this area. The most important development in the realm of the public sphere was Habermas’s failure to see the advent of the dissolution of the ideological public sphere at the end of the 1980s. He failed to understand that recent political tendencies towards democratization on the eve of the 1990s, from authoritarian ideologies that attempted to control and prevent the existence of diversity, was the foretold of an “ideological” transformation, not a “structural” one.

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