from The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society

When was this essay written? (1962) Which aspects of it, if any, do you think might have been controversial at the time?

What does Habermas mean by the use of the word "reason"? What is "öffentliches Räsonnement"?

How does he define the respective functions of the public and private sphere? Who has controlled them during the time period he describes?

Is his chart useful? What does Habermas see as the role of literary and artistic production? Are there any aspects of the public/private distinction or the nature of bourgeois culture which he ignores?

What is the value of the "public sphere," in his view?

"Modernity, An Incomplete Project" (1980)

In historical perspective, what has the word "modernity" meant? When did it first begin to be used, and what values and anxieties does it convey? (the modern is the "new," ever changing)

How can a "modern" work become a classic as its newness ages? (becomes classic because it has been authenically modern at a particular period, 1750) Can you think of examples? (e. g. Lawrence, Joyce)

"Discipline of Aesthetic Modernity"

How does Habermas characterize the aesthetic avant-garde? ("must find a direction in a landscape into which no one sems to have yet ventured")

What features does Habermas believe exhibit an exaltation of the present"? (1750, "the anticipation of an undefined future and the cult of the new")

How does "modernity" respond to the past? ("revolts against the normalizing functions of traditon," 1750)

What are some of its aesthetic features? ("stages a dialectical play between secrecy and public scandal; it is addicted to a fascination with that horror which accompanies the act of profaning, and yet is always in flight from the trivial results of profanation," 1750). To what kind of literature and art do you think he refers? Are his comments fair or accurate?

How may the avant-garde use the past in a non-traditional or different way? (evokes a selected past which is mirrored in the present, 1751)

What aspect of the ideals of "modernity" does Habermas believe have been left behind in the movement toward belief in an autonomous realm of the aesthetic and of "art for art's sake"? (the bond between aesthetics and science/truth and ethics, though he does not mention this, a Kantian tradition, 1753)

What does he see as the intentions of surrealism, and how in his view was this movement a "failure"? (1751) What has happened to the cultural movements of modernism? (they are dominant but dead, 1752)

"Cultural Modernity and Society Modernization"

What in Habermas' view are some of the flaws of conservative attacks on modernity? ("The neoconservative doctrine blurs the relationship between the welcomed process of societal modernization on the one hand, and the lamented cultural development on the other," 1752; blame discontent on modernist intellectuals rather than on its causes in economic and social changes)

What are the different ways in which one may respond to the [Enlightenment] ideals of modernity? (one may recommend a return to premodernity, call for a postmodernity, or throw modernity radically overboard, 1753)

"The Project of Enlightenment"

What was the "project of enlightment," according to Habermas and Max Weber? (separation of spheres of art, science and morality, 1753)

What favorable results were expected from the application of technical knowledge to human problems? Whom does he cite as an example of false optimism? (the Marquis de Condorcet, a believer in human perfectibility, 1754)

How does Habermas believe we should address the failures of post-Enlightenment history? (should hold on to the intentions of the Enlightenment, "feeble as they may be," 1754)

"The False Programs of the Negation of Culture"

What does Habermas see as some of the features of twentieth-century art? (a critique of culture; in attempting to negate art the surrealists and others created a destructured form without an emancipatory effect, 1755-56; emancipation cannot come through the opening up of a single sphere of cultural activity)

What does he see as oversimplified about the those who attack "terroristic reason" or equate bureaucracy with state terror? (e. g. Foucault, 1756)


What relationship between the aesthetic and social reality does he propose? What example does he give of this ideal in action? (German workers who create their own form of art after studying artworks in museums, 1756)

How does he define the world-view of neoconservatives? (they welcome modernity in its technical and administrative forms only, abhor the content of cultural modernity, find science and moral considerations irrelevant, and dispute the utopian possibilities of art, 1758-59) What examples does he give of allegedly "neoconservative" philosophers and poets?

Can you recognize the worldview in any present inhabitants of the U. S. "public sphere"?

What alliance does he see as especially ominous? (alliance of premodernists with postmodernists, 1759) Do you think he is correct is discerning such an alliance? Are there constructive aspects of postmodernist thought which he ignores?

Do you see parallels between Habermas' view of postmodernism and that of other writers such as Frederic Jameson or Jean-Francoise Lyotard?

Which aspects of Habermas' views do you find valuable? On what grounds might some of his views or methods be critiqued? In particular, are his generalizations universally valid?

Does Habermas' defense of an unfinished Enlightenment modernity have any resonance in present-day United States? (debates about the value of Enlightenment ideals embodied in the Bill of Rights, the system of checks and balances in government, habeas corpus, the right to vote, etc.) Would you agree with him that modernity is an unfinished project?

Page numbers are from The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 2001.