Communication has the power to heal and to wound, to tyrannize and to liberate, to enlighten and to deceive, to inspire and to corrupt. Subjecting ideas to the scrutiny of others through engagements of difference has long been recognized as a vital resource for the fulfillment of communication’s constructive potential as well as a critically needed antidote to the corrupting influences associated with demagoguery, confirmation bias, ideological rigidity, and partisanship. Demographic shifts and technological advancements afford unparalleled opportunities for such open, deliberative engagements and related inquiries. Enriched by attentive listening, dialogic communication provides a particularly promising means of tapping these and other resources to reach across differences in pursuit of knowledge, understanding, truth, and wise discernment. Despite their potential, however, listening and dialogue face formidable obstacles. Among these are dominant narratives regarding the human condition, power imbalances, and privilege, and their implications for communication ethics. Absolutism, radical relativism, and related false dilemmas pose significant obstacles as well. A transformation of vision—from individual adversarialism to an ethic of interdependence—offers a pathway out of the thicket, enabling humanity to tap communication’s potential in shared pursuit of human flourishing across the globe.
Josina M. Makau
Damien Smith Pfister
Public spheres are sites of communicative interaction that feature citizens turning their attention to collective problems and democratically legitimate solutions. Closely associated with German critical theorist Jürgen Habermas, the idea of public spheres constituted by a range of publics and counterpublics animates a broad array of interdisciplinary scholarship relating to democracy and political theory, argumentation and deliberation, citizenship and civic engagement, media ecologies and the press, and institutions and power relations. Habermas originally theorized the emergence of the bourgeois public sphere as a counterpoint to the aristocratic regimes of early modern Europe, aiming to rescue select democratic practices from an otherwise flawed ideology. Critics of Habermas’s early formulation of the bourgeois public sphere have noted the presence of a multiplicity of public spheres, rather than a single public sphere, the problem of the public/private divide that is definitive of the public sphere, the role of bodies and emotions in addition to language and reason in the formation and operation of publics and counterpublics, the role of media technologies in sustaining and expanding critical publicity, and the difficulties in extracting knowledge claims from the power relations that constitute them. The idea of public spheres has remained resilient despite these criticisms, as any functioning democracy requires a space between the family, the market, and the state to thematize, problematize, and address the challenges of life in groups. Strong public spheres are characterized by hospitality to counterpublics, groups that distinguish themselves from the rational-critical debate of dominant publics through different dispositions, styles, and strategies for steering public attention. Scholarship on public spheres, publics, and counterpublics continues to proliferate, with new directions accounting for the increased prominence of visuality, ecology, digitality, and transnationality in deliberating bodies.