Nancy Fraser, PhD Philosophy from CUNY, is the Henry A. and Louis Loeb Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research. She examines social and political theory, feminist theory, and contemporary French and German though. She is an expert on Habermas and teaches courses on him, as well as Critiques of Capitalism, Reading Marx, and various PhD seminars.
In this groundbreaking piece, Fraser corrects Habermas’ bourgeois public sphere, developing a “new, post-borgeois model of the public sphere” (57). Habermas, Fraser contends, makes four hegemonic assumptions in his model: (1) social equality isn’t necessary for democracy, (2) one comprehensive public sphere is preferable to a multitude, (3) only the “common good” should be discussed, not individual affairs (a major obstacle to overcoming domestic and sexual abuse), and (4) there must be a sharp line demarcating civil society and the state. Habermas’ “bracketing of differences” naively presumes a space devoid of culture and, more troubling, pushes the dominant group agenda.
In truth, there are multiple kinds of publics in two kinds of modern societies. The first, the stratified society, upholds structural inequalities, therefore, contestation is better at achieving participatory equality than a singly bourgeois public sphere. “Subaltern counterpublics” throughout history have created “alternate publics” to protest separatism and inequality. Counterpublics operate as “spaces of withdrawal and regroupment” (68) and “function as bases and training grounds for agitational activities directed toward wide publics” (ibid).
The second type of state, the egalitarian, multicultural one, is classless, yes, but not necessarily homogeneous. To attempt a single bourgeois public sphere in such a society would be its dissolution, manifest. But there can be debates within the egalitarian society regarding issues that affect everyone. The “civic republican” concept of the public sphere: “preferences, interests, and identities are as much outcomes as antecedents of public deliberation, indeed are discursively constituted in and through it” (72). Fraser ultimately argues for us to think about “strong and weak publics, as well as about various hybrid forms” (76) to integrate the publics into the decision-making process.