A critical study of communicative rationality in Habermas's public sphere
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This interdisciplinary research examines the public sphere as a communicatively-constructed realm and challenges Habermas’s model of public sphere communication based on the “public use of reason”/communicative rationality. It questions the model’s counterfactual normativity and its emancipatory potential in revisiting core concepts such as reason, power and consensus, while also considering social complexity, the media and counterpublics. This research is theoretical but informed by the quest for empirical relevance. Using critical hermeneutic methods, the thesis critically reconstructs Habermas’s theories of the public sphere and of communicative rationality, as these were developed and revised throughout his works, in order to lay the foundations for second- and third-order critique. The main critics considered in revisiting Habermas’s public sphere model are: Niklas Luhmann (functionalism and social systems), Michel Foucault (historical materialism, theory of power and rejection of universal norms), Nancy Fraser and Seyla Benhabib (critical feminism, identity politics), Thomas McCarthy (critique of rationalism and normativity), James Bohman (social complexity) and Colin Grant (post-systemic communication studies). Drawing on these, the thesis proposes a renewed public sphere model consisting of systems and emergent publics, while rethinking communicative reason and power in conditions of overcomplexity (Bohman). Lastly, it redefines normativity in an empirically plausible light, connected to emergent communication practices.