The effect of the industrial production of culture on the public sphere

It all starts with a thought : what is the idea behind the ‘Bourgeois’ public sphere and what is the effect of the industrial production of culture on the public sphere ?

The “bourgeois public sphere” is a concept that has been coined by Jurgen Habermas in the 20th century. It posits the interconnection that started around 1700 between the politic sphere and the private sphere.

First of all, the public sphere itself refers to a space in which people from different areas discuss subjects in which they both have interest, in order to find a common opinion (Kellner, 2009). In this public sphere, some principles apply, as the freedom of speech, assembly and press as well as the right to take part in political debate and decision-making (Kellner, 2009).

Adding the “bourgeois” idea in the contemporary society, the public sphere is no longer a space where the whole public opinion is taken in consideration. It is now a space dominated by an elite that wants to represent its own private interests, and that is shaped by the rise of mass media.

As a result, in the late 19th century, the public sphere become a space where citizens are transformed into consumers that are more interested in their own private issues than in any form of democratic participation (Kellner, 2009).

The role of the publicity

The critical function of the public sphere was then transformed because the publicity (in the sense of providing information access to everybody) “loses its critical function in favor of staged display” (Kellner, 2009).

This publicity is made through the use of mass media that increases the industrial production of culture. At the very first stage of the mass media tools, newspapers then radio and television, were supposed to increase the democratic and participative power of the common citizens.

However, because of the industrial production of culture, those tools were transformed in order to provide the new passive citizens, opinions that were manufactured by media experts. Moreover, nowadays, the Internet shapes the public sphere in a way that was unexpected. At the beginning, it was expected to enable marginalized people to be heard and to give a support for contesting dominant discourses (Dahlberg, 2005).

The issue now is that powerful corporations are gaining control of the cyberspace that result in favoring particular people, supporting dominant discourses and “marginalizing critical communication that is central to a strong democratic culture” (Dahlberg, 2005).

The Marxist theory helps to understand this point by arguing that culture is controlled through the media that are owned by the bourgeoisie. As a result people are misled and manipulated to make them accepted their subordination to this bourgeoisie. The industrial production of culture has then made the culture itself “the opiate of the people” according to the words of Karl Marx.

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