A public sphere in which people can freely discuss worldly affairs is arguably anessential building block of deliberative democracies. As a theoretical and historicalconcept, however, the public sphere concept is far from unequivocal. This articlereviews Habermasian public sphere theory and particularly his failure, according tocritics, to establish the ‘bourgeois public sphere’ as an historical category. It providesa more realistic historical account that helps to reframe contemporary conceptionsof the public sphere. It argues that the 17th century’s culture of pamphleteeringcreated the space for a proto-public sphere, characterized as a complex networkof discursive practices mixing commercial doggerel, state-sponsored propaganda andreasoned argument. These practices were part of contradictory but mutually constitutive processes in the context of religious and political struggles that coincidedwith the gestation of parliamentary democracy.
- media history
- public sphere