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The Concept of the Public Sphere and the Middle East and North Africa: An Examination of the Habermasian Approach to Political Action

ABBOTT, LUCY,MARY (2014) The Concept of the Public Sphere and the Middle East and North Africa: An Examination of the Habermasian Approach to Political Action. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This thesis challenges the assumption that recent political action in Arab societies is evidence of a ‘Habermasian’ public sphere. It argues instead that the specific historical trajectory of the public sphere associated with Jürgen Habermas’ Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, renders it an unsuitable operational conceptual framework in which to ground recent debates on the question of emancipatory political action in the various states and societies of the Middle East and North Africa. In order to demonstrate the extent of dissonance between the Habermasian designation and the empirical evidence, the thesis constructs a conceptual framework based on the public sphere’s developmental trajectory articulated by Habermas in Structural Transformation. The evidence when cast in the Habermasian light foresees a pessimistic outcome for this activity. It depicts instead a stylised identity community built around commercialism and advertising enabled by commercialisation processes and the expansion of communicative technologies.

It concludes, through a discussion of recent empirical evidence, that a Habermasian approach to this material may not in fact be the most useful option. Instead, it draws on the work of Hannah Arendt, specifically sections from The Human Condition and On Revolution, which also considers the public realm. Arendt downplays the economic foundations of the public realm to a greater extent than Habermas, uncoupling political consequences from economic production. The emergent public realm of political significance in the MENA might then be better understood as an Arendtian space of appearance which envisages a possible rebuilding of a political community after the tearing down of consensus. In doing so, the thesis provides a preliminary and partial assessment of the justificatory basis for using an expressly Habermasian characterisation of the public sphere to analyse these events.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Government and International Affairs, School of
Thesis Date:2014
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:06 Nov 2014 12:38

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