Juraj Kittler: Learning from Braudel A Quest for a Comprehensive History of the Public Sphere

Abstract:
This study argues that despite enduring criticism Habermas’ project of the comprehensive history of the public sphere is still possible if we are willing to adopt some basic methodological strategies pioneered by Fernand Braudel. The opening section contends that the concept of the public sphere itself continues to be intellectually stimulating. Indeed, the enormous impact that Habermas’ work has had on generations of scholars in the West turned it into one of the key concepts that enabled Europeans to gain better understanding of their own history – complex and properly contextualized. The study follows on with a set of epistemological and ontological moves used by Braudel that may help to overcome basic design flaws of the original Habermasian project. In doing so it argues not only for the abandonment of artificially created disciplinary boundaries, but also for overcoming of the traditional borders of nation-states, and indeed of continental confines. Consequently, the paper suggests the idea of a fluid transnational public sphere on global scale with a historical sequence of hegemonic cities at its center, and invites communication historians to cross the comfortable geographic scales of their research in order to better contextualize local, regional, or national histories. Similarly, it conceptualizes both the public sphere as well as evolving communication technologies as composite dialectic constructs that can be understood only in broad social, cultural, political, and economic historical contexts.

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