The 21st Century Public Sphere

Where is the 21st-century coffee shop discourse occurring?

In the 20th century, German Intellectual Jürgen Habermas likened the public sphere to a European Coffee House, a place where the bourgeoisie and working classes could gather to engage in discourse about the current social issues and needs of society (Habermas 1962)

Featured Image: (Papaspyropoulos, S. 2013)

Jürgen Habermas describes the functioning Public Sphere as a group “made up of private people gathered together as a public and articulating the needs of society with the state”

(Habermas 1962)

So what is our public sphere in the 21st century? It is a meeting place unmediated, that allows us access whenever we desire and able to be accessed by the majority of the population. This public sphere has come through the medium of social media. Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and many other outlets allowing the public to voice their own personal opinions on the issues of the day.

The benefits of this all-inclusive conversation are that it allows a broad range of ideas from all genders, races and religions around the world allowing the users to publish their own journalism, advocacy pieces and opinion articles highlighting their own individual voices and ideas.

For this all-inclusive conversation to function correctly, censorship of the media or the internet must not be enforced on the citizens by the State. Reporters Without Borders latest 2016 World Press Freedom Index (RSF 2016), highlights the concerning number of countries still experiencing press censorship by the State.


Image: (RSF 2016)

Australia ranked 25th in the world with Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea facing the highest levels of press censorship.

(RSF 2016)

Even with these restrictions imposed, the power of the new age social sphere has been demonstrated recently with dramatic effect. In 2011, the Arab Spring gave birth to a new era of questioning once feared regimes with advocates for change and reform heading to social media to voice their opinions on the State. Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Algeria and many other prominent Arab States were swept up in the dramatic protests with social media the outlet of choice for documenting the events to the world while they unfolded.
Use this link to gain an insight of what popular websites (such as Facebook) are banned in China today.  (, 2017)

While it is contended how much of an effect social media had on causing the uprisings and protests due to the majority of the countries population not being connected to the internet. Using Egypt as an example, research showed that ‘84% of those who are online say they visit social networking sites for news about Egypt’s political situation’ (Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, 2012).

Without social media, the voices of the Citizen during the Arab Spring would have been limited to State Censored Journalists and the State itself.


Image: (Getty Images, 2017)

With the It’s clear that this new medium of communication is one that will continue to develop over the years and hopefully become a more inclusive outlet capable of allowing controversial and important topics to be discussed around the world without fear of persecution.



Bibliography (2017). Test if any website is Blocked in China in real-time .Viewed 30 Mar. 2017.<;

Brown, H., Guskin, E. and Mitchell, A. (2017). The Role of Social Media in the Arab Uprisings. Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project. Viewed 30 Mar. 2017.<;

Getty Images, (2011).Viewed 30 Mar. 2017. <;

Habermas, J. (1962). The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. 1st ed. Hoboken: Wiley.

Papaspyropoulos, S. (2013).Viewed 30 Mar. 2017.<;

Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. (2017). Chapter 1. Views of Political Change.Viewed 30 Mar. 2017.<;

RSF. (2017). 2016 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders.Viewed 30 Mar. 2017.<;





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