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Public

Nikolaus Jackob


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Few concepts in the social sciences have attracted more attention and caused more confusion than the concept of the “public.” The dispute concerning the nature of the public is at least as old as Greek democracy. Since that time, one of the most divisive questions has been whether the public is characterized by an everyman, holding common opinions ( doxa ), or by an intellectual elite, endowed with deeper insight, knowledge, and wisdom ( episteme ). This controversy is the starting point for the following considerations. After a summary of different theoretical concepts, the relationship between the individual and the public is reviewed. The question of exposure to communication content is then addressed. Since its beginnings in ancient times, the term “public” has bred a multiplicity of competing meanings ( Habermas 1962 ; Childs 1965 ), which continue to shape scientific discourse today. Three major theoretical schools of thought can be identified: a normative or qualitative concept, an operationalist or quantitative concept, and a functionalist concept. The normative or qualitative concept defines the public as a social elite comprising well-informed, responsible, and interested citizens. These pursue the common good and participate in an enlightened and rational discourse on societal affairs. In a democratic system, the public forms a critical counterpart to the government, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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