Shifting Spheres

Call for papers for: Kybernetes


Special issue editors

Markus Heidingsfelder, Xiamen University Malaysia - [email protected]

Steffen Roth, La Rochelle Business School, France, and Yerevan State University, Armenia

Holger Briel, Xi'an Jiaotong Liverpool University, Peoples Republic of China

Changsong Wang, Xiamen University, Malaysia

Overview of Special Issue

The concept of publicity as a sphere of its own was first introduced to social scientific discourse by Jürgen Habermas in 1962. His novel contribution consisted in the development of an ideal type of social discourse: the “bourgeois public sphere”, a relatively dense network of public communication that managed to emerge from the middle of the 18th-century private sphere within which individuals could come together in rational discussion to identify the problems they faced as a society and seek to resolve them by consensus. This utopia of rational and universalistic politics was imagined to be free from both the economy and the state. However, according to Habermas, the same forces that initially established it eventually destroyed it. Identifying the consumeristic drive that successfully infiltrated all levels of society as its main cause, a detailed description of this downfall would fill the pages of his 1972 book, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere.
Today, in a world increasingly characterized by rapid media transformations and corresponding structural shifts in public communication, the issue of the public is more relevant than ever. The aim of this issue is to promote and attract contributions on the question of shifting spheres by turning its attention to three interrelated thematic spheres surrounding the question of the public sphere:

The conceptual sphere. This part reassesses the validity and reach of the original concept as well as alternative models. At this meta-theoretical level, comparisons between the ostensibly antagonistic theoretical perspectives of systems theory and the theory of communicative action become possible.
The historical sphere, which includes the historical situation in which the original concept was developed, the political culture of 1950s Germany; the one it talks about, the 18th century; as well as possible predecessors or pre-adaptive advances of the public sphere Habermas had not initially considered.
The global or transnational sphere, wherein both conceptual and historical questions intersect under varying cultural and local conditions.

Possible questions

•    What is the current status of the public at the beginning of the twenty- first century?
•    Did a social formation that rightfully can rightfully be called the bourgeois public sphere really exist at particular historical junctures? If yes, in what forms?
•    To what extent can Habermas’ reflections on the decline i.e., a foundational restructuring of the public sphere be transferred to current developments?
•    Which structural and semantic transformations have both the public sphere and its outside—i.e., the private sphere—undergone in recent decades?
•    How does the digital revolution, exemplified by the internet and its social media, challenge pre-digital concepts?
•    How might the public be modelled in the globalized, transnational world of today?
•    Should we conceive the public sphere only as a critical sounding board with regard to democratic forms of government? What alternative descriptions of and engagements with the public are available/imaginable?
•    What other perspectives on media transformation and related structural changes of public communication are possible?
•    How can boundaries between communicative spheres be defined?
•    Is there such a thing as a global public opinion?
•    Should we replace the concept of the public sphere by a multitude of interacting cultural and social publics? How many public spheres are analytically suitable?
•    How does the diversified order of globalized private communication spheres relate to the norms of society and the different national legal systems?
•    How are new public spheres such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter different from one another?
•    How can the public guarantee inclusion when there are social strata (or classes) that are unequally set and maintained by political and economic structures hardly allowing for vertical mobility?
•    How can the concept of the public sphere take into account the phenomenon of the an increasing lower classes?
•    How might the exclusion of certain voices from the public discourse be responsible for the outburst of right-wing protest movements we are currently witnessing across the globe?
•    What role do the media spheres play in the rise of nationalism and racism?
•    How can the polemics of echo chambers and filter bubbles be overcome in favor of a sober analysis of filter functions?
•    What filter functions of the social media, the mass media, politics and other social spheres can be identified?
•    What are there any benefits of status inequalities (e.g., professional vs. amateur) to be had in the public sphere?
•    What options are available for determining what constitutes the private beyond existing legal definitions?
•    Does the distinction between private and public law in the digital era still make sense? Did it ever?
•    Is the public still a necessary ingredient of political processes that aim at compromise and even consensus, or are we witnessing a fundamental shift of this function that points in the opposite direction: intransigency and dissent?
•    What are the consequences of the normative challenge expressed by populist movements for the relationship between state institutions and the public dimension of politics?


The deadline for submission of full papers in the range of 4000 to 7000 words is on 1 July 2020. Authors will receive reviewers’ feedback no later than 1 September 2020. Revised versions must be submitted by 1 October 2020.

Submission Details

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