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Theoretical and practical influences of Habermas’s global academic best seller: structural transformation of the public sphere in the United States

Michael Hofmann (Florida Atlantic University Dorothy F Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, Boca Raton, Florida, USA)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 31 December 2020

Issue publication date: 4 May 2021




The purpose of this paper is to analyze the reception and impact of Jürgen Habermas’s global academic best seller in the USA between 1974 and 2018. It specifically addresses the consequences of the long delay in the publication of the English translation of Habermas’s 1962 public sphere concept until 1989 in the context of Habermas’s paradigm shift from the Kantian ideal of a participatory democracy to a systems-theoretical interpretation of deliberative democracy, which informs Between Facts and Norms (1992/1996).


This paper can be classified as a “conceptual paper” that draws on empirical research, namely, Adrian Rauchfleisch’s (2017) bibliometric co-citation analysis of two decades of public sphere research, which features a multi-dimensional scaling of these research communities based on the distance matrix of the co-citation network.


As the 22,000 scholarly citations for structural transformation as of April 2018 already indicate, this paper confirms in detail that Habermas’s original public sphere concept attracts significantly more academic interest on an interdisciplinary basis than Between Facts and Norms, which no longer pursues a critical theory of contemporary democracy. Instead, this shift toward a uniquely sophisticated theory construction in the realm of normativity produces a work in Rechtstheorie (Thomas McCarthy) that is by definition removed from political practice. The paper demonstrates that only the criteria developed in structural transformation can be applied to the analysis of constitutional crises in the USA.


This paper was researched and written solely by the author. All sources are clearly identified.



This journal article commemorates the 50th anniversary of the introduction of Habermas’s original public sphere concept into the curriculum of the Institute of Communication at the Free University of Berlin by Dieter Hirschfeld and Harry Pross. The author would like to thank Suhrkamp Publishing for granting permission to publish an English-language version of the underlying German-language book chapter in Habermas global – Wirkungsgeschichte eines Werks (stw 2279), edited by Luca Corchia, Stefan Mueller-Doohm, and William Outhwaite (2019).


Hofmann, M. (2021), "Theoretical and practical influences of Habermas’s global academic best seller: structural transformation of the public sphere in the United States", Kybernetes, Vol. 50 No. 4, pp. 955-968.



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