The Habermasian public sphere and the FMEB Commission
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The Habermasian public sphere and the FMEB Commission. The Commission – an engaged network of participative, critical thinkers ‘working in the spirit of intellectual and moral responsibility’ (FMEB Report,2000: xviii) raising questions and offering alternatives.

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The Habermasian public sphere and the FMEB Commission

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The habermasian public sphere and the fmeb commission

The Habermasian public sphere and the FMEB Commission

The Commission – an engaged network of participative, critical thinkers ‘working in the spirit of intellectual and moral responsibility’ (FMEB Report,2000: xviii) raising questions and offering alternatives.

The leaky boundary between the Commission and the New Labour government.

The publication and dissemination of the Report in a populist, mass mediated public sphere.

The Commission as a representation of a ‘counterpublic’ through its multicultural and intellectual public face and its offer of a critical counter-narrative of nation.


The habermasian public sphere and the fmeb commission

intellectuals in different guises play a crucial role in initiating dialogue and engaging the curiosity and passion of the public. Today that engagement is conspicuously feeble’ (Furedi, 2004:24).

If the public domain is today in trouble, it is because the kind of intellectual work which public intellectuals have performed in the past is less common than it once was and increasingly under threat (Gamble, 2004: 41).


The habermasian public sphere and the fmeb commission

In politics ‘who says’ is just as important as ‘what’ he says. Andrew Marr, Tom Nairn and others had written books with titles such as The Day Britain Died and TheBreak-up of Britain. They could get away with things we could not. Black and Asian intellectuals are subject to more stringent tests and are expected to stay within certain limits. Although the majority of our Commissioners were white and of impeccable liberal credentials, the fact that there were so many high-profile black and Asian intellectuals gave the impression that the Commission and its report had a distinctly minority orientation. This imposed intangible and subtle limits on what the report should and should not say – limits which it could transgress, as indeed it did, only at its own peril (Parekh, 2001: 9)


The habermasian public sphere and the fmeb commission

The report was the result of a determined intellectual effort on the part of the Commission to think afresh about the question of racial discrimination and disadvantage. The Commissioners had several long discussions among themselves and also with some of the finest minds of the country in the various national seminars organised by it… [It was] concerned not just to make practical recommendations but also to explore large theoretical issues’ (Parekh, 2001: 6. Emphasis added).


The habermasian public sphere and the fmeb commission

Shift an understanding of issues to do with Britain and race from a dualistic to a pluralistic perspective. From a black/white to a more plural perspective and then a more plural understanding of both British society and of the racism within it. I was expecting something that, if you like, would embody this hinge, this shift in thinking and would do it without a fire fighting agenda, because the other important reports that had shaped what we call ‘race relations’, or what we used to call ‘race relations’ in Britain have always been a response to a specific problem…so we had no one trigger. We weren’t reporting on a riot or police brutality or anything like that and it meant we could take a longer time, we could have a wide frame, bigger horizons, direction and I think that’s what we did (Commissioner. Interview, 8th July, 2003. Emphasis added).


The habermasian public sphere and the fmeb commission

SN: Was it [the Report] envisaged in the way that it turned out?

Commissioner: Yes we had a lot of long discussions at the beginning. Some of the policy areas kind of declared themselves – you have to have something on education, you have to have something on policing, you have to have something on welfare, you have to say something about legislation. So it wasn’t a mystery what the main headings in that second section were. But the real question, about which there was some tension in the Commission, was how that sat with the ambition to produce a thinking document and how that should enter the flow of the whole thing…therefore how should the report be shaped? Should it be one thing? Should it have a special theory section? (Commissioner. Interview, 27th November 2002. Emphasis added).


The habermasian public sphere and the fmeb commission

  • The ‘dangerousness’ and ‘volatility’ of race and nation discourses in the public sphere.

  • The ‘difficulties’ and ‘risks’ of intellectually entering the public sphere, heavily mediated by a powerful populist press.

  • The question of an ‘increased risk’ as to who is able to author critiques and challenges to consensual narratives of nation.


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