In search of the European Public Sphere: between normative overstretch and empirical disenchantment

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Series Details No.12, 2008
Publication Date 09/06/2008
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The attempt to pin down the constitutive elements of the European public sphere is typically marked by ambivalence between normative and descriptive elements. In normative terms, the European public sphere is identified through the standards which should be used to assess the legitimacy of European integration. In descriptive terms, the European public sphere is identified through the actors, institutions, and communicative processes which guide the practice of collective self-understanding of the Europeans. This article argues that the tension between normative standards and legitimating practice should be considered as constitutive for the emergence of a European public sphere. Against recent attempts to define the European public sphere in purely descriptive terms, this implies the need to re-introduce the normativity of the public sphere as part of the dynamics of an evolving communicative space in Europe. It is precisely this practice of legitimation and delegitimation that makes the European public sphere thinkable as a (still unfinished) project and that accounts for its dynamic expansion.

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