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The Making of the Public Sphere: Class Relations and Communication in the United States
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The Electronic Journal of Communication / La Revue Electronique de Communication
******* HARDT *********** EJC/REC Vol. 6, No. 2, 1996 ******


Hanno Hardt
University of Iowa

     Abstract.  The paper identifies and briefly
     discusses the social, economic, and political
     constituencies of a cultural history of
     communication and participation, particularly
     under the influence of nineteenth century
     industrialisation and capitalism, which created
     the structural conditions that helped shape
     contemporary considerations of access and a public
     sphere in the United States.


     The idea of the public sphere has occupied
communication research and media studies in the United
States at least since the early work of JĀrgen Habermas
which is represented by the publication of _The Structural
Transformation of the Public Sphere_ (issued in Germany in
1962, but not published in the United States until 1989).
Its impact replaced older notions of the public and renewed
interest in conceptualisations of public opinion that
contributed to explanations of the political communication
process.  It is still particularly attractive to
reformminded American social scientists in pursuit of
democratic ideals and media scholars in search of
alternatives to a commercial system of public communication.

     Past discussions of culture, media and society have
yielded a specific, class-conscious understanding of the
public sphere that marginalised or excluded working-class
interests.  Thus, questions of participation in the
bourgeois public sphere, or about the historical conditions
of a working-class public sphere, or the ways in which both,
middle- and working-class experiences contribute to the
making of an American culture are rarely at issue.  Rather,
conceptualisations of the public sphere in American cultural
or communication studies represent yet another example of a
specific, middle-class perspective on the making of a
theoretical framework.  The following observations address
the historical conditions of constructing the American
public sphere as a middleclass project.

     This essay deals with the problem of the public sphere
as a bourgeois conceptualisation and suggests that the
failure of communication studies to consider the notion of
class as a historical condition of the American social
structure perpetuates and reinforces a dominant middleclass
perception of media, work, and relations between media and
society that marginalises working-class concerns and
distorts the democratic vision of the public sphere.

     The reception of Habermas' speculative notion of the
public sphere grew into an intellectual cottage industry
that produced a range of books and articles about the
possibilities of a re-conceptualised, modern public sphere
(Calhoun 1992; Fraser 1989, 1990; Hohendahl 1979; Peters
1993) which became the cornerstone of reformist writings on
social relations in society and on the need for addressing
the relationship between media and society (among others,
Curran 1991, 1991a; Dahlgren 1987; Garnham 1990; Golding and
Murdock 1991; Keane 1991; Kellner 1990; Lichtenberg 1990,
Peters and Cmiel 1991).  Many of these writings contained a
new urgency that was based on the realisation that the
spectre of political impotence, social marginalisation, and
increased alienation, with their roots in a loss of access
to power and participation in public affairs, was somehow
related to the functioning of communication and the role of
media in contemporary industrialised societies.  Indeed,
Habermas was celebrated as a potential source of explanation
when it was argued that a "more catholic conception of
(mass) communication, appreciative of its gloriously raucous
as well as soberly informative qualities might make
Habermas's theory of communication even more useful for
theorists of the democratic role of the media" (Peters 1993,
567).  Such theorists, however, also seem to submit without
further discussion to the fact that Habermas addressed the
rise of the public sphere in bourgeois society without
acknowledging the presence of class conflicts or the
possibility of an alternative workingclass public sphere,
which arose with the proliferation of organised labour,
union activities, and the collective social life of the
working class in the United States, or elsewhere.  In fact,
the subtitle of his book (1989) suggests that the "Inquiry
into a Category of Bourgeois Society" becomes the only
category in subsequent discussions of the public sphere, in
which the identification of the bourgeois public sphere
through institutional sources of public opinion, like media,
and the political realm, in general, purposefully restricts
discussions about the public discourse of society.

     On the other hand, it becomes quite appropriate for any
extended discussion of communication in bourgeois society
that media remain a legitimate concern in conceptualisations
of the public sphere, when ownership and control of media
technologies in the hands of corporations continue to be
guided by industrial interests.  Applying the idea of the
"public" to media processes or practices becomes problematic
and challenges the meaning of democracy and guarantees of a
"public" discourse in the United States.  For instance,
Giles Gunn suggests that "even when the term 'public' can
overcome the onus of privilege and exclusion it sometimes
acquires, it nevertheless always implies selectivity."
Indeed, "its monolithic nature is a myth and, like other
mythic ideas, is highly susceptible to manipulation" (Gunn
1992, 216- 217).  For instance, because it may interfere
with middle- class interests, as often argued by media
critics, the term does not seem to raise more fundamental
questions of workingclass participation.

     Such an oversight seems to relate to the failure of
many contemporary writings to locate their analytical
insights about the nature of the public sphere and political
realities within a concrete historical moment.  The meaning
and content of the public sphere rely on a specific social
and cultural history of society; particularly, since the
historical conditions of an enlightened European, or
especially German BĀrgertum and its experiences with
independence and freedom during the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries, were different from social and
political developments in the United States, where
production and economic growth evolved almost undisturbed by
European traditions, like class consciousness and labour
relations.  For instance, in his preface to the American
edition of _The Condition of the Working Class in England_
in 1844 Friedrich Engels observes that

     American public opinion [in 1885] was almost
     unanimous on this one point:  that there was no
     working class, in the European sense of the word,
     in America; that consequently no class struggle
     between workmen and capitalists, such as tore
     European society to pieces, was possible in the
     American republic; and that, therefore, socialism
     was a thing of foreign importation, which could
     never take root in American soil (Engels 1989,

     Indeed, there have been widespread discussions
concerning class and class differences in the United States
during the nineteenth century with the growing realisation
of social and economic differences in society; at the same
time, there was an understanding of the unique American
situation, in which ideas of upward mobility and cooperation
between ownership and wage earners diluted the original,
European tradition of class distinctions.  More
fundamentally, there was no clear agreement over the meaning
of class, according to Martin J. Burke, who concludes his
study of "contested interpretations" of class and class
relations with the observation that "When, where, how, and
why Americans wrote and spoke about classes involved
institutional and ideological exercises of cultural and
political power," resulting in diversity and disagreement
(Burke 1995, 165).

     In fact, the fundamental difference between
developments in the United States and Europe manifests
itself in the shifting relationships between state and
society, that is, between an increasing encroachment of the
state on society and a growing disengagement of society from
the state.  These were American and European experiences,
respectively, which would produce different conditions for
public discourse and result in quite particular definitions
of the public sphere.  In addition, notions of community
surface in American social and political theory and provide
yet another, more specific relationship between private and
public practices based on knowledge and communication; for
instance, the work of John Dewey (1927), attempts to
overcome problems of industrialisation and urbanisation
through a return to issues of communication and
participation, which inform the ideas and ideals of a Great
Community.  Consequently, distinct understandings of the
role of individualism and personal choice, the intervention
and privilege of industrial concerns, and subsequent
definitions of participation helped shape a different notion
of the public sphere in the American political practice.  At
the same time, these were pure reflections of American
middle class concerns, expressions of optimism, or of a
utopian spirit that characterise progressive social thought
earlier this century.  There was no room for an independent
working class culture, although it existed throughout this
period of American history.

     Thus, the present dilemma of conceptualising an ideal
public sphere is linked to an understanding of theoretical
concepts like communication, participation and democracy and
their origins in the cultural, political, and economic
history of the United States.  By exploring their specific
historical conditions, questions about the American public
sphere as a bourgeois construction of the contemporary
cultural reality will emerge to challenge the conceptual
premises of media studies.

          Technology, Democracy and Participation

     In the field of media studies, ideas of access to the
means of communication which inform definitions of
participation, and the rise of the media in their social and
political functions that describe practices in the public
sphere are based on comprehending the historical
relationship between technology and democracy, in
particular.  The United States holds the distinction of
having invented, mastered, and propagated the merger between
technological advancement and democratic practices long
before other, particularly European societies, had fully
grasped the meaning of this relationship during the 1920s.
"Mass" communication and the impact of popular culture
played a major role in the negotiation of the social and
political definition of progress and its circulation in
American society, while the European confrontation with the
machine was also articulated in the intellectual context of
merging (oppositional) political goals and artistic
expressions.  Thus, considerations of media technologies
also belonged to the cultural sphere.

     The American success of integrating technology into
society became a model for Europeans as early as the 1920s,
only to be interrupted by World War II.  Radio, film, and
the automobile, in particular, expanded the intellectual and
physical horizons of individuals and liberated them from the
tyranny of localism.  This process was accompanied by the
notion of "Americanism," which was an acknowledgement of the
successful application of technology to the making of a
modern version of democracy.  It allowed for freedom of
movement, speech, and beliefs within a social, economic, and
political framework that was marked by the results of
industrialisation, which symbolised an auspicious shift of
economic power.  Thus, the success of Americanism and
Fordism was also an indication of a historical epoch in
which relations of production changed, based on "an inherent
necessity to achieve organisation of a planned economy,"
which would replace the old vestiges of feudalism in Europe,
according to Antonio Gramsci (1971, 279).  Such observations
during the 1920s were not only a typical consequence of the
celebration of technological advancements; they were also
observations about the process of industrialisation and the
rise of a commercial mentality which ultimately accounted
for major changes in the appearance, structure, and
experience of American society, including a growing working
class.  But the preoccupation with technological innovations
and the celebration of industrialisation also displaced the
concerns of the working class over the control of the means
of production.  Instead, much was made of the potential
liberation of working men and women and their mobility under
improved economic conditions.

     Thus, the evolution and confirmation of private
interests energised the development of the press, and the
subsequent emergence of new public media (e.g., film, radio,
and television) was typically identified with the commercial
rather than the social or cultural realm of society which
remained a source of intellectual and critical thought about
the allegiances and responsibilities of the media.  Indeed,
the press prospered as a private enterprise which had joined
the marketplace and operated, much as any other industrial
concern, for profit and expansion.  Most importantly,
however, the industrialisation of communication was a
middleclass success which catered to middle-class
aspirations, tastes, and material preferences and served as
a model for subsequent developments of societal
communication in the United States and elsewhere.

     By the beginning of the twentieth century, the United
States had moved ahead of its European competitors in the
production of steel and oil which, together with the
automobile industry a few years later, became of central
importance to the economy.  The growth of cities, fuelled by
prospects of real prosperity and the potential of moving up
into a middle- class existence, contributed to the
widespread optimism among people that anyone could make it
in America.  At that time, Americans opted for economic
prosperity, and capitalism became the preferred context for
the rapid and uncontrolled industrialisation of society.
Although a rising wave of social criticism articulated the
consequences of the American dream, individuals did not
argue with success, especially when industrial development
created affluence and satisfied the dreams of millions of
new and old immigrants, many members of the working class
shared conservative ideals of middleclass existence.  Some
joined the middle class, while others are still preoccupied
with the dream after two or three generations of hard work
and rising frustration.  This view of American mobility
became the official ideology which relied on economic and
political power to bring about democratic solutions to
relations among people.  Aronowitz (1992, 25) observes that
the "American popular, as well as sociological, imagination
remains solidly infused with the idea that America is set
off from all other societies, virtually, by the
opportunities it affords for vertical mobility."  While one
result has been the emergence of status as the popular and
social scientific category of location, its economic and
political consequences have also produced definitions of
communication and participation that are closely tied to the
dominance of the middle class.

          The Rise of the Middle Class in America

     During the nineteenth century, middle classness became
the essence of American society; it has remained a
formidable cultural territory, the root cause of anxiety
among politicians and the permanent goal of each cycle of
immigrants and the otherwise disadvantaged and forgotten
people.  The potential of economic success and personal
advancement, and the promises of middle-class status, became
a feature of political and commercial crusades that
penetrated religious groups, ethnic minorities, and urban
and rural communities alike.

     It was a remarkable crusade of commercial interests,
guided by the desire for stability and security which
characterises middle-class existence.  Although the same
middle class earlier had recognised the power of
revolutions, it was not to turn into a revolutionary class
itself.  Instead, it shared the values of commerce, that is,
devotion to property, acquisition of wealth, and the
maintenance of social status and mobility.  Government
policies supported these activities and, generally,
protected the interests of capitalism, the "foster child of
the special interests," according to Woodrow Wilson, who
also identified the "big manufacturers, the big masters of
commerce, the heads of railroad corporations and of
steamship corporations" as the "masters of the government"
(Wilson 1913, 57-58).  Their success, however, was not only
based on the political practices of government, but also on
the positive predisposition of American workers towards

     Observations from abroad were particularly clear on
issues related to the working-class experience in the United
States, because commerce and industry could safely ignore
the class consciousness of the working class as an obstacle
on the path to profits and economic expansion.  Werner
Sombart, a German political economist, observed in 1906 that
"emotionally the American worker has a share of capitalism:
I believe that he loves it.  Anyway, he devotes his entire
body and soul to it.  If there is anywhere in America where
the restless striving after profit, the complete fruition of
the commercial drive and the passion for business are
indigenous, it is in the worker, who wants to earn as much
as his strength will allow, and to be as unrestrained as
possible" (Sombart 1976, 20).  Another German social
theorist, Wilhelm H. Riehl, suggested in his 1861 work on
civil society that theoretical considerations of working
class existence are limited to the "Old World."  He
concluded, that once "a proletarian arrives in the New
World, where there is as yet no historic society in the
process of disintegration, he abandons all theoretical
questions about this social existence and once more simply
attempts to exist unreflectively _ at least if he does not
intend to go hungry" (Riehl 1990, 255).  Such sentiments of
the working class, however, were in contrast to the total
exploitation of the worker, who, according to Sombart (1976,
112), was "lacerated in the harness of capitalism or has to
work himself so quickly to death as in America."

     Upton Sinclair, a contemporary American observer,
formulated his own assessment of the American middle class
in terms of "an organised system of repression" and suggests
that "in the world of ideas it has the political platform,
the school, the college, the press, the church _ and
literature.  The bourgeois controls these things precisely
as he controls the labour of society, by his control of the
purse-strings" (Sinclair 1907, 252).  These institutions
produced a crusade that was meant to reinforce the ideas of
the dominant class as universal ideas among people, who were
engaged in their own drive for a better life, additional
opportunities for personal growth, and middle-class

     At the same time, however, the rise of modernism in the
United States had created a generation of intellectuals and
artists who offered creative alternatives to the authority
of conventions with their acceptance of alienation as a
condition of existence on the margins of bourgeois society
(Bradbury and McFarlane 1976; Crunden 1993).  Yet, there was
no lasting effect of such an elitist stance, which
considered politics suspect and reality debatable.  Instead,
the press as a middle- class institution, conquered the
public arena and celebrated the authority of the fact; it
responded to its own perception of the power of public
opinion and collaborated in the boosterism of American
values by reflecting middle-class beliefs and reinforcing a
middleclass perspective on the world without significant
critical opposition.  Consequently, the interests of
business penetrated the working-class consciousness with
assertions about commerce and industry as genuine sources of
personal prosperity and a good life.  In any event,
participation in consumption promised status and commercial
propaganda effectively dispersed potential resistance to
consumerism as a way of life.

     For instance, advertising in the form of colourful
trade cards depicted the lifestyle of a middle class and
celebrated technological progress as personal achievement.
Sombart (1976, 112), who addresses the psychological
influence on the worker to think that "he was not an enemy
of the capitalist system but even a promoter of it," argues
that inducements were provided by a system of financial
rewards and personal acknowledgements for contributions to
the improvement of industrial processes.  Likewise, Gramsci
(1971, 286) suggests later in the 1920s that the change to a
"new type of man suited to a new type of work and productive
process" was still "at the stage of psychophysical
adaptation to the new industrial structure, aimed for
through high wages."

     These observations also foreshadowed the potential
selfdestruction of the American working-class consciousness;
it negated itself by rejecting the conditions under which it
was formed to embrace technology as an expression of
progress only to lose its identity and sense of place when
work became an externalised function.  Among the results of
this process of transformation was a form of participation
that was entirely based on an individual contribution, if
not sacrifice of knowledge and working skills to serve
technological or industrial progress and industrial
efficiency without the experience of work as personal
involvement.  It was grounded in a historical situation in
which, according to Gramsci (1971, 286), "American workers
unions are, more than anything else, the corporate
expression of the rights of qualified crafts and therefore
the industrialists' attempts to curb them have a certain
'progressive' aspect."  Consequently, there was neither
empowerment nor control over the means of production.
Instead, participation evolved into a social practice that
was rooted in the ideas of capitalism which directed the
material interests of workers along a path of economic and
social inequality.  Max Weber once noted that although
individual conduct is governed not by ideas, but by material
and ideal interests, "very frequently the 'world images'
that have been created by 'ideas' have, like switchmen,
determined the tracks along which action has been pushed by
the dynamic interest" (Weber 1946, 280).  Indeed, that
"dynamic interest" has continued to guide social and
political thought which remains preoccupied with the fate of
the middle class as the ultimate fulfilment of the American
promise.  It produced a social and cultural context for
definitions of equity, fairness, or participation that now
effect contemporary issues of democratisation and,
therefore, readings of the potential of a political public
sphere without regard for the existence of the working
class, which represents the concerns of race, ethnicity, and

     Since the late nineteenth century, when a climate of
economic expansion, industrial growth, and personal
entrepreneurship predominated in the United States, the
interests of business and industry have prevailed over
expressions of social consciousness and public welfare to
dictate content and direction of the American civilisation.
The realm of culture, specifically the field of media
practices, contributed through accommodation and compromise
to the success of commercial interests.  In fact,
"industrial culture rests on the industrialisation of
culture," according to Norman Birnbaum (1969, 113), who also
suggests that "a system of symbols, of consciousness, of
sensibility, of preconscious and unconscious meanings, has
been assimilated to the imperatives of machine production,
market organisation, and bureaucratic power."

     For instance, industrialisation in the United States
was accompanied by a surrender of political power which
changed into the hands of business and was administered by
politicians, whose allegiance to progress and economic
strength outweighed social considerations; few contemplated
the rules of capitalism which rewarded economic success, but
responded to social concerns with paternalistic gestures.
Thus, problems such as unemployment, welfare, and even
poverty and illness, were recast in terms of personal
shortcomings rather than being considered the result of
societal problems by those entrenched in the traditional
attitudes of a business community, in which the strong
survived and the weak were cast aside.  Consequently, the
idea that poverty was a sign of idleness, even a sin, was
the reflection of a popular conservative notion that haunted
nineteenth century America; it continued into this century,
recently visible in the media coverage of political
reactions to social legislation, like social security and
health care, despite the advancements made in social
legislation and welfare.  It reflects a deeply held belief
in the American spirit, which replaces ideas of class and
class consciousness with a doctrine of equal rights and
equal opportunity.

     The result was a discernible blind spot in American
public life, where the response to the need to assist others
in the pursuit of employment, education, or good health, was
reduced to a litany of private goals or expectations of the
dominant representations of the middle class, including
personal qualifications.  Progressivism recognised
inequality, yet continued operating within the political and
economic system and was content with recognising and
deploring aberration.  There was a growing reluctance, if
not refusal, to share any burden or responsibility in the
interest of the common good.  In fact, the idea of the
common good seemed to hold up best in the context of
national crises or emergencies, called upon by political or
spiritual leaders, when a way of life was threatened and
authoritative assurances were sought to protect the social
and economic status quo of the middle class.  Under these
circumstances, public willingness to surrender rights and
responsibilities to a central institution, e.g., the state
or the church, increased in defence of the dominant class

     Despite declining political power, the middle class
became the major target and primary reference group for
commerce and industry.  Buying power and the potential of a
sizeable market for consumer goods guaranteed yet another
form of participation in the affairs of modern society, this
time through the shared experience of consumption.
Marketing and advertising created and appealed to the need
for selfconfidence, physical wellbeing, and mobility in a
consumer society, while politics offered a rationale for
consumption as participation in the political process.  Both
appealed to feelings and implied that individual happiness
and the wellbeing of the national economy were identical
goals.  Again, the notion of participation emerged in this
context as an invitation to share in the values of a free
market ideology and to identify personal aspirations with
the political goals of society.

       The Press and the Industrialisation of Culture

     The activities of the American popular press were
located at the centre of these developments which involved
the interests of a growing middle class at the expense of
other concerns involving the working class, for instance.
Since the press represents the possibilities of
enlightenment and continuous education about society,
including class relations and conflicts, its practices are
significant historical markers in tracing the nature of the
public sphere and its inclusiveness of social and cultural
diversity.  Thus, by the end of the nineteenth century the
expansion of the newspaper business marked the conclusion of
a major shift from a political press, with its peculiar,
often personal agendas, party loyalty, and individual
editorial leadership to a market orientation, which focused
on the commodification of news, supported business interests
of their owners, and reflected the structural changes of
industrialisation that had led to commercial consolidation.
The future of the twentieth century press was marked by a
succession of mergers and closures of newspapers and the
rise of the "onenewspaper town" in the United States.  A. J.
Liebling (1975, 60) talks about the "end-of-a-newspaper
story (which) has become one of the commonplaces of our
time, and schools of journalism are probably giving courses
in how to write one:  the gloomfraught city room, the
typewriters hopelessly tapping out stories for the last
edition, the members of the staff cleaning out their desks
and wondering where the hell they are going to go."  It was
a significant change to a "new" journalism which, according
to Schudson (1992, 153), became the "antithesis of
association or community;" it also narrowed the potential of
the public sphere and strengthened a press of middle- class
interests, less involved in the political discourse of the
community of readers, and more committed to strategies of
profitability and economic survival.  The neglect of the
community at large at the expense of class differences,
ethnic diversity, social conflict, and the potential of
widespread participation in public discourse created a
press, which is more committed to popularity than to

     For instance, James Lemert (1984) has explained that
the contemporary commercial press avoided "mobilising
information" that directs attention to controversial
activities, while presenting patriotic and unifying
material.  In addition, the American press was plagued by
the homogeneity of the intelligentsia, which directed and
identified with media practices that reflected their
ideological uniformity, according to Noam Chomsky (1979, 9),
who had earlier determined that "the mass media are almost
one hundred percent 'state capitalist'."  This left many
readers _ and therefore parts of the community _ in search
for ways to locate and participate in social or political
practices that were controversial and unpopular by the
standards of the media and challenged the established
political system.  The problems of the working class
vis--vis commercial or industrial interests, the changing
relations of production, and the dilemma of organised labour
remain major unexplored topics of social and political
significance.  Thus, while the press confirmed and
reinforced its representation of commercial interests, the
influence of the total community was further diminished by a
prevailing social and political structure that sought to
relegate public interests to issues of consumption, making
them middle-class concerns.  By doing so, the media excluded
the working class, which is typically not conceptualised in
terms of consumption, but distinguishes itself socially and
culturally through other values that emerge from its sense
of community, like family relations.

     Therefore, the problem of access to the public sphere,
that is, the lack of diverse opinions and perspectives and
the failure of a responsive press, cannot be solved by
appealing to what has been called "public" journalism.
Without freedom of individual practices, the power and
responsibility of professional journalists is severely
restricted; they are not representatives of diversity and
were never independent historical agents of change in the
American media system.  Instead, they have been subordinate
to editors or managers of the press and lack autonomy.
Perhaps they share a position of modern intellectuals which
Gorz (1976) has defined as belonging neither to the working
class nor to the power structure, but to the dominant
capitalist system.  The ownership of the press, on the other
hand, prevails with an autonomous understanding of freedom
that is based on invoking property rights in pursuit of its
own goals; it controls not only content but throughout the
history of American media has interfered with the
organisation and activities of newsworkers.  Thus,
workingclass interests surface in the organisation of media
activities and become a relevant topic of social and
historical research.

     More specifically, the conditions of contemporary
newsroom work are by and large an outcome of the history of
labour-management relations in the industry.  The
organisation of workers and the history of labour unions in
the United States provide an excellent case study of the
erosion of political power and the demise of a public role
for the working class.  As early as the nineteenth century,
the power of organised labour dissipated or was redirected
to help accomplish the process of industrialisation.
Consequently, the goals of the business community became the
goal of the working class, whose sense of solidarity
dissolved, while its fading class consciousness was replaced
by a belief in the prosperity of a middle-class existence.
The latter became a public objective of securing what
Gramsci (1971, 12) has called a "spontaneous" consent by the
masses "to the general direction imposed on social life" by
those representing the dominant group.

     Thus, from the very beginning, labour disputes were
never widely supported actions; they were seen as the local
or regional response to a specific issue, or the expression
of a grievance, rather than the ideological battle over
control of the workplace, the rights of workers, and the
responsibilities of employers.  There were strikes, there
were committed union members, and there were concessions.
However, the story of unions was rarely a story of
workingclass victories; it still is, instead, a story of
accommodation and compromise at the expense of freedom and
control over their own destiny, when the promise of
affluence became a more important event than the long-range
consequences of industrialisation for workers and their
union activities.

     The press had no effective labour representation of its
work force, except among printers.  Journalists were treated
as newsworkers, whose middle-class background or ambitions
were deflected despite promises of professionalism, and
ultimately squashed by the social and economic realities of
newswork.  They were producers of news stories, with serious
constraints on the use of language, style, and content of
their reports.  Newsworkers had virtually no chance to act
freely and independently in the typical fashion of
intellectual workers.  Even those who organised in the
American Newspaper Guild formed their union outside the
ideological goals of the working class.  Daniel Leab (1970)
reports about the reluctance of journalists to join a trade
union or be identified with a nonprofessional workforce,
although forming a professional organisation seemed a
reasonable goal for most editorial workers.  A more radical
view, like Sinclair's (1936, 421) idea of "one organisation
of all men and women who write, print, and distribute news
to take control and see to it that the newspapers serve
public interests" was initially rejected.

     By and large, newsworkers remain utterly dependent upon
media management and create a paradox in American journalism
by working within a definition of freedom of the press that
belonged to press owners rather than to the independent and
professional practices of journalists.  Instead, newsworkers
face an anti-labour and pro-business climate that silences
their own voices, but rewards compliance with the rules of
corporate journalism and their submission to public
interests claimed by the press.  Such interests, for
instance, are the interests of the business community which
lead to public discussion of union activities by openly anti
union newspapers.  News reports focus on violence rather
than on issues and on cases of unlawful behaviour and loss
of control, rather than on the orderly process of civic
protest.  Unfortunately, there is no history of a major
labour or leftist press in the United States capable of
using its own political interests to balance the views of
the business elites and refute the non partisan claims of
the mainstream media.  On the other hand, there is a
distinguished history of an organised left-wing critique of
the social and political conditions of American society.
Publications, ranging from the _Daily Worker_ to journals
like _The Liberator_, _The New Masses_, _The Nation_, _The
New Republic_, and _The Partisan Review_, especially during
the 1920s and 1930s, and _The National Guardian_, since the
late 1940s, reflected the intellectual and political
commitment of American writers to the socialist cause.  Max
Eastman's challenge to writers characterise the spirit of
this involvement in the cause for justice and freedom.
"Your place ... is with the working people in their fight
for more life than it will benefit capital to give them;
your place is the working-class struggle; your word is
Revolution" (Aaron 1961, 41).

     Yet, agonising over the conditions of the working class
did not produce immediate changes, nor was the mainstream
press attracted by a radical view of society and the
conditions of working people.  Indeed, antilabour attitudes
among newspapers remained wide-spread, making Liebling
(1975, 170) worry "for the newspapers' sake, about their
custom of ruling, in every strike, that labour is
wrongheaded, as if they were a panel of arbitrators
appointed by a High Power."  The result has been a public
image of organised labour and union activities that fits the
narratives of commerce and industry in their efforts to
discredit and reject unionisation.  It has been labelled an
un-American practice, with particular references to
foreignborn labour leaders and identified with the
activities of anarchists or the Communist party.  For
instance, Engels (1989, 495) realised by the end of the
nineteenth century that the predominance of foreign-born
socialists among them was unacceptable to Americans and
suggested that they "become out and out American" in order
to succeed in uniting the American working class.

     Patricia Sexton has chronicled the periods surrounding
both World Wars, when labour unions and radical left-wing
parties became a favourite target for raids, arrests, and
deportations despite a lack of legal authorisation.  She
concluded that the "excesses of the Russian revolution had
frightened the world, but nowhere else were the reactions of
business elites used with such force and abandon against the
whole spectrum of political opinion on the noncommunist
labour-left" (Sexton 1991, 138).  The conditions for leftist
political opinions did not improve after World War II, when
the entrance into the cold war era led to a further erosion
of civil liberties.  Indeed, the failure of socialism in the
United States has been noted by authors like Joseph
Schumpeter (1942), David Potter (1954), and Daniel Bell
(1960) who encounter a prevailing positive attitude towards
capitalism among the working class and its alignment with
capitalist interests throughout recent history.

          The Industrialisation of Public Language

     Issues of control were not only defined in terms of
political or commercial domination of media structures or
properties, but also involve language and the construction
of reality.  The development and use of a specific language
by the media and the interpenetration of language and
experience in the presentation of reality are significant
events in the making of dominant world views.  The
commodification of information and entertainment by the
press and the rise of advertising with its
consumptionoriented language, accompanied and encouraged, if
not strengthened, by the educational process, led, in due
course, to the production of a public language that is plain
and uncomplicated.  It is easily grasped, and appeals to the
simple mind which still accommodates the limited language
abilities of the foreign-born population.  Its common
vocabulary reinforces the sense of shared ideas or
collective experiences of reality and increases the
acceptability of a particular world-view among readers.
This process involves the observation, accommodation, and
cooptation of public speech and has resulted in the
production of a mediated public language which facilitates
understanding the world among the middle class, whose
language occupies the pages of the press.  The particular
vocabulary of the media caters to an ideological position;
the result has been described by Howard Zinn, who observes
that "Words like violence, patriotism, honour, national
security, responsibility, democracy, freedom have been
assigned meanings difficult to alter" (Zinn 1973, 239).

     In the 1990s this language continues to dominate the
public discourse and reinforces the use of familiar
expressions, which help define social, economic and
political realities for media audiences whose representation
occurs in the selection and use of language by the media.
In this case, participation occurs through familiarity with
a language that reveals and obscures, is intelligible and
deceptive, and ultimately advances the ideas of those in
control of the media.  This is yet another form of
participation which accommodates the social and political
status quo through language, and therefore, through "one of
the most important means of initiating, synthesising, and
reinforcing ways of thinking, feeling, and behaviour which
are functionally related to the social group" (Bernstein
1973, 63).

     The language of newspapers not only became a technique
of directing and channelling social communication, it also
constituted an attempt to arrange reality in ways that
reflected the ideological position of the press.  In this
context, new forms of narration, such as cartoons,
photographs, colour, and large headlines which privileged
immediacy often replace textual explanations.  The result is
the perfection of an efficient language of social
communication that attempts to be unambiguous, accessible,
and easy to reproduce in the private realm, in politics, and
in advertising.  It is also a language of control, in which
single words or phrases and stereotypes replace the
difficult, speculative, and creative narrative that reflect
the complexity and diversity of everyday life.  But the
emergence of a public language which Herbert Marcuse (1964,
103) describes as a ritual-authoritarian language, is
troublesome because it becomes "itself an instrument of
control even where it does not transmit orders but
information; where it demands not obedience but choice, not
submission but freedom.  This language controls by reducing
the linguistic forms and symbols of reflection, abstraction,
development, contradiction; by substituting images for

     Yet, the reduced or impoverished vocabulary of the
press constitutes a necessary and sufficient preparation for
entering into the public discourse.  Consequently, newswork
represents the efficient use of language; it is not only
employed to accelerate instruction or information, it also
facilitates the training and replacement of newsworkers.
Therefore, the language of the press also emerges as a tool
of subordination with which newsworkers are separated from
their work by managerial decisions about the definition of
journalistic practices.

     The result is not only the control of professional
expression and the loss of power through the alienation of
work, but also a homogeneity of popular culture and the
promotion of a form of cultural identity based on the
sophistication of the public discourse.  While the former
process involves the question of identity and the value of
work, the latter conditions involve the problems of status
and personal power.  The outcome of these changes, that is,
the separation from work and the acquisition of cultural
capital, constitutes yet another condition of participation
grounded in the social and economic circumstances of

     In either case, however, the industrial revolution of
the nineteenth century dismissed its children into a society
that was shaped by structural changes that had been
introduced by the process of industrialisation, which,
according to Rodgers (1974, 233) "is essentially a story of
values, not inventions."  The success of the story, however,
demanded persuasive narration and a sympathetic audience;
the former appeared in the form of editors, like E L.
Godkin, while the latter consisted of the leadership of well
educated members of the middle class, for whom laissezfaire
and a free market were essential for the survival of
society.  In the process, according to John Morton Blum
(1967, 27-28), industry and "the structure it imparted to
society, threatened the satisfaction of persisting
aspirations for individual success and freedom.  While
capitalism adapted to the demands of a massive market, its
institutions acquired privileges and immunities which
earlier generations had designed for the benefit of the
common man."  While both the common individual and the
industrialist yearned for prosperity and stability, it was
the world of business and industry that secured its own
place through consolidation, while individual attempts to
organise their collective interests remained only partially
successful.  When government was advised to help restrain
dissent and protect property, it was directed against those,
whose fortunes did not coincide with the growth of
industrialism.  Among them were members of the working class
in the urban centres of America with great hopes for their
own future in the ranks of a growing middle class.

            Technology, Democracy and Alienation

     This process of urbanisation and industrialisation was
accompanied by the process of alienation, however, as the
pressure of work performance and the sense of personal
isolation began to effect the climate of society.  Earlier
Karl Marx (1975, 324-334) had provided a classic observation
of the estrangement of workers and of their production,
which moves from economic factors into the realm of the
social world, where the manifestations of selfestrangement
are found in the relationship between the individual, others
and nature.  The effects of the selfestrangement of
individuals, who are directed by their own action and its
consequences, and who experience themselves and others as an
abstraction, constitute one of the central issues of
capitalism.  Thus, alienation included the denial of one's
own history; individual experiences became objectified
rather than social or cultural encounters.  Erich Fromm
(1955, 129) suggests that an individual's sense of self in
industrialised societies "does not stem from his activity as
a loving or thinking individual, but from his socio-economic
role," and he suggests that his "sense of value depends on
his success:  on whether he can sell himself favourably,
whether he can make more of himself than he started out
with, whether he is a success."  Since the result of
alienation is a growing sense of failure in the face of
increasing pressures of the workplace, for instance, or
psychological discomfort and sickness, the consequences of
industrialisation became transparent and problematic in a
society that was fixed on the idea of work.  In fact, the
problem was diagnosed as excess labour, and books like
George Beard's American Nervousness (1881) blamed the
conditions of the nineteenth century, particularly its
highpressure education, overspecialisation of labour, speed
of work performance, and general tempo of the times for the
neurological and physical complaints of a generation of

     Rodgers (1974, 106) describes this phenomenon and
concludes that the "long campaign against overwork served as
the intellectual side to a conspicuous expansion of free
time and free-time activities" which suggested the demotion
of work from an essential to an instrumental virtue.  The
result was a new outlook in which play and leisure time
became work, and work was play.  Such changes were
accompanied by increasing appeals to diversion through
entertainment, particularly with the rise of the tabloid
press, dime novels, film, radio, and finally television and
personal computers, which have become the most successful
instruments of recreation and distraction in the 1990s.
More specifically, after completing a major phase of
industrialisation during the 1910s, the problem of work as a
social process had been successfully identified with the
idea of collective responsibility and as a necessary and
sufficient condition for economic advancement, happiness,
and well-being, when the notion of leisure became just
another aspect of every-day existence.  The merger of work
and play into a new philosophy of American life became part
of a middleclass ideal.  At the same time, the liberation
from toil and the potential of less work and more leisure
time was an equally appealing alternative for the working

     Further mechanisation and the rise of technology were
accompanied by shorter work days, better pay, and the
prospects of conspicuous consumption, which was identified
by Thorstein Veblen, among others, with the nature of the
leisure class, and therefore, with notions of freedom.  As
Dallas Smythe (1994, 237) suggests, they were also
accompanied by the realisation that the "uses of technique
(in the sense of machines of ever-growing sophistication) in
capitalism have been linked with alienation of people, with
specialisation of functions of people, and with hierarchical
arrangements of people in bureaucratic structures."

     The process of alienation continued with the
replacement of human contacts by media environments.  In
fact, the notion of individualism was easily shifted to
become part of the vocabulary of commerce and industry,
where individualism had more to do with the subjugation of
others than with social or private concerns.  This process
redefined the understanding of freedom and individualism in
a consumer society, when participation was legitimised by
commercial practices.

     The press participated in shifting attention from
production and work to entertainment by preparing its
readers to accommodate leisure time as yet another
opportunity for consumption.  The media acquired a major
stake in the commercialisation of leisure and became less
interested in the pursuit of social needs than in the
profitability of their products, e.g., the success of dime
novels, tabloid newspapers, comics, video, radio, or
television, and most recently computer games.  Adorno
addresses the impact of the culture industry on leisure, the
commodification of leisure, and the transformation of the
profit motive onto cultural forms; he suggested that the
culture industry proclaims, "you shall conform, without
instructions to what; conform to that which exists anyway,
and to that which everyone thinks anyway as a reflex of its
power and omnipresence.  The power of the culture industry's
ideology is such that conformity has replaced consciousness"
(Adorno 1975, 15-17).

     A changing attitude towards work and the development of
new labour-saving technologies has encouraged individuals to
access the media for purposes of information and education
as well as distraction, play, and recreation and encouraged
the routinisation of leisure time.  But the media provide
access only for those, whose prosperity, education, and
class status ensured regular use, while those with less
economic and educational capital are either restricted in or
deprived of their utilisation of the media.  Consequently,
the accessibility of increasingly sophisticated information
and entertainment is accompanied by a process of separation
of individuals as participants in the affairs of state and
community.  It has become a disturbing feature of late
capitalist societies in which a generous supply of
information and entertainment competes for the limited
financial and educational resources of audiences.  Under
such conditions print media are becoming the domain of a
new, affluent and literate middle class, while electronic
media, especially radio, television, and video, serve the
needs of an impoverished majority.  The creed of equal
opportunity crashes into the state of personal
qualification, including financial solvency.

     Throughout these developments of the social
environment, ranging from the industrialisation of work to
the institutionalisation of leisure, the issue of class
remains buried in the margin of the American culture.
Communication research, even in its most modern or
postmodern cultural studies mode, continues to
operationalise media-and-society problems with an implied
middle-classness reminiscent of a traditional, sociological
approach to class as status in society.  There is no
sustained interest in a working-class culture per se, or its
real or potential contribution to the breadth and diversity
of the social environment.  Since the definition of the
American public sphere has been conditioned by a dominant
middle-class perception of society, questions of
communication and media in society have been confined to
bourgeois concerns rather than liberated to include
workingclass issues of representation.  As a result, it is
quite possible that recent forays by communication studies
into issues of gender, race, and ethnicity have been based
on typical middle-class anxieties or perceptions of civic
duties and responsibilities that are liberal/progressive
reactions to social and economic conditions of society,
rather than on political considerations of class and class


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Author Information:

Hanno Hardt is Professor of communications at School of
Journalism, University of Iowa, Iowa City, and Faculty of
Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana, Kardeljeva pl.
5, 1001 Ljubljana.
                      Copyright 1996
   Communication Institute for Online Scholarship, Inc.

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