The Dewey-Lippmann debate today: Communication distortions, reflective agency, and participatory democracy

Sociological Theory 23 (2):156-178 (2005)
Abstract
In this article, I introduce the Dewey-Lippmann democracy debate of the 1920s as a vehicle for considering how social theory can enhance the empirical viability of participatory democratic theory within the current context of advanced capitalism. I situate within this broad theoretical framework the theories of Habermas and Dewey. In the process, I argue (a) that while Dewey largely failed to reconcile his democratic ideal with the empirical constraint of large-scale organizations, Habermas, in particular his work on the public sphere, provides an important starting point for considering the state of public participation within the communication distortions of advanced capitalism; (b) that to fully understand the relation between communication distortions and public participation, social theorists must look beyond Habermas and return to Dewey to mobilize his bi-level view of habitual and reflective human agency; and, finally, (c) that the perspective of a Deweyan political theory of reflective agency best furthers our understanding of potential communication distortions and public participation, particularly in the empirical spaces of media centralization and intellectual property rights
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