Humanities and the public sphere: A pragmatic perspective

Pragmatics and Society 7 (1):141-161 (2016)
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Abstract

This article starts from the observation of current changes in the nature of a globalizing public sphere for which older structural boundaries have lost much of their relevance. Though the public sphere has traditionally been a topic for social scientists, a redefinition in terms of the realm of publicly accessible meaning, and of struggles over socially and politically important meaning, necessitates a contribution from the humanities. In particular, linguistic pragmatics, providing tools for an analysis of the way in which explicit and implicit forms of meaning interact in the process of generating meanings, is argued to be a useful instrument. The argument is supported with an analysis of the differences in meaning landscapes that emerge even in different-­language versions of the ‘same’ text, illustrating how dependent publicly available meaning is on basic pragmatic processes. The article concludes that a maturing science of language use is therefore needed to understand variations in the accounts of social and political reality that people in a globalizing public sphere live by.

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