Investing in the Public Sphere: A Public Service Proposal Based on the Theory of Communicative Action for Mass Communication Research

Publication Date


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Arts in Communication



Major Advisor

Ed McLuskie


William G. Skillern


Ben L. Parker


Both “mainstream” political communication inquiry and critical communication research have treated the public as the audience for media rather than as an arena of political participation. The “political” aspect in mass media research tends to stress the transmission of political information via the media, with a primary objective being the structuring of media messages, such as for convincing an electorate. Both suggest methods and strategies for influencing various audiences through mass media. Although the objectives and goals that are conveyed by using those approaches can, in certain cases, be in favor of democracy and the search for the “common good” in the sense of trying to establish a political condition that, ideally, favors all citizens equally (Rousseau in Masters, 1968, p. 328), it is the consideration of the public primarily as a recipient of messages that tends to prevail. This thesis offers an alternative to the field’s tendency to emphasize such audience-centric conceptions of the public through an application of the participatory concept, “communicative action,” and its related notion, “public sphere.” As a re-examination of these concepts, the thesis argues for a conception of the “political” via an Austrian example of media policy with a concluding tentative recommendation for “public service” secured by juridical procedures. The purpose here is not to suggest that the Austrian modus vivendi regarding media policy be applied to the U.S. mass media system since there are differences both in the cultural and legal system which have to be considered. Rather, one avenue toward public participation via mass media shall be presented to encourage further research that elaborates a public service conception of communicative policy.

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