It is interesting to note that Habermas’ concept of ‘The Public Sphere’ (i.e. as a guiding force in socio-political dialogue) has an overlap with Lave and Wengers situated learning conceptualisation (in education), and specifically with regard to their idea of ‘Legitimate Peripheral Participation’ (LPP).
The LPP concept, I would argue, is the gateway to public-sphere control in the early 21st century. The legitimisation of participation in dialectic is mediated by the accessibility of entry into dialogue. Who determines entry? Who establishes agendas? Who controls communicative channels and their accessibility? The gatekeepers of capitalist thought.
Hence these ‘gatekeepers of the social order’ (often shadowy, mostly self-appointed, sometimes unrecognised) initiate the criteria that determine who-says-what-and-on-what-topics.
A good example would be our further education system. Increasingly the boundaries of dialogue in learning (and who takes part in it) have been hemmed in by a managerialist dictatorship of means-and-ends. Is there a ‘public sphere’ in education? No, not really. Who takes part in such dialogue? Those who are ‘legitimised’ by the financial and instrumentalist processes of institutions. What can be discussed? Those aspects of learning which confirm legitimacy… e.g. whatever the qualification and the quantifiable outcome system demands.
We seek to have an informed and progressive democracy, but the very functions of learning that should be facilitators of citizenship are doing the opposite: creating a world of simplistic, drone-like behaviour which lacks the critical faculty.
It’s only by being aware of this process, and wresting control over legitimacy and participatory systems, that true democracy is possible.