The main purpose of this article is to examine how Habermas’ account of the transformation of the public sphere is used in the study of political change in the Arab states of the Middle East. The study aims to demonstrate that while Habermas’ motif may provide several constructive pathways forward for the study of transformation in this regional context, its numerous shortcomings leave it susceptible to conceptual overstretch. With the aim of showing this, the article is divided into three sections. The first section shows how the concept has been applied. The second engages critically with the prominent account of the Arab public sphere by reflecting on (1) its methodological assumptions, (2) its empirical claims and (3) its own political role. The third section explores the shortcomings of Habermas’ account and how these present difficulties when making empirical claims about political action and transformation in the Arab states of the Middle East.
- Democratic theory