Reading Popular Music Festivals through the Lens of Public Sphere

Devpriya Chakravarty


The core idea of Jürgen Habermas public sphere has to do with forming a public made of private individuals who participate in civic dialogue on issues of common interest. A public so formed generates public opinion through the formation of a communicative network. This essay argues that the communicative network of the public sphere which is known to be strengthened by its cultural connects through press and mass media can also be shaped by popular music culture like hip-hop, rock or electronic dance music.  A cultural public sphere is comprised of numerous networks of mass and popular culture which help in shaping the participants’ articulations of politics, both public and personal. Cultural public sphere marks the entry of affective modes of communication as effectual participation in the politics of everyday life.  In this article, the author tries to position the role of popular music cultures in the formation of a public sphere by studying three distinct forms of popular music- hip-hop, rock and electronic dance music. The idea is to understand the role of the communities formed due the affective mode of popular music and the efficacies granted to these social groups in the larger context of a public sphere. Another important dimension of studying these forms of popular music is to understand music festivals as active sites for the realisation of a public sphere. Drawing from Durkheim’s idea of how festivals harness within them a ‘collective effervescence’ which he found to be an integral element to aid in instilling feelings of solidarity in a community, this essays tries to locate the popular music festival sites within the framework of a cultural public sphere by conducting an in depth literature review on how the traditional public sphere is critiqued from the vantage point of a cultural public sphere; how popular culture texts and practices inform these critiques and finally how music festival sites act as public spheres. 

Full Text:



Anderson, B. (2016). Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. London: Verso.

Arnett, R. C. (1986). Communiaction and community: implications of Martin Buber's dialogue. USA: Southern Illinois University.

Attali, J. (1985). Noise: The Political Economy of Music. USA: Manchester University Press.

Audience Insights Group. (2015). Electronic Music,Technology and Youth Culture. SFX Entertainment, Inc.

Baudrillard, J. (1983). In the Shadow of Silent Majorities, or, the End of the Social. (P. Foss, J. Johnston, & P. Patton, Trans.) New York: Semiotext(e).

Benjamin, W. ([1936/1973a]). The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. In W. Benjamin, Illuminations. London: Fontana.

Benjamin, W. (1973b). Understanding Brecht. London: New Left Books.

Bennett, T. (1983). Text, readers, reading formations. Literature and History, 9(2).

Born, G., & Hesmondhalgh, D. (2000). Western Music and Its Others: Difference, Representation, and Appropriation in Music. USA: University of California Press.

Bourdieu, P. (2010). The forms of capital. In I. Szeman, T. Kaposy, I. Szeman, & T. Kaposy (Eds.), Cultural Theory: An Anthology (pp. 81-94). New-Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

Brecht, B. (1978). On Theatre. (J. Willett, Trans.) London: Methuen.

Calhoun, C. J. (1992). Habermas and the Public Sphere. In C. J. Calhoun (Ed.), Introduction: Habermas and the Public Sphere (pp. 1-48). Cambridge: MIT Press.

Costa, X. (2002). Festive traditions in modernity: the public sphere of the festival of the‘Fallas’in Valencia (Spain). The sociological review, 50(4), 482–504.

Dahlgren, P. (1995). Television and the Public Sphere. London and Newbury Park: Sage.

Durkheim, E. (1995 [1912]). The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Glencoe: Free Press.

Englert, B. (2008). Popular music and politics in Africa – some introductory reflections.

Fabiani, J.-L. (2011). Festivals, local and global Critical interventions and the cultural public sphere. In L. Giorgi, M. Sassatelli, & G. Delanty (Eds.), Festivals and the cultural public sphere (pp. 92-107). London and New York: Rutledge.

Falassi, A. (1987). Festival: Definition and Morphology. In A. Falassi (Ed.), Time out of Time: Essays on the Festival. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Fraser, N. (1990). Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy. Social Text, 25(26), 56-80.

Frith, S. (1996). Music and identity. In S. Hall, & P. D. Gay (Eds.), Questions of cultural identity (pp. 108-127). London: Sage.

Frith, S. (1996). Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Habermas, J. (1987a). The Theory of Communicative Action-The Critique of Functionalist Reason (Vol. 2). Cambridge: Polity.

Habermas, J. (1989 [1962]). The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere – An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. (T. Burger, & F. Lawrence, Trans.) Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hall, S. (2008). Encoding/Decoding. In D. M. Meenakshi Gigi Durham (Ed.), Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks (p. 800). John Wiley & Sons.

Hall, S. (2009). The rediscovery of ideology: the return of the repressed in media studies. In J. Storey (Ed.), Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader. Harlow: Pearson Education.

Hebdige, D. (1979). Subculture: the meaning of style. New York: Methuen & Co.

Hermes, J. (2006). Hidden debates: rethinking the relationship between popular culture and the public sphere. Javnost-the public, 4, 27-44.

Hohendahl, P. U. (2002). The theory of public sphere revisited. In U. Böker, & J. A. Hibbard (Eds.), Sites of Discourse, Public and Private Spheres, Legal Culture (pp. 13-25). Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Horkheimer, M., & Adorno, T. W. (2002). The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception. In M. Horkheimer, T. W. Adorno, & G. S. Noerr (Ed.), Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments (E. Jephcott, Trans., Vol. 5, pp. 94-136). Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Kellner, D. (1995). ‘Intellectuals and New Technologies. Media, Culture & Society, 17(3).

Kellner, D. (1995). Media Culture—Cultural Studies, Identity and Politics Between the Modern and the Postmodern. London: Routledge.

Ku, A. S. (2000). Revisiting the Notion of “Public” in Habermas's Theory—Toward a Theory of Politics of Public Credibility. Sociological Theory, 18(2), 216–240.

McCarthy, T. (1978). The Critical Theory of Jurgen Habermas. London: Hutchinson.

McGuigan, J. (1996). Cultural policy studies. In J. McGuigan, Culture and the public sphere (p. 28). London: Routledge.

McGuigan, J. (1996). Culture and the Public Sphere. London: Routledge.

McGuigan, J. (2005). The cultural public sphere. European Journal of cultural studies, 8(4), 427–443.

Negt, O., Kluge, A., & Labanyi, P. (1988). The Public Sphere and Experience. Selections, 46, 60-82.

Negus, K. (1997). Popular Music in Theory: An Introduction. USA: Wesleyan University Press.

Peddie, I. (Ed.). (2006). The resisting muse: popular music and social protest. Farnham, England, UK: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.

Rasmussen, T. (2009). The Significance of Internet Communication in Public Deliberation. Javnost, 16(1), 17-32.

Sassatelli, M. (2011). Urban festivals and the cultural public sphere Cosmopolitanism between ethics and aesthetics. In L. Giorgi, M. Sassatelli, & G. Delanty (Eds.), Festivals and the Cultural Public Sphere (pp. 12-28). London and New York: Routledge.

Simmel, G. (1991 [1896]). The Berlin Trade Exhibition. Theory, Culture and Society, 8(3), 119-123.

Singer, M. (1986). The cultural pattern of Indian civilization. The Far Eastern Quarterly, 15(1).

Storey, J. (2015). What is popular culture? In J. Storey, Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction (7th ed.). London & New York: Routledge.

Street, J. (2012). Music and Politics. USA: John Wiley & Sons.

Tylor, E. B. (1871). Primitive Culture: Researches Into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art, and Custom (2 ed.). Michigan: The University of Michigan.

Warner, M. (2002). Publics and counterpublic. Quartely Journal of speech, 88(4), 413-425.

Williams, R. (1963). Culture and society. Harmondsworth: Penguin.


  • There are currently no refbacks.