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Private sphere


Private sphere

The private sphere is the complement or opposite to the public sphere. The private sphere is a certain sector of societal life in which an individual enjoys a degree of authority, unhampered by interventions from governmental or other institutions. Examples of the private sphere are family and home.

In public-sphere theory, on the bourgeois model, the private sphere is that domain of one's life in which one works for oneself. In that domain, people work, exchange goods, and maintain their families; it is therefore, in that sense, separate from the rest of society.[1]


  • Shifting boundaries 1
    • Gender politics 1.1
  • Critical theory 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5

Shifting boundaries

The parameters separating public and private spheres are not fixed but vary both in (cultural) space and in time.

In the classical world, economic life was the prerogative of the household,[2] only matters which could not be dealt with by the household alone entered the public realm of the polis.[3] In the modern world, the public economy permeates the home, providing the main access to the public sphere for the citizen become consumer.[4]

In classical times, crime and punishment was the concern of the kinship group, a concept only slowly challenged by ideas of public justice.[5] Similarly in medieval Europe the bloodfeud only slowly gave way to legal control,[6] whereas in modern Europe only the vendetta would still attempt to keep the avenging of violent crime within the private sphere.

Conversely, in early modern Europe, religion was a central public concern, essential to the maintenance of the state, so that details of private worship were hotly debated and controverted in the public sphere.[7] Similarly, sexual behavior was subject to a generally agreed code publicly enforced by both formal and informal social control.[8] In postmodern society, both religion and sex are now generally seen as matters of private choice.

Gender politics

The private sphere was long regarded as women's "proper place" whereas men were supposed to inhabit the public sphere.[9][10][11] A distinct ideology that prescribed separate spheres for women and men emerged during the industrial revolution.[12][13]

During this period, the telephone has helped create a physical separation of women's private sphere and men's public sphere as it helped the isolation of the home and individual women within them. By having the telephone, it has created a sense of connection which allowed them to keep in touch with others, making them cope with the separation of private sphere easier. By having the telephone, it served as a distraction that allowed them to forget about the fact that they're only allowed to leave the house twice within three months which also helped increase the isolation of these housewives from the public.[14]

Feminist have challenged the ascription in a number of (not always commensurate) ways. In the first place, the slogan “the personal is political” attempted to open up the 'private' sphere of home and child-rearing to public scrutiny.[15] At the same time, there was a new valorisation of the personal - of experiential knowledge and the world of the body - as against the (traditional) male preserves of public speech and theory.[16]

All the while, the public sphere of work, business, politics and ideas were increasingly opened up to female participation.[17]

Critical theory

Martin Heidegger argued that it is only in the private sphere that one can be one's authentic self, as opposed to the impersonal and identikit They of the public realm.[18]

Richard Sennett however opposed what he saw as the Romantic idealisation of the private realm of intimate relations, as opposed to the public sphere of action at a distance.[19]

Deleuze and Guattari saw postmodernism as challenging the traditional split between private and public spheres, producing instead the supersaturated space of immediate presence and media-scrutiny of late capitalism.[20]

See also


  1. ^ Habermas, Jurgen; Thomas Burger trans., Frederic Lawrence Ass. (1989). The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Massachusetts: MIT Press.  
  2. ^ M. I Finley, The World of Odysseus (1967) p. 69 and p. 91
  3. ^ J. O'Neill, Sociology as a Skin Trade (1972) p. 22-3
  4. ^ J. O'Neill, Sociology as a Skin Trade (1972) p. 23-4
  5. ^ R. Fagles trans. Aeschylus: The Oresteia (1977) p. 21-2
  6. ^ G. O. Sayles, The Medieval Foundations of England (1967) p. 109 and 234
  7. ^ J. H. Elliott, Europe Divided (1968) p. 93-5
  8. ^ F. Dabhoiwala, 'The First Sexual Revolution' The Oxford Historian X (2012) p. 41-6
  9. ^  
  10. ^ Tétreault, Mary Ann (2001). "Frontier Politics: Sex, Gender, and the Deconstruction of the Public Sphere".  
  11. ^ May, Ann Mari (2008). "Gender, biology, and the incontrovertible logic of choice". The 'woman question' and higher education: perspectives on gender and knowledge production in America. Cheltenham, UK; Northampton, MA:  
  12. ^ Wells, Christopher (2009). "Separate Spheres". In Kowaleski-Wallace, Elizabeth. Encyclopedia of feminist literary theory. London, New York:  
  13. ^ Adams, Michele (2011). "Divisions of household labor". In Ritzer, George; Ryan, J. Michael. The concise encyclopedia of sociology. Chichester, West Sussex, U.K.; Malden, MA:  
  14. ^ Lana F. Rakow, Women and the Telephone: The Gendering of Communications Technology (1988) p. 209-210
  15. ^ J. Childers/G. Hentzi ed., The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism (1995) p. 252
  16. ^ Mary Eagleton ed., Feminist Literary Criticism (1991) p. 6
  17. ^ Susan Faludi, Stiffed (1999) p. 9 and p. 35
  18. ^ J. Collins and H. Selina eds., Heidegger for Beginners (1998) p. 64-9
  19. ^ Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man (1976)
  20. ^ M. Hardt/K. Weeks eds., The Jameson Reader (2000) p. 329-30 and p. 280

Further reading

Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (1958)

Zizi A. Papacharissi, A Private Sphere (2013)

Alan F. Westin, Privacy and Freedom (1967)

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