Political Ambivalence as Praxis: The Limits of Consensus in Habermas's Theory of the Public Sphere
This paper argues that ambivalence can serve as a proxy for consensus-based debates in public discourse as it allows for individuals to maintain flexible and analytic perspectives on matters that otherwise appear contradictory. In particular, an affirmative understanding of ambivalence will be presented to supplement the highly influential Habermasian approach by drawing from sociological theories of ambivalence found in the work of Simmel, Bauman and Kołakowski. While the theme of ambivalence is not completely absent from Habermas's work on the public sphere, it is typically described as a structural consequence of contradiction rather than a form of action that is capable of working with and around inconsistencies in ethics, knowledge and social values. This allows for participation to be sustained through contradiction, rather than being withdrawn in frustration, while also encouraging open-minded judgements capable of avoiding forms of fanaticism.