Philip Smith

Comment on Fine, Harrington, and Segre/4. Cultural Systems, Distant Publics and the Mass Media



While useful in some settings, the symbolic interactionist approach to social life is limited by a number of theoretical presuppositions. It sees meanings emerging from the ground up and relentlessly insists on physical co-presence as the motor of social life. Any realistic understanding of the public sphere requires a different logic, one that can capture the power of speech acts relayed through mass communications to a more abstract, distant and general audience. These speech acts are constrained by overarching codes, narratives and myths. There is a pressing need for research agendas that connect situated face-to-face contexts of meaning production and reception with such a systemic and discursive understanding of the civil sphere.


  • civil sphere
  • mass media
  • symbolic interactionism
  • cultural theory
  • cultural codes


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