According to Heiskala (1990), competing epistemological frameworks prevalent before Haberman, generally revolved around structural functionalism and action theory.
[Through his work, Habermas] tried to fit together social structural functionalism (Parsons in particular) and action theory (Mead and phenomenology in particular) by creating the distinction between life system and the life world to correspond to them in social reality [and highlight] the distinction between the perspective of the external observer and the perspective of actor to correspond to their theoretical ways of study. 1
By integrating structure and action through communication and other factors in the public and private realm, the current paper will illustrate significant elements of Habermas's works in order to demonstrate its' profound impact on social theory that continues to this very day.
We begin the critical review by summarizing elements found in the public sphere. Habermas makes the powerful linkage between action and structure explicit through his notion of "mutual infiltration of public and private spheres" (1989, pp. 141-151). Here, Habermas suggests that it is the bourgeois, rather then any other class, that influences structures composing state and society. Legal, political, social and other specialized elements of public life come to fore as they impact the constructions of society in powerful but distinct ways. The fundamental separation of state and society in the bourgeois world was the result of a variety of phenomena within society, including legal, political, and social aspects. The interaction of these brought about a fundamental separation within various spheres of life. Specifically, the lack of political dominance also transformed the economic phenomenon and manifestation of production.
In the legal and economic field however, the public and the private realms gradually became equal, with the state no longer dominating many aspects of life and production. The public and the private could not, however, remain separated as a result of civil society, as conflicts of interest often made it necessary for formal regulatory interventions to take place. Habermas refers to this as neomercantilism, which means that the political public sphere integrated with the interests of civil society in terms of interventionism. It is therefore a type of post-separation reintegration of the private and the public, but without any particular dominance of one over the other. The economic world begins to merge with the political world, where the state and business shared political and economic power reciprocally. By necessity, these circumstances stimulated state intervention [public sector] in business activities [private sector], in order to assure that certain interests were not threatened. The purpose of interventionism in this regard was to maintain equilibrium within the system, whereas in the past it had been to maintain the power of the political elite. Habermas argues that under new systemic institutional arrangements, more political and legal power is being reciprocally exchanged and reinforced among these public authorities than ever before.