READINGS:

Asen, Robert & Brouwer, Daniel C. “Introduction: Reconfiguration of the Public Sphere.” Counterpublics and the State. Ed. Robert Asen & Daniel C. Brouwer. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 2001. 1-27
In the introduction of the book they edited, Asen and Brouwer identify and explicate three key moves in public sphere theory: the shift from the bourgeois public sphere to the multiplicity of the public sphere, the move to loosen borders and appreciate the permeability of borders, and the move to reconsider separations between states and publics (p.6). To support their claim, they draw on theories of public sphere and counterpublics from various authors, including Dewey, Habermas, Felski, and Fraser. What “counter” about counterpublics for them lies in the group identity of counterpublic agents and in topics that have been introduced into wider public agendas through counterpublicity (p.8-9). “Counterpublics often encounter the state as one of their wider and most important publics. They approach the state in the form of social movement protest, demonstrations, demands for greater participation, or all of these. States themselves often express interest in counterpublics…. Whether episodically or enduringly, openly or secretly, counterpublics and states encounter each other in complex, multiform relations” (p.18).

Furthermore, they argue that based on different case studies in the book the relations between counterpublics and states are inflected variously by inequities in power and resources, by competing claims about moral authority, by historical relations and critical memory, by perceived conditions of safety and danger, and by two related phenomena, New Communication Technologies (NCTs) and globalization (p.21).

Keywords: public sphere, counterpublics


Warner, Michael. “Chapter One: Public and Private.” Publics and Counterpublics. New York: Zone Books, 2002. 21-63

In this chapter, Warner analyzes the complex notions of public and private in relation to gender and sexuality. According to him, “Any organized attempt to transform gender or sexuality is a public questioning of private life, and thus the critical study of gender and sexuality entails a problem of public and private in its own practice” (p.31). Furthermore, he problematizes the feminist idea of “the personal is political,” and states that different views (the political critique of personal life and the identitarian critique of political life) of that idea are often confusingly described as identity politics (p.34). To understand how the notion of public and private come to be imagined as a binary in need of demolition, Warner goes back to examine how the liberal tradition perceived both of these notions.

In liberal thought, rights are vested in private persons and the state has limited power (p.39). This distinction has always been in tension with other views, notably with civic humanism since Machiavelli (p.43). “Feminist such as Pateman and MacKinnon, for example, point out that the liberal protection of the private from public interference simply blocked from view those kinds of domination that structure private life through the institutions of the family, the household, gender, and sexuality” (p. 43). Kant, Locke and later Habermas formulate a different face of liberalism’s distinction between public and private. Both Kant and Habermas articulate a key distinction between public and political. “What belongs to the polity is by definition of public relevance. But Kant recognizes that there are publics, such as the reading world, that do not correspond to any kind of polity. They enable a way of being public through critical discourse that is not limited by the duties and constraints of office, or by loyalties to a commonwealth or nation” (p.45).

In addition to examining different concepts of private and public, Warner also discusses the differences between public and counterpublics, drawing on in particular from Habermas’ analysis of public sphere. According to Warner, “Counterpublics are, by definition, formed by their conflict with the norms and context of their cultural environment and this context of domination inevitably entails distortion. Mass publics and counterpublics, in other words, are both damaged forms of publicness, just as gender and sexuality are, in this culture, damaged forms of privacy” (p.63)

Keywords: public, private, the liberal traditions, counterpublics


Warner, Michael. “Chapter Two: Public and Counterpublics.” Publics and Counterpublics. New York: Zone Books, 2002. 65-124

In chapter two, Warner defines what public means. He does it by first distinguishing the difference between the public and a public. The public, according to him, is a kind of social totality (p. 65). A public also has a sense of totality, bounded by the event or by the shared physical space. The differences between the two are not always sharp, but what is more important for Warner is the idea that that both kind of public comes into being only in relation to texts and their circulation (p.66). Furthermore, he says that the idea of a public, as distinct from both the public and any bounded totality of audience, has become part of the common repertoire of modern culture. “Everyone intuitively understands how it works” (p.67). The aim of this chapter, therefore, “is to bring some our intuitive understanding into the open in order to speculate about the history of the form and the role it plays in constructing our social world” (p.67).

For Warner, A public is (1) self-organized. It exists by virtue of being addressed. (p.67) (2) It is a relation among strangers. A public unites strangers through participation alone, at least in theory (p.75). (3) The address of public speech is both personal and impersonal (p.76). We know that it was addressed not exactly to us but to the stranger we were until the moment we happened to be addressed by it. The benefit in this practice is that it gives a general social relevance to private thought and life (p.77). (4) A public is constituted through mere attention. (5) A public is the social space created by the reflexive circulation of discourse. Anything that addresses a public is meant to undergo circulation. Circulation also accounts for the way a public seems both internal and external to discourse, both notional and material (p.91). In order for a text to be public, we must recognize it not simply as a diffusion to strangers but also as a temporality of circulation. The key development in the emergence of modern publics was the appearance of newsletter and other temporally structure forms oriented to their own circulation. They developed reflexivity about their circulation through reviews, reprintings, citations, controversies. These form single out circulation both through their sense of temporality and through the way they allow discourse to move in different directions (p.95). (6) Public acts historically according to the temporality of their circulation. Publics have an ongoing life: one doesn’t publish to the once for all. It’s the way texts circulate, and become the basis for further representations, that convinces us that publics have activity and duration. A text, to have a public, must continue to circulate through time, and because this can only be confirmed through an intertextual environment of citation and implication, all publics are intertextual, even intergeneric (p.97). (7) A public is poetic world making. Public discourse says not only “Let a public exist” but “Let it have this character, speak this way, see the world in this way” (p.114).

By addressing what publics mean, Warner also identifying the meaning of counterpublics. He describes counterpublics as “a dominated groups aspires to re-create itself as a public and in doing so finds itself in conflict not only with the dominant social group but with the norms that constitute the dominant culture as public” (p.112). Counterpublics are “counter” to the extent that they try to supply different ways of imagining stranger sociability and its reflexivity; as publics, they remain oriented to stranger circulation in a way that is not just strategic but constitutive of membership and its affects. Most importantly, they acquire agency in relation the state (p.124).

Keywords: public, counterpublics

Hauser, Gerard A. & McClellan, Daina Erin. “Chapter Two: Vernacular Rhetoric and Social Movements: Performance of Resistance in the Rhetoric of the Everyday. ” Active Voice: Composing a Rhetoric of Social Movements. Ed. Sharon McKenzie Stevens & Patricia Malesh. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 2009. 23-46

Hauser and McClellan argue for the need to pay “greater attention to the vernacular rhetoric that occurs among social actors who are part of a movement” (p.25). Especially since in the communication tradition of rhetoric, “studies of social movements mostly have focused on the discourse of leaders, on single events, or on movement strategies” (p.25). By ignoring the voices of rank-and-file and privileging the privileged voices, scholars are in risk of painting a skewed picture of the public sphere. Moreover, they miss resistance found in seemingly mundane expression, they ignore Bakhtinean-like dialogizing exchanges between the dominant and dominated within and across classes, and they do not see rhetorical performances in their own right. Lastly, “ignoring rank-and-file voices deflects attention from the hidden transcripts of resistance developed in hush harbors and the underground that later puncture the patina of the official realm as public expressions of discontent” (p.25)
For Hauser and McClellan, an adequate theory of vernacular rhetoric must address “not only public opinion formation, but also speak to issues of meaning formation capable of upholding the status quo while allowing for resistant rhetorics to emerge. Such theory must include four major characteristics to account for the production of rhetorically salient meaning: (1) polyvocality, which makes it possible for vernacular discourse to (2) appear under the surface –not always in full view of the “official discourse, where it can (3) perform an interrogation of “official” discourse in ways that challenge or resist it, and thus (4) perform power in mundane, often unnoticed, ways” (p.30).
Keywords: social movement, vernacular rhetoric,

Q & A

PART A: SMALL GROUP DISCUSSION

I. On Asen and Brouwer: Which (whose) definitions of public(s) and counterpublic(s) do they rely on. What do they have to say about “private” and “privacy?” What questions/concerns underscore Asen and Brouwer’s understanding and interrogation of publics and counterpublics?

Asen and Brouwer utilize these following definitions of public(s) and counterpublic(s):
  1. Dewey: Public for him is an ephemeral phenomenon built through collective perception. Dewey’s pragmatic orientation led him to see the conditions and forms of community life in social action. Some human acts produced consequences that extended beyond the parties directly involved in the action, and the “public” arose in the perception by affected others of these indirect consequences. (p.1)
  2. Habermas: As a historical concept, the bourgeois public sphere describes the emergence in civil society of a realm in which citizens came together as private persons to form a public that, acting in an advisory capacity, debated the activities of the state. Bourgeois subjectivity arose from a world of letters to assume a political form. As a critical concept, the bourgeois public sphere signifies an open forum of debate and an egalitarian community of citizens implicit in the practice of the bourgeoisie and explicit in their justifications of the public sphere. Three qualities characterize this critical public sphere: access is guaranteed to all citizens; citizens debate openly; and citizens debate matters of general interest. Bourgeois ideology regarded actual exclusion from the public sphere to be warranted by a principle of publicity that, in turn assumed that educated and propertied persons were best-able to advance the general interest. (p.4-5)
  3. Felski: She describes counterpublic spheres as critical oppositional forces that seek to disrupt the homogenizing and universalizing processes of a global mass-communication culture that promotes an uncritical consumerism. Counterpublic spheres voice oppositional needs and values not by appealing to the universality of the bourgeois public sphere, but by affirming specificity of race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or some other axis of difference. (p.7)
  4. Fraser: She identifies counterpublics as “parallel discursive arenas where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counterdiscourses to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests, and needs.” Once formed, counterpublics enable their constituents to engage in communicative processes beyond the supervision of dominant groups. These definitions open up to the study of counterpublics to a vast array of associations, marginal populations, social movements, and coalitions. For both Fraser and Felski, the emancipatory of counterpublices emerges in the dialectical movement of withdrawal and reengagement with wider publics. (p.7)

On the idea of public and private, Asen and Brouwer write that they are not fixed, content-specific categories that structure the public sphere prior to discourse. Rather, “public” and “private” emerge in social action and dialogue even as collectively held conceptions of each shape the conditions of their emergence. (p.10)

Below are questions/concerns that underscore Asen and Brouwer's understanding and interrogationf publics and counterpublics:
1. What is public and what is "counter" about counterpublic?
2. What is public sphere or more specifically how does Habermas conceptualize public sphere? What are the weaknesses? How do other scholars criticize his concept?
3. How can we rethink the public sphere more inclusively without abandoning its promise of a critical publicity?
4. What are the important developments in public sphere theory?
5. How do counterpublics and states encounter each other? Can we even talk about publics and counterpublics without reference to the state?
6. How do New Communication Technologies (NCT) and globalization engage with the idea of public(s) and counterpublic(s)?
7. Last but not least: how do we engage public sphere studies at the intersection of theory and practice?

II. On Warner (Chapter I): How are public and private distinguished and defined? What definitions/perceptions are associated and/or forwarded by which theorists, under what circumstances?

According to Warner, like those of gender the orientations of public and private are rooted in what anthropologists call habitus: the conventions by which we experience, as though naturally, our own bodies and movement in the space of the world. This makes both ideas hard to challenge (p.23-24). Moreover, throughout the Western tradition, private and public have been commonly and sensibly understood as distinct zones. Modern culture has redrawn the spatial distinction, adding new layers of meaning to the term “public” but preserving the idea of physical boundaries (p.26). The relation of public to private can take any of the following forms, such as:

Public
Open to everyone
Accessible for money
State-related; now often called public sector
Political
Official
Common
Impersonal
National or popular
International or universal
In physical view of others
Outside the home

Private
Restricted to some
Closed even to those who could pay
Nonstate, belonging to civil society; now often called private sector
Nonpolitical
Nonofficial
Special
Personal
Group, class, or locale
Particular or finite
Concealed
Domestic

It is important to note that none of these terms has a sense that is exactly parallel to or opposite of private. None are simple oppositions, or binaries. Because contexts overlap, most things are private in one sense and public in another (p.30)

Public & Private in Feminist Theory: The women’s and gay movements represented group who were by definition linked to a conventional understanding of private life –gender roles, sexuality, the home and family. They were public movements contesting the most private and intimate matters. Second-wave feminism argued that the distinction (of public and private) was virtually synonymous with patriarchy. Male was to public as female was to private.

In the U.S it was largely in the contexts of feminist agitation –especially over birth control and reproductive freedom—that privacy came to be fully recognized as a domain of Constitutional law. These initiatives of the women’s movement, and the understanding of public and private implied by them, enabled a significant expansion of the liberal welfare state into new areas of social life.

The Liberal Tradition: In liberal thought, private persons, no longer defined by privation or powerlessness, had become the proper site of humanity. They possessed publicly relevant rights by virtue of being private persons (p.39). This liberal idea goes hand in hand with capitalism. Adam Smith lent powerful support to the idea that economic life, as a realm of private society, should be kept free from state or public interference (p.40). Meanwhile, the state was evolving into a modern bureaucracy, with its normative distinction between the public function of office and the private person of the officeholder.

The Public Sphere:
Kant: He emphasis on the different publics to which thought can be relevant, ranging from inner freedom to domestic assemblies, commonwealths, cosmopolitan society, the transnational public of scholars, and even “the entire public of the reading world.” For him, some publics are more public than others. With this conception, Kant articulates a key distinction between public and political. He recognizes that there are publics, such as the reading world, that do not correspond to any kind of polity. They enable a way of being public through critical discourse that is not limited by the duties and constraints of office or by loyalties to a commonwealth or nation (p.45)

Habermas: He brings Kant’s ideas to our modern society and shows that bourgeois society has always been structure by a set of ideals that were contradicted by its own organization and compromised by its own ideology. Through a historical shift, a public that “from the outset was a reading public” became “the abstract counterpart of public authority” and “came into an awareness of itself as the latter’s opponent, that is, as the public of the now emerging public sphere of civil society.” The public in this news sense, in short, was no longer opposed to the private. It was private. The public sphere is “a category of bourgeois society” not just because its member are mostly bourgeois but also because the reorganization of society around the institutions of public criticism was one of the means by which bourgeois society came into being, conscious of itself as “society” (p.48). The important point for him is that the emancipatory potential of the public sphere was abandoned rather than radicalized and that changing conditions have now made its realization more difficult than ever. Habermas stresses especially two such conditions: the asymmetrical nature of mass culture, which makes it easier for those with capital or power to distribute their views but harder for marginal voices to talk back; and the growing interpenetration of the state and civil society, which makes it harder to conceive of the private public sphere as a limitation on state power. These tendencies amount to what Habermas calls a “refeudalization” of the public sphere. (p. 49-50)

Counterpublics
A counterpublic according to Warner maintains at some level, conscious or not, an awareness of its subordinate status. It is usually related to a subculture, but there are important differences between these concepts. A counterpublic, against the background of the public sphere, enables a horizon of opinion and exchange; its exchanges remain distinct from authority and can have a critical relation to power; its extent is in principle indefinite, because it is not based on a precise demography but mediated by print, theater, diffuse networks of talk, commerce, and the like.

Arendt: For Arendt public and private refer less to the norms of gender that to the different conditions for action that define humanity. For those who think that gender and sexuality are defined through action in relation to others, and that they can be made subject to transformation for that reason, Arendt can be read as prescribing what Bonnie Honig calls “an agonistic politics of performativity” (p.58). Against the current of her time, in which privacy and personal life came to be viewed as the realm of individuality and freedom, Arendt sees both freedom and individuality in the world-making public activity of the polis, because it is a common framework of interaction that is needed to allow both a shared world of equals and the disclosure of unique agency. The public that Arendt values so much is the scene of world making and self-disclosure; it is therefore to be distinguished both from the prevailing system of politics and from any universalist notion of rational debate. It is a political scene, necessarily local because the self and the shared world disclosed through it emerge in interactions with others. (p. 59)

Reading “the personal is political” with an Arendtian understanding of the political entails the working assumption that the conditions of gender and sexuality can be treated not simply as the given necessities of the laboring body but as the occasion for forming publics, elaborating common worlds, making the transposition from shame to honor, from hiddenness to the exchange of viewpoints with generalized others, in such a way that the disclosure of self partakes of freedom (p.61).

III. On Warner (Chapter 2): How are publics and counterpublics distinguished and defined? What definitions/perceptions are associated and/or forwarded by which theorists, under what circumstances?

Look at the summary on Warner and the answer on Warner (Chapter 1) above.

PART B: LARGE GROUP DISCUSSION


I. Gather and discuss the various definitions of private, public(s), and counterpublic(s) from the readings. In what ways do distinctions between private/public privilege (and/or glorify) public over private? Private over public? Explain?

In the past, based on liberal tradition, the U.S society privileged private over public. In liberal thought, private persons, no longer defined by privation or powerlessness, had become the proper site of humanity. They possessed publicly relevant rights by virtue of being private persons (Warner, p.39). This liberal idea goes hand in hand with capitalism, which later became the economic foundation of modern western society. Capitalism favors the idea that economic life, as a realm of private society, should be kept free from state or public interference (Warner, p.40). Meanwhile, the state was evolving into a modern bureaucracy, with its normative distinction between the public function of office and the private person of the officeholder.

In the U.S it was largely in the contexts of feminist agitation –especially over birth control and reproductive freedom—that privacy came to be fully recognized as a domain of Constitutional law. These initiatives of the women’s movement, and the understanding of public and private implied by them, enabled a significant expansion of the liberal welfare state into new areas of social life.

The idea of bringing private matters to public attention is to redefine what is appropriate and what is not appropriate for private life. We agree that the privilege (of private over public or vice versa) can oscillate based on what is being argued and whose approach we are using to frame our analysis.

II. Define identity politics and relate this phenomenon to the rise of counterpublics(s) theory. In what ways do counterpublics affirm “the personal as political?” In what ways might counterpublics extend the personal beyond the political and seek power and reform in the socio-cultural collective? What might such activity look like? What is the desired result?

We define identity politics as identity based on class, gender, race and sexual orientation. A counterpublic according to Warner maintains at some level, conscious or not, an awareness of its subordinate status. He describes counterpublics as “a dominated groups aspires to re-create itself as a public and in doing so finds itself in conflict not only with the dominant social group but with the norms that constitute the dominant culture as public” (p.112). Counterpublics are “counter” to the extent that they try to supply different ways of imagining stranger sociability and its reflexivity; as publics, they remain oriented to stranger circulation in a way that is not just strategic but constitutive of membership and its affects.

Reading “the personal is political” with an Arendtian understanding of the political entails the working assumption that the conditions of gender and sexuality can be treated not simply as the given necessities of the laboring body but as the occasion for forming publics, elaborating common worlds, making the transposition from shame to honor, from hiddenness to the exchange of viewpoints with generalized others, in such a way that the disclosure of self partakes of freedom (p.61). Counterpublics position as a dominated groups, thus give ways for identity politics, supplying different ways of imagining what it means to be women, blacks, poor, etc. Social movements such as abolition, labor, suffrage, antiracism, and most recently: occupy Wall Street are examples of what counterpublics look like.

During our class discussion we raised this question: Can one talk about public and counterpublic without relating it to politics? Even when we asked who the audience are (whether the onlookers or the state) it is hard not to relate the onlookers to the state. One counterpublic that we could think of that is not related to the state is the vegan movement.

III. Share your “Occupy” vernaculars and explain how these images/quotes/frames act as vernacular rhetorics in the “Occupy” movement. How do these vernaculars suggest that “the personal is political?” In what ways might the 99% be acting as a counterpublic and/or renegotiating and/or illuminating perceptions of public and private? In what ways might this be problematic? Can we say that 99% of the population is a counterpublic? If so, on what grounds? And to what ends? If not, then how might you frame this collectivity and this social movement?

PHOTO: Occupy Wall Street protestors march towards Times Square the day after they successfully resisted a potential eviction from their camp in Zuccotti Park, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011, in New York.
PHOTO: Occupy Wall Street protestors march towards Times Square the day after they successfully resisted a potential eviction from their camp in Zuccotti Park, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011, in New York.
external image gty_occupy_wall_Street_union_thg_111007_wg.jpg

external image americans-are-largely-for-the-occupy-wall-street-movement-according-to-a-new-poll-though-critics-of.jpgexternal image art6753widea.jpg

Many of the statements in the signs are very personal, such as "I have a degree, I don't have a job." We consider this as bringing in personal problems to public spheres, since there is definitely a private element, yet at the same time it is clearly public and meant to be consumed by the public, either through the internet or through mass media. We think that they may be counterpublics, because it is not about the quantity, but it is more about power relations. Asen and Brouwer write that one can discern relations between counterpublics and states by inequities in power and resources, and we believe this is an example of that statement.


IV. Return to our temporary, but accepted" definition of a social movement:
We can identify as distinctive and/or worthy of scholarly inquiry, Western rhetorics of social change as primarily uninstitutionalized, distinctly non-normative collectivities born of shared feelings of disempowerment that attempt to shift consciousness, often in hopes is affecting material artifacts and behaviors.
A. Given this definition, consider and discuss the following: Is “Occupy” a movement? A campaign? What organizations/organized collectivities represent the movement? What are the aims/goals/demands of the movement? How are these messages being disseminated? How are participants being framed by antagonists (Fox news, Wall Street Executives)? By observers (the media)? By themselves? (reaction to framing mostly).

Mass media call “occupy” a movement, and we also think that it is a movement. It started from a campaign on anti-corporate movement by Adbusters. The aim seems clear: corporate accountability, economic justice, and redistribution of health, but the demand does not seem too clear, particularly since every person may have his/her own demand. We think that the demands are left for private sphere to decide since at this point everybody is free to speak what they want (reminding us of the idea of polyvocality). The messages are being disseminated mostly through social media (twitter, facebook) and also through youtube. Most media portray this movement in a positive light, though some are more cautious in their reporting than others. What we think are similar are the underlying messages of public order; meaning that as long as this “occupy” movement march safely and not disturbing the public, the editorial will approve it.

B. Now think about the following: In light of what you've discussed for question 4a, review the above definition. Should it be adjusted in light of the “Occupy” movement? If so, how and why? Rework the definition collaboratively. Justify any changes you make.

We think that the definition in progress that we have created fits nicely with the idea of "occupy" as a movement.

Summative Statement


This week we read how different theorists (Asen & Brouwer, Warner) conceptualize public(s) and counterpublic(s). Warner (2002) wrote, “Counterpublics are, by definition, formed by their conflict with the norms and context of their cultural environment and this context of domination inevitably entails distortion. Mass publics and counterpublics, in other words, are both damaged forms of publicness, just as gender and sexuality are, in this culture, damaged forms of privacy” (p.63). In addition to analytically examined the notion of public(s) and counterpublic(s) we also read Hauser and McClellan’s piece on vernacular rhetoric and social movements.

What I find interesting about this week reading –and in reading about conceptualization of a certain term in general— is how interrelated the birth and the perception of a certain concept is with social context at the time. Locke, Kant, Habermas and Arendt view public(s) and counterpublic(s) as the products of their time. I am curious to find out how new communication technologies impact these concepts and push for a new conceptualization of public(s) and counterpublic(s) that builds on the previous notions.

I also find the piece on vernacular rhetoric very interesting as this is my first time getting to know the term and its application to social movements. I find vernacular rhetoric particularly fascinating as it provides a tool to analyze the performance of power in everyday discourse. I am looking forward to reading more about this and its relations to social movements.

Furthermore, this week reading is tied nicely to the previous week readings where we examined case studies of social movements, what was not discussed further last week (the notion
of public & counterpublic) became the focus of this week, and it enriches our understanding of how both notions interplay in the rhetoric of social movement.