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Where Is the Public Sphere?

Political Communications and the Morality of Disclosure in Rural Rajasthan

Anastasia Piliavsky

The public sphere has been centre stage in celebrations of India's political triumphs. Leading commentators tell us that the astonishing post-independence surge of democracy has been contingent on the rise of a new kind of sociopolitical formation: the public sphere. This article takes a closer look at the popular deliberative terrain in North India to question this claim. Drawing on research conducted in a provincial town in the North Indian state of Rajasthan, we see that where metropolitan political theorists see 'transparency' as promoting discursive and political possibilities, Rajasthani villagers see an exposure which prevents expression, communication and the making of political choices. In their view, it is secrecy and social seclusion that enable political interactions and elicit political judgments. 'The public sphere' is an unfit heuristic for locating popular politics within (and beyond) Rajasthan, where it obscures much more than it reveals.

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Chantal Mouffe

My aim in this presentation is to offer some reflections concerning the kind of public sphere that a vibrant democratic society requires. I want to scrutinize the dominant discourse which announces the “end of the adversarial model of politics” and the need to go beyond left and right towards a consensual politics of the centre. The thesis that I want to put forward is that, contrary to what its defenders argue, this type of discourse has very negative consequences for democratic politics. Indeed it has contributed to the weakening of the “democratic political public sphere”, and it has led to the increasing dominance of juridical and moral discourse, dominance which I take to be inimical to democracy. I submit that the increasing moralization and juridification of politics, far from being seen as progress, a further step in the development of democracy, should be envisaged as a threat for its future.

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Transnational Public Spheres from 'Above' and from 'Below'

Feminist Networks across the Middle East and Europe

Ruba Salih

This article examines the emergence of transnational public spheres brought about by women activists in diasporas and countries of origin across Europe and the Middle East. Such activism can take various forms - networks, partnerships, transnational mobilisations against war or for advocacy - which, in turn, have an impact on the ability to provide women with new paths to emancipation. Although globalising states and societies are becoming more interconnected, demarcating inequalities and forms of governance still exist. Parameters based on territoriality and national citizenship reinforce the unequal access to resources that women experience around the globe and thus have a hand in shaping women's agendas. The article concludes that although women may be able to acquire empowering tools through feminist transnational networks, these tools are not always capable of dismantling boundaries or weakening old hierarchies.

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The Embattled Public Sphere

Hannah Arendt, Juergen Habermas and Beyond

Seyla Benhabib

In 1927 the American journalist, Walter Lippmann, published The Phantom Public.1Written against the background of growing despair and disillusionment about the viability of representative democracies in Europe and North America, in this work Lippmann decried the ‘ideal of sovereign and omnicompetent citizens’ to be a fiction at best and a phantom at worst. Lippmann’s elitist and pessimistic assessment of the fiction of collective deliberations engaged in by informed citizens, elicited a spirited response from John Dewey in The Public and its Problems.2 Granting that the experience of industrial and urban modern societies undermined ‘the genuine community life’ out of which American democracy had developed, Dewey admitted: ‘The public seems to be lost... If a public exists, it is surely as uncertain about its whereabouts as philosophers since Hume have been about the residence and make-up of the self’.

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Constructing a Public Sphere

Materiality and Ideology

Judith Kapferer

The changing cultural and social significance of central city space generates and structures the social formations of capital today. Buildings and landmarks within the city of London are examined here as crucibles for the expression, symbolization, formation, and re-formation of the social orders of the city and the state. Here, the cultural power of state apparatuses to control and order the image and substance of capital and state is challenged by the arts of architecture and cityscape. The relation between public space and private practice is interrogated in locations such as the Square Mile, Trafalgar Square, and Hyde Park, which symbolize and concretize the social relations of the marketplace, the state, and the people. The experience of these places is iconic of the social formations of contemporary society.

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As'ad Ghanem

The question of the nature of the Israeli regime is related to two different but connected inquiries. First, its proper classification under the categories of democracy/non-democracy, a question that is closely connected to our understanding of the nature and basic features of democracy. This question has received considerable scholarly attention in the past two decades. Beside its traditional classification as a liberal democracy (see, e.g., Yakobson and Rubinstein 2008), Smooha (1990, 1998) formulated the “ethnic democracy” model to account for Israel’s political structure, Rouhana (1997) classified Israel as “ethnic state” and its regime as “exclusive ethnic state,” Peled and Navot (2005) refer to the Israeli regime as a “majoritarian democracy,” while Yiftachel (1997, 2006) described it as an archetype for “ethnocracy.” I have also dealt with the classification of the Israeli regime on several previous occasions (Ghanem 1998, 2001, 2010; Ghanem, Rouhana, and Yiftachel 2000; Rouhana and Ghanem 1998).

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Wulf Kansteiner

Since the 1960s, Germany’s historical culture has continually reprocessed

the Nazi past and later the Holocaust for the purposes of education,

remembrance, and entertainment. The objective of this process,

Vergangenheitsbewältigung, is the self-centered and self-designed

therapeutic treatment of the descendants of the perpetrators and

bystanders of Nazism. It seems that Germans, who were better fascists

than other Europeans, are also determined to excel at the task of

working through Nazism and the World War II era. Therefore,

attempts at mastering the past have given rise to hectic cultural activity

as the field of contemporary history illustrates: “[I]ncessantly the

German business for contemporary history generates fast-food products.

It is based on a perpetual mobile of commissions, projects and

mini-grants, temporary employment and welfare-to-work subsidies,

conferences and lecture series—a perpetual mobile of pedagogical historiography

and history obsessed pedagogy.”

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Nature, Nurture, and the Social Order

Imagining Lessons and Lives for Women in Ancien Régime France

Adrian O'Connor

Focusing on the work of Choderlos de Laclos, Riballier, Mme d'Épinay, and Mme de Genlis, this article examines the ways in which, during the 1770s and 1780s, women's education and women's social identity were imagined as two related questions. Both questions were shaped by the perceived dictates of nature, tradition, and necessity, yet each was open to debate and re-imagination. In the works of these four writers, we will see not only considerable ambivalence regarding women's social and familial identities, but also a rift between understandings of those identities based on nature and understandings based on social utility or tradition. Moreover, we will see that along with that ambivalence and that discursive rift came a tension between women's importance as wives and mothers, on the one hand, and their autonomy as selves, on the other.

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Whores and Niqabées

The Sexual Boundaries of French Nationalism

Julie Billaud and Julie Castro

This essay seeks to analyze the recent reconfigurations of French nationalism, taking as an entry point the legal treatment of veiled Muslim women and prostitutes over the past two decades. We argue that the bodies of prostitutes and veiled Muslim women, both of which have been targeted by successive legal interventions in order to exclude them from the public space, have become central political sites for the state to assert its sovereign power and trigger nationalist feelings. This comparative analysis of gendered “lawfare“ (which John Comaroff has defined as the judicialization of politics and the resort to legal instruments to commit acts of political coercion) provides insights into a new form of nationalism that strives to foster “sexual liberalism“ as a core value of citizenship in order to enforce a virile nationalism, prescribe new sexual normativities, and criminalize immigrants and those living at the social margins.

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The Specter of Communism

Denmark, 1848

Bertel Nygaard

democratization of the bourgeois public spheres of Europe. This was “time-space compression” in a revolutionary leap, the forging of entangled European revolutionary developments with open, fluid borders between states, political cultures, and languages. 17 Such