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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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Inclusion and exclusion in the mediated public sphere

The case of Norway and its Muslims

Sindre Bangstad

Norway has in recent years been rated as one of the most democratic societies in the world. But how open and democratic are Norway's mediated public spheres when it comes to minority individuals? This article is based on in‐depth interviews with a number of individuals of Muslim background in Norway who in recent years have been active in debates in the mediated public spheres. I argue that the existence of a hierarchy of preference among Norwegian liberal media editors includes and privileges the voices of individuals of Muslim background engaged in critiques of Islam, while it often excludes Muslims who are not prepared to engage in such critique.

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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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Affective Solidarities?

Participating in and Witnessing Fair Trade and Women’s Empowerment in Transnational Communities of Practice

Debarati Sen

participating in, witnessing, recollecting and documenting the effects of fair trade in turn produced new kinds of knowledge about plantations while affecting the plantation public sphere. Ethnographically documenting these emerging acts of voluntourism is

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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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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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Negotiating secular boundaries

Pious micro‐practices of Muslim women in French and German public spheres

Jeanette Jouili

This article discusses how religious Muslim women negotiate Islamic prayer and Islamic dress within French and German public spheres where Islamic connoted bodily practices are not easily accommodated. While these women perceive their practice first and foremost in terms of devotional practices with the objective to fashion and strengthen a pious self, within the context of these secular public spheres they also get entangled in (re‐)signification processes. In order to grasp these specific shifts in the religious practices in question, the article discusses approaches that emphasise the role of corporeality in the shaping of religious subjects with those conducted in the field of performance theory.

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Patrick Eisenlohr

This essay discusses anthropological approaches to the study of media interacting with contexts of ethnic and religious diversity. The main argument is that not only issues of access to and exclusion from public spheres are relevant for an understanding of media and pluralism. Background assumptions and ideologies about media technologies and their functioning also require more comparative analysis, as they impact public spheres and claims to authority and authenticity that ultimately produce and shape scenarios of ethnic and religious diversity. This additional dimension of diversity in the question of media and ethnic and religious pluralism is particularly apparent in crises of political and religious mediation. The latter often result in desires to bypass established forms of political and religious mediation that are in turn often projected on new media technologies.

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The Feeling for Gray

Aesthetics, Politics, and Shifting German Regimes

Inger-Elin Øye

Building on 25 months of fieldwork in eastern Germany from 1991 to 2003, this article explores the interpenetration of aesthetics and politics, and questions them as theoretical categories. A multilayered description depicts aesthetic perception and action, guided by an imagery of façade, as constituted and reproduced by state policies, positioned experiences, and subversive responses. Moving beyond the Cold War legacy, aesthetics' potency and politicization is dated back to early nation building and Protestant and Romantic influences. Being essential to and controlled by shifting, largely authoritarian regimes, aesthetics simultaneously provided a 'shadow life' and a 'lingua franca', cross-cutting verbal and non-verbal mediums and everyday and high culture, as people juggled with, distrusted, and decoded surfaces, expressing and in search of deeper, hidden truths. I argue that historically generated aesthetic perceptions and praxis not only mark east German political culture but also emerge in Habermas's public sphere theory and, moreover, offer arguments to revise it.