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Concept Network

Hi All,

I just wanted to offer a reading strategy for dealing with the texts in class. One of the important pedagogical goals of the class is to make explict how different concepts orbit around each other and what value different authors give to this particular concept network.

So, for example, to talk about the public sphere is to talk at the same time of the following

civil society
private sphere
communication forms/genres (reason giving, claims making, argumentation, texts, print)
public opinion not opinion polls (mere opinion)
social movements
subaltern counter publics
publics or public sphere
publicness without a public sphere
general interest
general intellect
common topics
specific topics
deiberative democrcay
rhetorical democracy

you get the drift. It is not enough to think you know what the public sphere means, its meaning and value is a function of how different authors value it in terms of a host of other concepts. Just one example, while Habermas and Fraser and Virno all think a public sphere is important they would have three different ways of imagining its relationship to the state. For Habermas the state intervention into civil society is a bad thing, it collapsed the public sphere into the governance of the social; Fraser believes publics have to be viewed in light of their attachment to parilimentary forms of democracy, at the same time, she sees the existence of mulitple and oppositonal publics challenging the dominant public sphere. Virno has no use for the "people," a concept that may be explicit in Habermas's view of democratic legitimacy and is closely associated with the legitimation of the State. For Virno, the Multitude does not appeal to the State for refuge. At the same time, Virno doesnt seem to imagine the public sphere as primarily a place to redeem the emancipatory potential of reason (habermas) but, as somthing akin to an assembly for the multitidue (that which is other than the people) to care for common concerns.

So as the semester continues, one way to think about the presentations is as a way to make explict for the class the conceptual network of particular authors and how those networks appear differently or similarly



Hey Ya'll--

Here's a quote from Marx's 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte on "commom" and "general" interest. I think it's interesting/productive to consider Marx's distinction along with Virno's development of the concepts of general intellect and common topics.

"The first French Revolution, with its task of breaking all separate local,
territorial, urban, and provincial powers in order to create the civil
unity of the nation, was bound to develop what the monarchy had begun,
centralization, but at the same time the limits, the attributes, and the
agents of the governmental power. Napoleon completed this state machinery.
The Legitimate Monarchy and the July Monarchy added nothing to it but a
greater division of labor, increasing at the same rate as the division of
labor inside the bourgeois society created new groups of interests, and
therefore new material for the state administration. Every common interest
was immediately severed from the society, countered by a higher, general
interest, snatched from the activities of society’s members themselves and
made an object of government activity – from a bridge, a schoolhouse, and
the communal property of a village community, to the railroads, the
national wealth, and the national University of France. Finally the
parliamentary republic, in its struggle against the revolution, found
itself compelled to strengthen the means and the centralization of
governmental power with repressive measures. All revolutions perfected this
machine instead of breaking it. The parties, which alternately contended
for domination, regarded the possession of this huge state structure as the
chief spoils of the victor."

I am struck by how the commmon interest seem to be at odds with the general interest. And the general interest seems to be associated with the State. This so called republic-form of the state, translates, captures dissipates (what would be the best verb) the common interests for the pupose of a general interest that increases the power of the state. A power that would seem to be at the expense of the common interest.

To further this train of thought (that the "state" gets to claim general interests), here is another idea that I have been playing with in terms of Warner's model and media. It seems to me that a potential benefit/drawback of "publics coming into being only through discourse" is that it essentially allows for competition among media forms to claim to be the "voice of the people". For example, at my previous university our official student paper was not really great and many students would say that the views expressed in the paper did not represent them--that was not the voice of the DU student. Then a more liberal paper was started independently--and students really kinda got into that paper. This paper was one that was actually being attended to more. So, a conservative paper (by the college Republicans) was started and explicitly said that the other papers did not speak for them and they wanted to represent DU students. Although we could say that this competition is "healthy" and allows all options for choosing which publics to belong to, it also seems like a place where power dynamics can be manipulated and played out. I mean, in some ways, this situation came down to which group had the most money, put out the most papers, had quality articles (the official paper was noctorious for typos and misinformation), and a weird way to "claim" the DU student. In fact, the liberal paper changed its format (moving away from sarcastic "rants" to more traditional reporting on liberal issues) in order to attract more readers/advertisers.

Basically, I think this is a real life example that follows what Ron is saying, and that the "intrusion" of the state into the public sphere can come through media forms that could be seen as being by the people for the people. We might not realize when the state interests are furthered by our own discourse in the competition for our attention in the public sphere.