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Page history last edited by Gordon Fitt 12 years, 10 months ago


Counter Publics

Satirical drawing of a women's counterpublic in action in 1775 tea boycott
Satirical drawing of a women's counterpublic in action in 1775 tea boycott

One of the primary criticisms of Habermas theory was the idea that the bourgeois public sphere was inclusive in nature. In contemporary thought, informed by the rise of postmodernism, questions about the public sphere have turned to questions about the ways in which hegemonic forces dictate what discourse is and is not allowable in the public sphere, and in turn dictate what can and cannot be formulated as a part of one's identity. Many theorists argue that when people form together in a group, other people are pushed out of social settings because of their identity, and therefore are unable to participate in the discussion occurring within the public sphere. Specifically, in the bourgeois public sphere, women and other groups were excluded from discussions. A new model needed to be developed in order to understand how marginalized groups interact with the dominant political sphere.



Nancy Fraser identified the fact that marginalized groups are excluded from a universal public sphere, and thus it was impossible to claim that one group would in fact be inclusive. However, she claimed that marginalized groups formed their own public spheres, and termed this concept a subaltern counterpublic or Counterpublics.

Fraser worked from Habermas' basic theory because she saw it to be "an indispensable resource" but had some issue to the actual structure which she attempted to address.[21] She made the observation that "Habermas stops short of developing a new, post-bourgeois model of the public sphere".[22] Because of this, Fraser attempted to evaluate Habermas' bourgeois public sphere, discuss some assumptions within his model, and offer a modern conception of the public sphere.[23]


In the historical reevaluation of the bourgeois public sphere, Fraser argues that rather than opening up the political realm to everyone, the bourgeois public sphere shifted political power from "a repressive mode of domination to a hegemonic one".[24] Rather than rule by power, there was now rule by the majority ideology. To deal with this hegemonic domination, Fraser argues that repressed groups form into "Subaltern counterpublics" that are "parallel discursive arenas where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counterdiscourses to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests, and needs".[25]


Benhabib notes that in Habermas' idea of the public sphere, the distinction between public and private issues separates issues that normally affect women (issues of "reproduction, nurture and care for the young, the sick, and the elderly"[26] into the private realm and out of the discussion in the public sphere. She argues that if the public sphere is to be open to any discussion that affects the population, there cannot be distinctions between "what is" and "what is not" discussed.[27] Benhabib argues for the feminists to counter the popular public discourse in their own counterpublic.



Frantz Fanon discusses the way in which one's identity in the public sphere and one's identity in the private sphere can become dissonant, leading to what he calls dual consciousness. His examples deal with issues of colonialism, and the way in which a colonized subject is forced to publicly adopt a foreign culture, while privately they maintain their identity as their own culture.


The concept of heteronormativity is used to describe the way in which those who fall outside of the basic male/female dichotomy of gender or whose sexual preferences are other than heterosexual cannot meaningfully claim their identities, causing a disconnect between their public selves and their private selves. Michal Warner made the observation that the idea of an inclusive public sphere makes the assumption that we are all the same without judgments about our fellows. He specifically argues that we must achieve some sort of disembodied state in order to participate in a universal public sphere in order to avoid judgment. His observations point to a Homosexual counterpublic, and offer the idea that they must otherwise remain "closeted" in order to participate in the larger public discourse.[28]





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