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Michael Warner, "Publics and Counterpublics (abbreviated version)," Quarterly Journal of Speech 88, no. 4 (2002): 413-425.

What is a public? The following is a quick and dirty summary of the qualities of publics, drawn verbatim from the text of Warner's essay.



This essay has a public. If you are reading (or hearing) this, you are part of its public. So let me say: welcome.

1. A public is self-organized.

It is a space of discourse organized by discourse.
It exists by virtue of being addressed.
There is a chicken-and-egg circularity to a public.

2. A public is a relation among strangers.

Note. In condition 7 Warner (re)defines a public as a relation among strangers projected from private readings of circulating texts.

3. The address of public speech is both personal and impersonal.

4. A public is constituted through mere attention.

5. A public is a social space created by the reflexive circulation of discourse.

Texts themselves do not create publics, but the concatenation of texts through time.
Note. Warner emphasizes links and uses the metaphor of conversation.

6. Publics act historically according to the temporality of their circulation.

A text, to have a public, must continue to circulate through time.

7. A public is poetic world making.

...because it promised to address anybody, and commits itself in principle to the possible participation of any stranger, which puts at risk the concrete world that made it possible.
It characterizes the world in which it attempts to circulate.
It is an engine for social mutation.
The unity of the public depends on the stylization of the reading act as transparent and replicable, and on an arbitrary social closure (through language, idiolect, genre, medium, and address) to contain its potentially infinite extension.
It depends on a hierarchy of faculties that allows some activities to count as public or general, while others are thought to be merely personal, private, or particular.
And for these reasons some publics are more likely than others to stand in for the public, and frame their address as the universal discussion of the people.


Counterpublics

Are publics that make no attempt to present themselves in this way.

Their members are not merely a subset of the public, but constituted through a conflictual relation to the dominant public.

A counterpublic maintains some awareness of its subordinate status.

Counterpublics come into being through an address to indefinite strangers.

But counterpublic discourses address those strangers as being not just anybody; they are socially marked by their participation in this kind of discourse.

In some cases, participants are not subalterns for any reason other than their participation in the counterpublic discourse; in others socially stigmatized identity might be predicated but in such a case a public of subalterns is only a counterpublic when its participants are addressed in a counterpublic way.

It is significant that counterpublics do what they do (e.g. challenge modernity’s social hierarchy of faculties) by projecting a space of discursive circulation among strangers as a social entity.