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Themesicon: navigation pathPublic Sphere_sicon: navigation pathEditorial
«Public Sphere_s»
Steve Dietz


In contemporary culture, a number of spheres of activity intersect: speech, art, identity, communications systems, economic and legal regimes. In the so-called public domain, these activities increasingly conflict. This is not necessarily a new development, but with the increasing mediatization and hybrid virtualization of each of these spheres, the boundaries between public, private, commercial and government are in flux. As legal regimes and marketing imperatives adjust to incorporate the new virtual realities, it appears as if these boundaries are being gerrymandered. Nevertheless, digitalness challenges historic assumptions about scarcity and networks can have an asymmetrical relationship to centralized authority. Many artists are using these «tools» to contest, as Kryzsztof Wodiczko paraphrases social philosopher Chantal Mouffe, «a new, agonistic concept of public space, which […] invites and accommodates passion as well as adversarial positions. For her, democracy is not a solution but a process of engaging more actors (and I hope artists as well) in an ongoing energetic discourse in the form of an ‹agon,› that is, a contest.» [1] «Public Sphere_s» is about these


contests, which artists continue to foment to enlarge our understanding and practice of multiple public spheres. Various ideas of ‹the public› have been theorized at least since the Greeks, but whether it is Socrates confronting Callicles about mob rule in Plato’s «Gorgias» [2] or Jürgen Habermas’ «public sphere,» [3] Walter Lippmann’s «big picture» [4] or Mouffe’s agonistics, this public has almost always been intimately connected with a parallel notion of public space. From the agora to the piazza to the commons to the park, in some sense robust public discourse can only flourish in public space. In part this is an issue of audience. What makes discourse public is having an audience. With the rise of the printed press, radio, television, and now Internet-enabled communications, the potential public expands beyond physical space into the virtual spaces of communications systems. More important than reach and some concomitant notion of agreement, however, is debate. To return to Wodiczko on Mouffe: «Her recognition of antagonisms and the need for agonism in a democratic process radically questions the prominent liberal philosopher Jürgen Habermas for his popular legalistic and rationalistic position on

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