E60: re:blurb - Publicity and Counterpublicity


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By re:verb, Calvin Pollak, and Alex Helberg. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Have you ever wondered why some issues are treated as private and personal, while others are self-evidently public concerns? Meanwhile, certain topics are discussed freely and openly, but only among niche subcultures: local interest groups, expert practitioners, hardcore enthusiasts, and even marginalized communities. How can we better understand these kinds of diverse audience groupings, which are so critical to the circulation of political text and talk?

On today's re:blurb episode, we address these questions through a deep-dive into the rhetoric of publicity and counterpublicity. In so doing, we overview the landmark public sphere theories of Jurgen Habermas and Hannah Arendt, as well as later feminist, anti-racist, and queer theory contributions from scholars such as Nancy Fraser, Catherine Squires, Michael Warner, and Daniel Brouwer. Finally, we highlight the importance of Antonio Gramsci’s notion of hegemony for unpacking our inherited ideas about “civil society.” To illustrate this point, we offer an analysis of a recent controversy involving Arizona Senator Krysten Sinema, in which activists pursued her into a public restroom to protest her obstruction of immigration reform. Considering the incident and its broader reverberations in media discourses about privacy and civility, we argue that these ideas are contested because hegemony itself is contested. In a deeply unequal society like ours, publicity and counterpublicity are contingent upon groups' positions within hierarchies of power.

An early draft of this episode was prepared as a submission for the 2021 Rhetoric Society of America Summer Institute workshop on “The Trouble with Publics and Counterpublics.” That workshop unfortunately did not take place, due to the unexpected passing of workshop co-leader Dr. Daniel Brouwer. Dan Brouwer was a critical force in rhetorical studies, public sphere theory, and queer studies - a strong mentor, friend, and crucial voice across academic fields. It is in this spirit that we humbly dedicate this episode to the memory of Dr. Daniel Brouwer.

Works and Concepts Cited in this Episode

Arendt, H. (1958). The human condition. University of Chicago Press.

Aronoff, K. (2021, 21 Sept.). Joe Manchin’s vote isn’t that mysterious. Look to the fossil fuel money. The New Republic. Retrieved from: https://newrepublic.com/article/163723/joe-manchin-vote-fossil-fuel

Asen, R. (2000). Seeking the “counter” in counterpublics. Communication theory, 10(4), 424-446.

Boguslaw, D. (2021, 26 Sept.). Kyrsten Sinema used the winery where she interned to fundraise with private equity. The Intercept. Retrieved from: https://theintercept.com/2021/09/26/kyrsten-sinema-private-equity-tax-loophole/

Brouwer, D.C. (2001). ACT-ing UP in congressional hearings. In R. Asen and D.C. Brouwer (Eds.) Counterpublics and the State (pp. 87-110). SUNY Press.

Cloud, D. L. (2018). Reality bites: Rhetoric and the circulation of truth claims in US political culture. The Ohio State University Press.

Cloud, D.L. (2015). “Civility” as a threat to academic freedom. First Amendment Studies, 49(1), 13-17.

Davenport, C. (2021, 19 Sept.). Joe Manchin will craft the U.S. climate plan. The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/19/climate/manchin-climate-biden.html

Fraser, N. (1990). Rethinking the public sphere: A contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy. Social text, (25/26), 56-80.

Gramsci, A. (2011). Prison Notebooks (Vol. 2) (J.A. Buttigieg, Trans.). Columbia University Press.

Habermas, J. (1991). The structural transformation of the public sphere: An inquiry into a category of bourgeois society. MIT press. (Originally published in 1962).

Hauser, G. A. (1999). Vernacular voices: The rhetoric of publics and public spheres. Univ of South Carolina Press.

Klippenstein, K. (2021, 8 Oct.). Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is literally teaching a course on fundraising. The Intercept. Retrieved from: https://theintercept.com/2021/10/08/kyrsten-sinema-fundraising-course-asu/

Luchetta, J. (2021, Oct. 4). Activists ambush Sen. Kyrsten Sinema in public bathroom over immigration, infrastructure. USA Today. Retrieved from: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2021/10/04/sen-kyrsten-sinema-bathroom-arizona-immigration-infrastructure/5990516001/

Squires, C. R. (2002). Rethinking the black public sphere: An alternative vocabulary for multiple public spheres. Communication theory, 12(4), 446-468.

Treene, A. (2021, 7 Oct.). Scoop: Sanders’ Sinema spat. Axios. Retrieved from: https://www.axios.com/sanders-sinema-spat-harrassment-a8c9f7a2-6579-4800-aa28-43a71fe2639b.html

Walsh, K. N. (2021, 5 Oct.). Protesters following Kyrsten Sinema into the bathroom undermined their efforts. The Independent. Retrieved from: https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/kyrsten-sinema-bathroom-protest-privacy-b1932844.html

Warner, M. (2002). Publics and counterpublics. Zone Books.

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