In-citing Publics: Exploring a conceptual crises in the analysis of collective action
‘Publics’ is a concept used to describe forms of social organising prevalent within texts and other discursive environments, where issues of identification and collective action are important. Emphasizing audiences addressed in political rhetoric, publics can be empirically investigated as emerging within social movements, media, and other spaces of publicity and public discourse. However, while analytically useful, ‘public’ is rarely a name claimed by political groups to describe their own practices or sense of identity. Are there analytic and political consequences of studying collective actions as forming publics when collective actors do not use this language themselves? Does this schism indicate conceptual ambiguities, academic abstractions, political reductions? Exploring the disjuncture between conceptual uses of publics and its absence as a means to political self-organisation, I reflect on my use of ‘public’ to research a campaign for social housing, asking: when is a public a public and not simply something else?
Presented at the Associations of Cultural Studies Crossroads Conference, Paris, France (July 2012).