Aesthetics and the Public Sphere

It is amazing what a fine line there is between being A Public and being The Public. Our discussion over Michael Warner’s piece “Publics and Counterpublics” truly emphasized how small this line really is. To review The Public is a social totality, and includes everyone within the general field of that question or thought and is brought to light through conversation. A public is more of a concrete audience in visible space in which the sense of totality, bounded by the shared space. Warner also included the other aspect of just the Public which is a community of people brought together only in relation of text and circulation and a Counterpublic which is a public that rejects an idea of being a part of a Public or something so mainstream and looks to define itself, an example of Counterpublic is Punk. What I believed to be so fascinating is the fluctuation that occurs between the sections. The Public is connected through a question, and then if this question leads to an event in which the individuals are brought to they then separate from The Public becoming A Public which is a more definable body of people, meaning that the performer or speaker knows to whom they are directly talking to. Another example of transformation is from this Counterpublic forming The Public with a similar general thought and thus slowly but surely forming into A Public as a more solid group begins to form in the physical space with a similar outlook or thought. Which then leads me to this question:

Is there really such thing as a Counterpublic if a Counterpublic can quickly and easily become a part of The Public or is it purely based on the relation with the Mainstream?

-Krista Kelly



  1. You pose an interesting question. I think that Warner argues that publics are constructed by a writer addressing them. Counterpublics then arise as members attributed to the constructed public refuse to be addressed as a member of said public. The example shown at the end of class depicts this process nicely. Members of the Sex Pistols (and the punk movement, generally) counter being classified as SUBJECTS of the United Kingdom by appropriating the songs and symbols used in the very process of defining them as subjects (by addressing them as such). Turning these messages on their heads, they rebel against this imposed identity and call themselves anarchists, punks etc. The frustrating thing about such dialectics is that by the time you’ve asked the question, the answer has changed. Or, perhaps even, in asking the question you change the answer. So attempt to respond to your question, I’d say that publics do not exist, they are constructions of convenience, and they are always shifting.


  2. I believe that there is such a thing as a counterpublic even though that status may fluctuate through time. There is also the possibility of a counterpublic simultaneously holding the status of a public through various viewpoints and means of examination. These classifications are so hard to define that it is foolish to think that you can concretely define one group as a perfect example of a counterpublic or public. (70)


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  3. I think that the counterpublic exists. It’s size and shape may change in accordance to the mainstream public’s evolution, but there’s always someone on the outside. The counterpublic may even be conglomerated into the main public and transform into a subset of the Public, but it would still contain its “otherness”. There has to be a balance and while The Public may be the general population, the outliers have their own public to access as well.


  4. I think the example of punk was a good representation of counter public becoming the public. I am interested in examples of the public becoming the counter public such as smoking cigarettes in the 60s was considered the norm. The media also backed by doctors who promoted tobacco use. Now MTV which was a counter public at one point, has embraced anti-smoking campaigns.


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