A Public vs. The Public

A Public vs. The Public; is there a difference? On Tuesday, our class toyed with the concept inspired by Michael Warner’s “Publics and Counterpublics” in order to unveil the aesthetics that make each their own. No matter which is being discussed, we discovered the importance of understanding (or not understanding) the ways in which publics can greatly effect how content is received and interpreted. Whether or not our seminar class would be considered a public was left in the air as students made solid cases for each side based on the seven elements of a public fleshed out by Warner, highlighting the fact that the distinction is often unanswerable.

Our discussion began with an environment that many of us know well: social media. Professor Duganne encouraged us to consider what, and why, we post certain things publicly or privately, and to what effect these posts can have on the site’s audience. This led to the concept of content “going viral” via hashtags, in which she used examples such as #BlackLivesMatter and #BarbieJeepGirl in order to illustrate how two very different types of subject matter circulate the digital world and made a lasting mark. This type of circulation is unique to our generation, but haven’t there always been publics in one way or another? Rewind a few hundred years, and we find that circulation was still occurring and making important changes to society. 1648, King Louis XIV establishes the Royal Academy and opens it up to the public, not knowing that he had created a public that would forever change the history of art through the attendees’ voiced inquiries and disagreements.

While the transformative power of a public sphere is inevitably unknown, it is most important to acknowledge the potential, longterm effect that discussions within these spaces can have on our world.

Lauren Lerwick



  1. The concepts of “a public” and “the public” are very complicated, as they are two separate ideas yet cannot always exist without each other. These concepts haven’t existed forever— isn’t it interesting how attached and used to we have become to these concepts? That circulation of art in human societies both affects “the public” and can draw “a public” is astounding in and of itself. As Lauren wrote, beginning with King Louis the XIV, and continuing strongly in today’s world, it seems that our sense and place in “the public,” as well as drawing or contributing in “a public” will remain with us for a long time.



  2. Though two separate concepts, both of them play off of the other. And it’s not that the concepts haven’t existed before now, but rather they have just come back into context now or are starting to be called something different. The idea of a public has always been there, stated by Lauren starting back with King Louis, though we are just now coming to terms with these concepts. The idea of a public or the public will continue to be a big part of society due to the fact that many artists base what they do off of how their audience or the audience will react to their artwork.


  3. Kendall makes a good point in that these concepts have existed for a very long time, but we have just renamed them. So it’s interesting to think about that by itself, and how our society has evolved but still has its roots firm in the same foundation. At the end of her post, Lauren writes of the importance “to acknowledge the potential, longterm effect(s) that discussions within these spaces can have on our world”. I agree with this statement and will also say that discussions are formative in writing, in that it creates a healthy sharing of ideas and produces a knowledgeable, open public.
    –Rachael Pantuso


  4. Who would have thought there was a difference between “A” public and “The” public. I did enjoy your approach on this topic. Especially in how complicated or how close related these two are to each other. It is very interesting to see how it has a role today and the mind blowing part is that this is not the first time it goes back to King Louis XIV. Literally history repeat itself. It gives you a new perspective in how we see our surroundings now. It might have change through time but it is still based off of the same foundation.

    -Marlene Gallegos


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