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private and public spheres

  Discursively constructed, contested categories that define boundaries between households, market economies, the state and political participation. The boundary between public and private is drawn and functions differently in different political theories (see Benhabib, 1992); Deutsche (1996) reviews how a variety of these political theories have figured in debates about urban public space.

Habermas\'s account of the relations among various spheres of public and private life in early and welfare state capitalist societies (see capitalism; critical theory) and his concept of the bourgeois public sphere have been particularly influential. Early capitalist societies were organized into four institutional spheres: family-consumer (private), market economy (private), the state (public) and citizen-political participation (public) (see figure); Habermas identifies the last as the bourgeois public sphere. As both a historical phenomenon and a normative ideal, the bourgeois public sphere functioned as a counterweight to the state. This liberal model of the public sphere was never fully achieved, however, and in welfare state capitalist societies the separation between state and economy, between public and private, dissolves and family-consumer and citizen roles are transformed, the latter declining in importance and changing form (from citizen to passive recipient of publicity and social welfare client). Habermas\'s account is suggestive to geographers; he analyses landscape changes that concretize and reinforce both the rise and decline in active public debate (for example, coffeehouses and nineteenth-century urban culture, and the suburb, respectively; Habermas, 1989). Howell (1993) nonetheless criticizes the universalism of Habermas\'s theorizing and his lack of sensitivity to context and scale, and Gregory (1994) draws out both the centrality of geographical context for Habermas\'s social theory and its Eurocentrism. Critics argue that Habermas idealizes the bourgeois public sphere and that class, gender and racial exclusions were constitutive of, and not simply incidental to, it (Howell, 1993; Fraser, 1997).

The notion of a public sphere is nonetheless central to democratic theory and practice (see radical democracy), and there have been numerous attempts to rethink it in contemporary contexts. Fraser (1997) does this by questioning four of Habermas\'s assumptions, including the liberal assumption that private interests are antagonistic to the public sphere (this reflects a feminist scepticism about the ways in which concepts of \'privacy\' often protect dominant (male) interests and legitimate the oppression of women in the \'private\' sphere: what counts as private and public is itself the result of political struggle), and that one cohesive public sphere (rather than multiple public spheres) is the ideal. Fraser gestures towards the spatiality of these multiple public spheres: \'they consist in culturally specific institutions — for example, the fora of textual exchange, including various journals and the Internet; and social geographies of urban space, including cafes, public parks, and shopping malls\' (1997, p. 83). Deutsche (1996) takes up public space in relation to a less stable process of subject formation. Following Lefort, she theorizes public space in relation to the image of the empty space that founds democracy, namely the absence of foundational power (beyond \'the people\', which is a category that has no essential identity). To fill this empty space, democracy \'invents\' public space, which is where the meaning and unity of the social (i.e. \'the people\') is negotiated. The social identities constituted within public space are always and necessarily constituted by designating an outsider/non-citizen. Public space is only democratic insofar as these exclusions are taken into account and open to contestation.

Geographers have asked whether such theorizing uses space simply as a metaphor: \'is public space simply the space of politics … Are the terms “public space” and “public sphere” interchangeable as they often seem to be in much of the literature?\' (Mitchell, 1996, p. 127). While the terms may not be interchangeable (Staeheli, 1996), it is nonetheless the case that \'[a]ctivists do not dance on the head of a pin\' (Mitchell, 1996, p. 127) and a number of empirical studies document, not only the increasing privatization of public space (Davis, 1990), but the racial, gender, age, heterosexist and class exclusions of existing, material public spaces (Ruddick, 1996; Valentine, 1996), so as to demonstrate that radical democracy remains an ideal that we strive towards, in and through the construction and use of public space. (GP)

|||References Benhabib, S. 1992: Situating the self. Oxford: Polity. Davis, M. 1990: City of quartz: excavating the future in Los Angeles. London: Verso. Deutsche, R. 1996:, Evictions: art and spatial politics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Fraser, N. 1989: Unruly practices: power, discourse and gender in contemporary social theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Fraser, N. 1997: Justice Interruptus: critical reflections of the \'postsocialist\' condition. London and New York: Routledge. Gregory, D. 1994: Geographical imaginations. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. Habermas, J. 1987: The theory of communicative action, vol. 2: Lifeworlds and system: a critique of functionalist reason, trans. T. McCarthy. Boston: Beacon Press. Habermas, J. 1989: The structural transformation of the public sphere: an inquiry into a category of bourgeois society, trans. T. Burger. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Howell, Philip 1993: Public space and the public sphere: political theory and the historical geography of modernity. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 11: 303-22. Mitchell, D. 1996: Introduction: public space and the city. Urban Geography 17: 127-31. Ruddick, S. 1996: Constructing difference in public spaces: race, class, and gender as interlocking systems. Urban Geography 17: 132-51. Staeheli, L. 1996: Publicity, privacy, and women\'s political action. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 14: 601-19. Valentine, G. 1996: Children should be seen and not heard: the production and transgression of adults\' public space. Urban Geography 17: 205-20.

Suggested Reading Fraser (1997).
Early Capitalism|
linked by money exchange, channeled through roles as worker and consumer|linked through state administrative system, channeled through roles as citizen and client (the bourgeois public sphere)|
SYSTEM|Market Economy|State|
Welfare State Capitalism|
consumer role enhanced|citizen role declines, channeled through social welfare client role|
SYSTEM|Market Economy|State|
public and private spheres in early and welfare capitalist societies (adapted from Fraser, 1989: Habermas, 1987



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