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The Cultural Public Sphere

In a recent post, Jean Burgess mentions Jim McGuigan’s article, The Cultural Public Sphere, which I also happened to enjoy recently. In it, he discusses “three typical political stances in relation to the cultural public sphere” which Jean kindly quotes:

“…[L]et us identify three broad stances regarding the politics of the cultural public sphere: uncritical populism, radical subversion and critical intervention. Uncritical populism is associated with populist cultural studies, the credibility of which derives not so much from its intellectual acuity but from its affinity with currently conventional wisdom. The domain assumption here is that consumer capitalism is culturally democratic. Consumer sovereignty goes unquestioned. What we get is what we want. The consumer is consulted and permitted to speak. In any case, consumption is an active phenomenon. Consumers are not the passively manipulated recipients of commodity culture and mediated experience: they choose, and woe betides any business that fails to respond efficiently to its customers’ demands.


The value of uncritical populism – the kind of position that would regard Big Brother as a vehicle of the public sphere – is its debunking of the critical idealization of a public sphere that is never present but always absent in favour of a ‘realistic’ attention to what actually goes on.


Radical subversion is the exact obverse of uncritical populism. Instead of apologetics, it offers total transformation whether people want it or not. In this sense, it is elitist and, to many, either downright offensive or simply unintelligible. The third position regarding politics and the public sphere, critical intervention, combines the best of uncritical populism – an appreciation of the actually existing cultural field – with the best of radical subversion, producing a genuinely critical and potentially popular stance.”

And speaking of cultural politics, if you’re in London this Saturday you might want to check out Simon Ford’s talk at the ICA on “Publishing Strategies of the Situationist International.” Plus, it could be interesting to map some SI publications onto McGuigan’s political domains…