Publics and counterpublics

We currently see in the media reflections on current news aggregating around the hashtag #nobannowall  . Reflect on today’s readings and on these current events. How are publics created? What are some counterpublics? What makes a public what it is? Are publics ideological? What discourse is being shaped in our public sphere?


Illustration downloaded from  Karen ( )

Today’s readings:

Sherry Turkle – “Who Am We?” (2003)

Michael Warner – “Publics and Counterpublics.” (in Quarterly Journal of                                         Speech. 88.4.) (2002)

Anil Dash – “The Web we Lost.” (2012)

Aaron Shaw & Yochai Benkler – “A Tale of Two Blogospheres: Discursive                           Practices on the Left and Right”. (in American Behavioral Scientist.  56(4) 459–                            487) (2012).


4 thoughts on “Publics and counterpublics

  1. Make America, What Again?

    Current events occurring in the USA are creating some interesting ideological battles on social media. It seems that social media and the abundance of news pages, “fake news” pages, and memes are creating droves of social media warriors at war with each other. Publics on social media are easily created by simply posting a controversial news article on your facebook page or on Twitter. The people attracted to the topic are probably already part of the public that is engaged in the discourse, or is on the other side as a counterpublic.
    The interesting thing I have noticed about recent social media wars is the effect that convenience plays on how people react to certain forms of response to subjects. Social media has made the circulation of information, true or not, so convenient that people tend to take it for granted. It Is easier for the uneducated population to feel more informed than they really are, and more frustrating for the educated population to be a part of the debate.
    There are publics that believe in Trump’s policies and there are counterpublics that oppose them. These publics are brought together as strangers from all over the world, joined by common or opposing opinions on the same topic. Social media has made it so easy for people all over the world to be a part of the same public sphere. Information is being shared with each other across the planet. Awareness of events in the USA is being shared and opinions are being formed in countries that are concerned with the global impact of the actions being taken by the new American President.
    The abundance of information out there created by professionals as well as information and theories created by the general public is creating ideological counterpublics that spend countless hours trying to convince each other of the other side of the argument. This discourse is creating a divide among the people and the more they try to prove their point the deeper the divide becomes. The information and misinformation that is abundant on the web creates fear and radicalism, especially when it is perpetuated by a public figure such as the President of The United States. It has become less and less clear what information can be trusted with all of the news sites, YouTube know-it-alls, corporately owned television news channels, and Facebook battles going on across the internet.
    Overall, the discourse being created around recent events in the news such as the #nobannowall hashtag is one of fear and mistrust. Both publics and counterpublics share the fear and mistrust that is circulating the internet. There is fear of terrorism, and radicalization on one side as well as fear of corruption and corporate take-over on the other side while both sides are controlled by the fear of misinformation and the (un)reliability of news sources. While both the public and counterpublic strive for agreeance and conformity, neither are willing to budge on their own opinions and have an abundance of “news” to back up their opinions.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I appreciate the way you point out that there is fear on both sides. The recent murders at the mosque in Quebec City would seem evidence of the scope of that fear on one side of the spectrum — the shooter’s fear of Islamic people — which many feel was fueled by Trump’s ban on travelers/refugees/immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The Canadian public is striking back by surrounding Muslim places of worship with protective human rings, determined to look fear in the face and not give in to it. The U.S. public is reacting to Trump’s decree in a relentless legal battle and continued protests. It would seem that Trump represents the counter-public, and made a grande miscalculation as to the public’s will.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Publics and Counterpublics (#nobannowall)

    In our digital society, publics and counterpublics are created with astonishing speed, and an ease that would not have been thought possible back when the printing press made its first debut. Information and opinion is shared at the touch of a button and can instantly be transmitted to large and diverse publics scattered all over the world. Publics who read it, respond/react, and then go on to create and publish their own content, which in turn may create a new public or counterpublic. In many ways, this type of information sharing is great progress; but there are negative side-effects as well – some of which we are just beginning to grasp – that are impossible to ignore when looking at current examples. One such example being the publics that have formed around the popular hashtag #nobannowall, and the events that have stemmed from it.
    First of all, anyone with access to the internet can address a public; it’s that simple, and because of this the amount of discursive information available is astronomical and unending. I agree with Warner’s statement that; “Public discourse craves attention like a child. Texts clamor at us. Images solicit our gaze. Look here! Listen! Hey!” (419). What Warner was referring to was mainly printed works, but public discourse has become all the more clamorous with the rise of digital/social media platforms. But, although anyone can address a public, it is not the texts themselves that create publics. Rather, it is the circulation of texts over time and through space that creates publics and counterpublics. Warner states that; “No single text can create a public. Nor can a single voice, a single gesture, even a single medium. All are insufficient to create the kind of reflexivity that we call a public, since a public is understood to be an ongoing space of encounter for discourse … Only when a previously existing discourse can be supposed, and when a responding discourse can be postulated, can a text address a public” (420). For a discourse to be a discourse, for a text to have any distinctive meaning, there must also be other texts/discourses circulating in the public sphere. Texts build off of other texts, and are naturally interactive. “Between the discourse that comes before and the discourse that comes after one must postulate some kind of link. And the link has a social character; it is not mere consecutiveness in time, but a context of interaction” (Warner, 420). This leads to my second point – that publics are ideological.
    I say publics are ideological in nature, in part, because ideology is so intricately interwoven into the very fabric of our lives. We cannot escape it. While we may not realize its encompassing power – since it functions most strongly at the subconscious level – it is nearly (entirely?) impossible to position oneself firmly outside all ideology. Our beliefs, values, rhetoric, traditions, ways of being, thinking, speaking, learning, etc., are all informed by and through different ideologies, so it stands to reason that publics are ideological as well. What the addressee has to say will be determined by a combination of his/her beliefs, values and knowledge, as well as – and this is important – the ideology to which s/he subscribes. How a public reacts is based on a collective combination of these same elements. Thus, it is important that one thinks about the possible consequences their address may have; the reactions of the public they are addressing and the implications of what they chose to publish. Social media platforms have made it increasingly easy for the views and opinions of both educated, rational individuals as well as uneducated, radical individuals to circulate freely. While I think this is only fair (for why should the right to a public voice be limited to only the highly educated?), it means that many opinions are being presented as ‘facts’ and are being published with the intent of skewing public opinion one way or another. Thus, the need for caution when reading (even that which is labelled as factual news, etc.), liking, re-posting and choosing to become part of a specific public. It seems that many people in our society are too eager to jump on board and begin blindly following. Without doing any independent research/fact-checking, they adopt the ideological rhetoric of the text or speech of the addressee and begin to take action simply because they like the sound of what they heard/read and want to be part of something. This makes it alarmingly easy for those agenda-setters who want to create a movement or uprising around their cause; all they have to do is put their opinions out there and a public will appear, form around whatever they’ve said/written, and with no regard for the ‘truth’ (or the possible implications), take action. As Michael Warner says in “Publics and Counterpublics”, it’s a very simple process: “To address a public we don’t [have to] go around saying the same thing to all these people. We say it in a venue of indefinite address, and hope that people will find themselves in it” (418). The amount of conflicting reports and opinions available on the web, makes it imperative that digital and social media users take care what publics they enter and begin to actively participate in.
    Warner also states that; “A public is constituted by mere attention” (419), meaning that anyone who comes into contact with a text, hears/reads it, and pays any amount of attention to its content, automatically becomes part of its public (at least for a time). The person publishing/posting something online has no way of knowing the type of individuals s/he is reaching, nor the way they will interpret and react to what they read. “A nation, for example, includes its members whether they are awake or asleep, sober or drunk, sane or deranged, alert or comatose. Because a public exists only by virtue of its address, it must predicate some degree of attention, however notional, of its members. [But] the cognitive quality of that attention is less important than the mere fact of active uptake … by coming into range you fulfill the only entry condition demanded by a public” (Warner, 419). Thus, it is easy to get swept up into a public without knowing much about its origins. I have momentarily become part of many online publics by the simple fact that I stumbled across them and began to read, and have subsequently removed myself from certain ones after realizing they were not what I had imagined, not what I wanted to be a part of, etc. That is one of the beauties of publics and counterpublics (especially those that are formed online); one can enter and also choose to leave a public with ease, at any time, and I feel this autonomy is an important feature of today’s publics.
    Especially in the current political climate, where many conflicting voices (some reasonable and rational, others not) are clamoring for attention, attempting to widen their publics, I feel it is crucial to advocate for critical, independent thought and fact-checking. When looking at some of the events that have stemmed from the hashtag #nobannowall, it seems clear that many are not doing this. You see publics forming physical groups of people actively protesting the travel ban, which is very likely what the creator of #nobannowall desired, but because they have not done any research of their own, they are doing so in a way that (at times) contradicts the original idea behind the hashtag. And regardless of whether the addressee agrees with their actions, once a public has been formed and mobilized, it can take on a life and/or purpose of its own, becoming a nearly unstoppable force … for good or for evil. A general example of this is how many publics that have formed around a political cause and begun to take action through peaceful protest, very swiftly morph into something entirely different – and the opposite of – peaceful protest. In short, they have become violent and in doing so, have abandoned the principles that originally banded them together. We have been seeing a lot of this in the U.S.A. over the last year, and it only seems to be getting worse. A more specific example comes directly from the public of the hashtag #nobannowall. Active participants of this public are protesting the travel ban at airports all across the country, which is all fine and good; the problem stems from the WAY they are protesting. The discourse surrounding the hashtag (at least the first part of it) is that the U.S.A.’s banning of certain people from certain countries based on their religion, is unconstitutional and wrong. This makes sense, correct? But what began as a proper outcry against discrimination, has morphed into something entirely different, something ironic, something shameful. At many American airports – Seattle, Washington is one – this public is “shutting down” airports, blocking doors etc., so no one can enter or leave. They are doing this while chanting “Let Them In” and “No Hate, No Fear, Refugees ARE Welcome Here!” and so on and so forth. Rather ironic, wouldn’t you say? They are saying people should not be blocked/stopped from entering (or leaving) the country as they please, yet at the same time, are physically stopping EVERYONE from entering (or leaving) the country! What?
    My point is that publics and counterpublics can be formed by anyone with something to say – especially today in our digital/social media-run world; but, once formed, they are not easily controlled and can either do good or wreak havoc. Thus, it is extremely important for us to be vigilant about that which we publish, as it can be misunderstood and twisted out of context in order to suit the needs of the participants. What we publish/post can just as easily be picked up by someone deranged, with a strong agenda, as by someone sane, educated, and rational. Once it’s out there the creator no longer has full (or in some cases, ANY) control over the direction it takes and the chain of events that may or may not ensue. Additionally, as content consumers, we must be vigilant with our fact-checking, and always do our own research before blindly jumping on board with a cause or becoming an active member of a public. Now more than ever, we must cultivate independent and critical thought processes, and if we find ourselves in a public that is acting in a way we do not agree with, we must either leave said public, or (and this is better, but can be harder to do) attempt to educate those in our public as best we can.
    The importance of public discourse , its implications, and the effects it has on our society can be hard to comprehend in their entirety. Yet, the following excerpt taken from “Publics and Counterpublics” seems to do a pretty good job of recognizing the transformative power of public discourse, and its ability to shape society…
    … Public discourse … promises to address everybody. It commits itself in principle to the possible participation of any stranger … [and] postulates a circulatory field of estrangement which it must then struggle to capture as an addressable entity. No form with such a structure could be very stable. The projective character of public discourse, in which each characterization of the circulatory path becomes material for new estrangements and recharacterizations, is an engine for (not necessarily progressive) social mutation. Public discourse, in other words, is poetic. By this I mean not just that it is self-organizing, a kind of entity created by its own discourse, nor even that this space of circulation is taken to be a social entity, but that in order for this to happen all discourse or performance addressed to a public must characterize the world in which it attempts to circulate, and it must attempt to realize this world through address … Public discourse says not only, “Let a public exist,” but “Let it have this character, speak this way, see the world in this way.” … (Warner, 422).
    Public discourse is informed by ideology, and the publics we create can (and do) have huge impacts on our society. Let us share the facts, as well as our thoughts, opinions and ideas; let us also join/participate with the publics we find ourselves in, but let us do both of these responsibly. Most importantly, let us open our minds and hearts so we can hear other conflicting opinions/perspectives (even those that challenge what we believe) so we can be fully informed, instead of shouting over those views we disagree with, and remaining ill-informed. In order to be knowledgeable about current events, it is important to hear the arguments from all sides. I believe this leads to constructive discussions, rather than disruptive actions.
    As both content creators and content consumers, let us tread carefully and be ever mindful of the ways in which our actions are shaping our society.

    Michael Warner – “Publics and Counterpublics.” (in Quarterly Journal of Speech. 88.4.) (2002).


  3. In this blog post I will highlight the quested voiced in the topic, provide personal insight, along with article references and online research, and finally my person views on counter publics and the current discourse that being shape in modern society.

    How are publics created? What makes public what it is?

    We can use Trumps recent travel ban, along with the people who protest these beliefs as an example to explain Publics and counter publics

    According to Warner, one way public can be formed is through “the kind of public that comes into being only in relation to text and their circulation” thus, you as the reader are the public of my written reply to this blog post.
    In a more broad sense here are the first three components of publics when referring to our chosen topic .

    • Publics need the ability to be self-organized. What this means is that the public of individuals working together to showcase their disapproval is a liberated state, not connected to government, were they are from or brands. These people act from their own interest in a self-organized public for the benefit of the cause.
    • Publics need relation among strangers. This means the ability for their opinions to reach people they do not know, in order to inform others of the issues of a travel ban.
    • Public’s speech is both personal and impersonal. The ability for the reader to understand that the message was not solely directed to them, but to strangers.
    (Alford, 2011)
    (As I struggled to grasp the concept through the article, I used a WordPress blog as inspiration to paraphrase some of the key components. )

    What are counter publics?
    To my knowledge counter publics would be those in direct conflict with the citizens protesting Trumps travel bans. This counter public could develop in forms of attending these protests to voice their approval of Trump’s ban. An additional example would be people posting negative, hate related replies to articles posted by the anti-trump ban supporters. Finally, these groups could build their own website to share their own opinions in order to counter public anti-travel ban, while building their own publics to support their views.

    What discourse is being shaped in our public sphere?
    I can connect with other peers in our class when I believe that social media is having a significant impact on how we as society communication through words. With the ability to share information so instantaneously, our society is being flooded with a variety of publics and counter publics that from a pessimistic standpoint spew fiction knowledge. Naive people absorb this information, and share it, causing negative backlash and hatred worldwide.

    As online interaction becomes main stream in public interaction, the inability for our society to withhold the importance of traditional communication channels may lead to serious threats to our freedom of speech, and how our information flows to others on the web.

    In all honestly, I found this topic difficult to write about, hence my lack of flow, but I believe the act of myself doing research and reading the articles has allowed me to appreciate the importance of understanding how we communicate as individuals, and how certain groups can influenced based on their views.

    Alford, A. (2011, February 8). Publics and counterpublics. Retrieved from


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