rainer ganahl , 1998 ( was supposed to become a book - which didn't work out.. the erman text is here:


public discourse and private realm

The history of the formation of the public sphere is a historsy of democracy. It converges with the history of bourgeois society and its means of transportation, communication and production. A history of the public sphere and public discourse is also a history of politics, class antagonisms, institutional conflicts, legislation and opposing interests. It is a history of battles concerning education, information and censorship as well as the social order. The most fundamental attempt to analyse the phenomenon of the public sphere/discourse both structurally and historically was undertaken approximately 40 years ago by Jürgen Habermas in his book Transformation of the Structure of Society . About a decade later Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge wrote the book, The Public Sphere and Experience: On the bourgeois and proletarian public sphere. In the early 70's Richard Sennett engaged in a study of public expression entitled, The Fall of Public Man which investigated the psycho-social aspects of the public and private realm since the eighteenth century.
Today, when one searches a German library catalog via the internet with the key-word Öffentlichkeit an array of similar titles comes up: Public Work and Advertising, Handbook of PR Agencies, Communications Management and Perspectives in PR. The Practice of Social Marketing, etc. Apart from publications that deal directly with the engineering of the public domain for the purposes of selling and manipulation, one finds only few books like the following: Concepts of the Public sphere (3. Lüneburger Kolloquium zur Medienwissenschaft, 1993) Mostly, they tackle the subject of media science: The Media and Politics, Local Broadcast and Public Urban Works, High-Tech: Offensive Information, Industrial Communication. These publications - all German titles from a German on-line library catalog - are not only indicative of the relatively small interest in critical discourse on the subject of the public sphere, but also of the ambiguity and complexity of this amorphous, once-politicized bourgeois category that has undergone astonishing change. Checking the New York Public library with the subject “Public Sphere”, I get only “Your entry public sphere would be here”, followed by “Public Speaking Washington DC 1960 - 1969 Lctgm”, Public Squares -- see -- “Plazas, Public Statement Gordon John Henry, Public Television” etc.. The German word Öffentlichkeit is difficult to translate into English since the meaning is broader than merely "public sphere", "public discourse", or "public realm" and so forth. In my translation from German I will switch between these terms, and sometimes use the German term. This indicates the conceptual differences in understanding and producing public discourse.It isnotwithout significance that the literal translation of the word Öffentlichkeit would be "publicity".
Paradoxically, the collapse of the term “public sphere” into “marketing and media” - from both a factual and linguistic point of view, something that is even more apparent in German than in English - points back to the origins of the public sphere in the modern sense: the beginning of a differentiated society whose members exchange goods and services among themselves and for whom information is essential. The exchange of information emerged alongside the traffic of money and commodities and had to challenge the constraints instituted by local guild-dominated systems of power. Before the decisive moment of making information public, early newspapers - which in Venice were written by “scrittori d'avisi”, in Rome by “gazettani,” in Paris by “nouvellistes,” and in London by “writers of letters” - were first edited and read, albeit irregularly, by various business people and their news centers but were never published. The commodification of news took place later. “Old Truths” were mixed with “new facts” that took on the character of signs and miracles. One could barely distinguish between natural , historico-political, religious and techno-economic incidents.
But at this point commercial relationships were not yet institutionalized by the political and military forces of the state. The state had to first take the form of a bureaucratic, military, political and economic entity, the functioning of which required information, news and a certain public reflection. The installation of a power-monopoly, the commercialization of the society, the creation of an administration based on the separation of powers, and the development of supra-regional infrastructures for the transportation of persons, goods and information were part of the development of new monopoly powers that then consolidated into state apparatuses. Feudal, “private”, single-family bound governance became “public”, “state ruled” by means of a new social order that was characterized by complicated interdependencies and the abstract regulation of functions. The presentation and interpretation of “old and new truths” that traditionally belonged to competing local forces - churches, courts, cities, guilds - changed considerably with the social, political, and technical development of the formation of the state.
Norbert Elias shows in his studies on the socio-genesis of the state how power translated into abstract functions. In the place of wars between free and single warriors fighting over a single territory, a new competition emerged which depended on controlled and detailed information. Transparency, public information and representational power became decisive factors for governance. They played an increasingly central role in a society characterized by an institutionalized order in which power became more public. In the state apparatus where functions were divided, the arbitrariness of power turned into law and police force. The attributes “national” (staatlich) and “public” became exchangeable, observable, and controllable. A society that organized itself capitalistically required debates and fights for transparency. Public debates over decision-making were necessary for reasons of efficiency and mutual control in a modern state system.
The process from a precapitalist context of traffic and exchange to colonialism, from feudal order to the dominance of capitalistic production in factories, was accompanied by the production of a public sphere and public discourse, whose protagonists originated in the bourgeoisie. Because of the professionalism, the orientation towards the marketplace and their exchange of goods, people and information, the bourgeoisie was better qualified than the aristocracy with their privileges and feudal monopolies to represent the state. In order to fulfill these functions and to protect interests, information, education, critical discourse and public accessability were prerequisites. Alongside the marketplace, a public press developed out of earlier information practices. Information became a profitable commodity. This press knew how to seperate, articulate and analyse social, technical and literary topics. With the help of an emerging Öffentlichkeit (public discourse), controlled and regulated by censorship, the subjects (people) turned into an audience that also demanded constitutional rights.
The press, as an extended and effective organ of the public sphere, therefore developed as an instrument of power and administration for which one had to fight. Since the modern state turned into a complex and unapprehendable apparatus run and influenced by administrators, law-makers, officers, professors, doctors, merchants and other members of the educated classes comprising the kernel of the new bourgeoisie, the socio-economic status of the craftsmen became degraded along with the influence of their cities. The difference between the government and the governed was no longer absolute. The state itself became more and more a public issue, a process for which the press has been adequately transformed. Public force in the form of regulation, laws, decisions, tax bills, and so on was turned into a public issue in the press and debated in salons, coffee houses, clubs and bars. Because of a revolution in the means of production and transportation, massive demographic shifted and a decline in the level of self-sufficiency, the dependence on supraregional, national and international markets beame a reality. Tax, marketplace and customs-related decisions and resolutions of all types begin to encroach upon private households. The interest to control and influence, to extract advantages, freedoms and concessions from the state bureaucracy through the instrument of the press was therefore understandable. The public sphere became, like the state, a matter of the bourgeoisie even if a long history of censorship and control of the press and the educated public unfold before the formation of relatively liberal democracies.
One of the many manifestations of the classic bourgeois public sphere consisted in the “reading revolution” - a term coined by Friedrich Schlegel - that reflected the nationalization of culture with its national literature, national theater and national museums. This became particularly important in the territories that later became Germany - on which the following focuses even if similar developments are recognizable in other European countries. The German Enlightenment (Aufklärung) produced a Bildungselite, an educated elite, which distinguished itself from an aristocracy that was oriented towards France. It was composed of higher-level public servants, professionals, doctors, educators, lawyers, theologians, intellectuals, publishers and entrepreneurs. These professional groups characterized by an increased mobility, high degee of administration and priveledges, a relatively closed relationship with the modern state, awakened an engagement for the public discourse (Öffentlichkeit). Since the middle of the 18th century the new public sphere with its circulating educational ideals (Bildungsideale) of the Enlightment took on a purposeful rationale for a supra-regional, identity-providing communication network utilized by the new professional state burocrats and administrators. The state and university language became German rather than French or Latin and could have an impact on its new anonymous public. With the fast development of accessible printing, communication mostly printed, the general alphabetization of the people during the period of "Enlightened Absolutism", and the spreading of city and rural libraries helped to quickly develop a reading revolution. A general “reading fury” - Lesewut, a historical term - emerged and divided the public into readers of “good” and “bad” taste, of “smart literature” or “trival entertainment”. Social, financial and educational differences became equated with esthetics within the bourgeois sphere. Vivid and public debates evolved over esthetic judgements. Reading and the resultant communication process granted to everybody, independent of class, income, religion or citizenry, participation in the increasingly dominant bourgeois public sphere. The socialization of the regularily reading Bildungsbürger, the educated citizen, guaranteed a certain homogeneity of this social strata, which was organizing in many reading clubs, language societies, intellectual circles etc. They gained a public voice and power not easily dismissed.
The meaning of Öffentlichkeit, of public sphere/discourse, continually changes with the rendering public of power, its organs, institutions and media. Public discourse is not power or the limit of power itself, but the medium of power and control. Öffentlichkeit is a medium, in which the character of power and control reflects, mutates and controlls itself. The etymology of this word is interesting as well: in England, “Public” meant first “common good”. Until the 17th century “Private” meant privilege and possession of a high position in government. Only from the 18th century on does an opposition between “public” and “private” occur in a contemporary sense. In France, it was “le public” that changed from “common good” to an elite theatre audience in the 17th century. “Public life” differed from “private life” particularily in the 18th century. “Public life” had to correspond to a civil code and “private life” to a natural code, meaning family. Beginning in the 18th century, Grimm's dictionary includes the germanized term Publikum, as the audience, a judging, reading and theater-going public, whose opinions gained Öffentlichkeit, public exposure, and were of public interest. From the second half of the 18th century on there appears the German term öffentliche Meinung for “public opinion”. Today, the realms of public and private are very collaborative and interwined. Work and health are defined as private, although the conditions of health or work are of public interest and dependent upon public and political decision making. However, with the growth of yellow journalism political and public discussions are crowded out and people are consumed with and adicted to scandals and political soap operas with footage extracted, by unscrupulous means, from the private lives of politicians. But these polemic remarks shouldn't end in a conspiracy theory.
Adorno sees Öffentlichkeit as something that is not already given, but has to be produced. It is seen as something limited by material interests and institutions. This production of Öffentlichkeit, of public discourse, of public opinion, is essential for a functioning democracy, for a transparent polity and an instructed citizenry. In this production there are also industries involved linked to interests other than democratic ones. On one hand you have the media industry, which is gathering, producing, manipulating and interpreting information, on the other hand you have lobbying, the manipulation and purchasing of political influence. Decisions concerning the social and communal well-being of individuals are increasingly set in the non-transparent, corporate realm and are shuttered away from any direct or indirect political influence. Neo-liberal, pseudo-free market laws with internal decision-making committees in corporate high-rises and in cyber conference rooms are increasingly substituted for what was once political consensus building. Public platforms are pushed away or reduced to farce. For example, the state-controlled social security systems in Europe are doing business differently than the non-state privatized one when they go “public” at the stock exchange. 40 years ago, Habermas could still complain that the state-controlled sector of society and the corporate sector of the state are intertwined without the public being aware of this relationship, thus erasing a critical public. Today that danger lies less in the beaurocracy of the state than in the fact of the state turning itself into a private sector business down to the last function. This consequently renders public control not just impossible but, ineffective. In many cases political decisions are bought and pushed through by non-public lobbying assisted by variously interpreted results from public opion polls.
What is decribed as a breakdown of Öffentlichkeit is a transformation of the bourgeois public sphere. The critical public is turning into passive consumers, stay-at-home voters, a tv-audience which is fought over and manipulated by publicity campaigns, and whose behavior is continualy calculated in polls done by media corporations (CNN, CBS etc.). It is increasingly a manipulated Öffentlichkeit that reflects the interests of international corporations, TNCs, and their share holders. In contrast, capital goes "public" on the stock markets. Media corporations commodify critical thinking, selling it in terms of ratings, or in media speach: "delivering eyeballs." Today's mergers and acquisitions strategy knows no conflict of interest. In news and talk shows, the “manifacturing of consent,” is planned down to every detail, adjusted to a mass public that is targeted by levels of spending power and integrated in a depoliticized media landscape made of advertising, information and entertainment. It is striking to observe how even cultural activities and private lives that are in no direct relationship to TV-programming and mass markets are now dominated by the logic of ratings, by selling numbers, by overall profits and media presence. Pierre Bourdieu investigated in his books on the effects of television precisely these mechanisms. He shows how the mass media influences the actions and the psychology of protagonists in the cultural, intellectual and scientific arenas that are thought of as autonomous. Bourdieu shows how certain authors and scientists are getting to a point where they write books merely for the purpose of being invited to TV talk shows (The same ones love to analyse the media in return). Cultural products which don't fit the formula of mass media and spectacle because of their content, their means of production and audience, are lagging behind. Activities that are unfit for event and spectacle logic have a reduced chance of getting the necessary "critical" mass of listeners or viewers for their programs. Related to this is the rising phenomenon of stalking, the harassment of media stars for reasons of aggressive and hysterical over-identification and for the purpose of receiving hyper-attention. Even the individual's sense of self, their raison d'être, their sense in life, seems to be justifiable only through - no matter what kind - media presence, something that in the end undermines private life. "To be", is to be in the media, in one of the myriadic fake-Öffentlichkeiten. Öffentlichkeit or what remains of it has a touch of repressiveness, a manipulated moment, thus not representing the interests of a critical public, but rather erasing it.
Richard Sennett's understanding of the public sphere underlines less the legal, media, ideological and political aspects of this category; rather he underscores the practical and phenomenological dimensions. He tries to construct a model of the public sphere that is free from the “terror of intimacy” of the family deprived of function and weakened in authority. The public sphere is seen as a quasi-aesthetic place, where the senses are free, where the “work of the eyes” and silence can unfold and where people are not subject to the laws of transparency, rationality and consumption. Sennett articulates, as an urbanist, a very specific critic on urbanism, on the layout of architecture and its use. Like Habermas and Kluge and Negt who spoke of “public bastions of consumption,” Sennett too sees a problem in the collapse of the public sphere into consumption in shopping centers and malls. The Germans see this more as an ideological-political issue - the terms are “fake-Öffentlichkeit,” fake-freedom, reification, economic dependancy, etc. - and the American (Sennett) as a psychological, practical one. Unused urban surfaces and public spaces are disappearing, converted increasingly into malls and advertising space, linked to the entertainment and recreational industries: the public sphere as themepark, as shopping-city, as BigMac diplomacy. Most of the subway and train stations in Tokyo, for example, are shopping malls, miles of seductive commercial labyrinths for spending and consuming, where boutiques and supermarkets alternate with gambling salons (Patchinkos), bars, clubs, cinemas, discos and other varieties of entertainment. The fascinating and oppressive juxtaposition of architecture, urban landscape, media and commodities corresponds to a libidinal economy, one which doesn't receive its raw materials from the simple needs, the informal, unforced desire of people to communicate and exchange, but from the effects of artificially-induced pressure for consumption, for ominpresent advertising campaigns and for the monopolization of offers without alternatives. To be, is to shop - shopping as the omnipresent paradigm of presence, which is not just limited to the world of commodities but also touches on all services, including education, health, traveling, dwelling, living and loving.
When it comes to media, authors and commentators tend towards totalizing statements, which don't leave any room for alternatives or new forms of a critical public sphere/discourse - alternatives which don't mourn over the disappearance of the bourgeois literary public sphere and don't believe the message of a “new world order”. Before the bourgoisie consolidated, after having defeated the deprived, uneducated, reduced to mere manifacturing work, empoverished and socially uproot masses in the 1848 upheavals, Karl Marx drafted a political vision according to which socio-economic conflicts would translate into a politically revolutionary public sphere. Around the same time, parts of the public sphere were transformed into repressive control instruments, provoking the emergence of a counter-public sphere (Gegenöffentlichkeit). Habermas speaks in his introduction to his draft on the dominant beourgoisie of a “plebean public sphere”. This becomes the main subject of Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge in their book of 1972, Öffentlichkeit und Erfahrung. Zur Organisationsanalyse von bürgerlicher und proletarischer Öffentlichkeit (Public sphere and experience: An analyisis of organisation of the bourgeois and proletarian public sphere.) Kluge and Negt reconstruct the dialectic of the kind of public sphere that has turned fetishistic and which excludes substantial life interests. The authors develop the dialectical-materialist terms, public sphere and counter-public sphere. They see in Öffentlichkeit a crystallized point of experience and ideology, which is dominated by new conglomerates composed of programming industries, of advertising and the PR of corporations and administrations. The two authors are investigating the possibility, “to contest the use of the state by the dominant class”. They are looking into the "use value of Öffentlichkeit" for workers and other under-represented groups, and declare the public sphere as a fundamental need for the entire society.
Kluge and Negt deliver a history of protest movements and communicative counter-systems of the last 200 years producing an effective counter public sphere that is, unfortunatly, too often unrecognized. Included in this are labor unions, strikes, illegal gatherings, demonstrations, insurrections, revolts, factory occupations, student movements, educational organisations; protections for the struggles of workers, the unemployed and students; the formation of women groups, anarchists and pacifists, reading clubs and informal reading groups of a revolutionary autodidactic culture, workers' newspapers and any kind of autonomous communication structure that produces forms of exchange independent of capitalistic commodification and profit taking. The book gathers impressive materials cataloging these counter public spheres. It also lists and analyses those facts concerning the many struggles over communication rights, free press, free speech and the right to freely gather since the end of the 18th century. There are very detailed accounts on historic protest formations and on forgotten protest movements; for example, the Shop Steward Movement in its development, tactics, effects and counter reactions. This English working movement in the 19th century produced autonomous cells of resistance against capital and also against the bureaucracy of unions, that - in their fake-Öffentlichkeit - were ineffective, because they were too abstract in their dealings with the movement's base. This Shop Steward Movement followed the failure of the Chartist movement, which tried to remake all of society into a proletarian public sphere. They questioned the very logic of a commodity-based, capital-driven industrial society. This social revolutionary impulse is also inscribed in Negt and Kluge's book. They state that the historic failure of the worker movements was due to the inexperience and diletantism in dealing with a bourgeois public discourse. Contrary to this, in the 20th century, Hitler's fascism was able to totally appropriate, enhance and instrumentalize the media organs of the bourgeois sphere into multimedia propaganda.
Kluge and Negt analyze experience and the public sphere as a subject of the dialectical social production of human relations (Lebenszusammenhänge). Not just commodities and money-based services are produced, but also experiences, human relations, values, languages, ideas and representations of history and presence. The relevant differences in these productions are not only between public and private, but also between exclusion and inclusion, representation and non- or misrepresentation. In addition, there are also the contradictions between capitalist interests and social or ecological interests, or between non-violent, democratic and coerced, authoritarian legitimations. Counter public spheres and discourses evolve from these exclusions, misrepresentations and fake Öffentlichkeiten. These demands for inclusion and representation are expressed in particular by ethnic minorities and are articulated as an active politics of representation. In the Western world, the imaginary spectrum and the expectations regarding, for example, Africans, Arabs and Asians are a product of a long history of misrepresentations, which are built into eurocentric and racist histories, reports, historiographies and analyses. They were related to an aggressive, imperialist politics of colonization and neo-colonization, and are perpertuated even now in a less vehement form.
Today, the fight for an inclusive, tolerant public discourse (Öffentlichkeit) is both a fight over the mass media and a struggle in the media. Their conglomerates belong to the most outspoken and influential concentrations of capital; their instruments have an impact on politics. But even in such a intense and overpowering industrial media complex, one can always find alternatives and resistances. For example, recall the global broadcast of a Town Meeting at the University of Ohio organized by the White House Administration and CNN in order to justify a scheduled military intervention in Iraq in February 1998. This show was an example of how a public spectacle, designed as war propaganda under the cover of a fake democratic public discussion, was transformed into a protest action through the well-orchestrated, political engagement of students and professors against war in front of TV cameras. The very eloquent and aggressive protest statements of the individual speakers and the loud disturbances successively counteracted all of the government's intentions, an effect that was only possible through the media but that helped in the consolidation of a front against the rejection of a second Gulf war.
As this CNN example shows, counter public spheres and discourses (Gegenöffentlichkeiten) as situational and event-specific efforts can be spontaneous, unexpected and effective. Gegenöffentlichkeiten do not always have to be logistically planned and orchestrated, and do not have to fit ideological party thinking. If a cynical historiography talks about the end of history, not only does it misinterpret the present as being incapable of consequential actions and reactions which are historiographically notable, but it also overestimates the spontaneous, uncoordinated and everyday character of those events, which then turn into historiographical data. Mass events, class struggles, factory insurrections, the gunning down of a crown successor or the burning of books share, as phenomenological facts, their structure with today's occupations of embassies, border crossings, occupations of houses and airplanes, and the bombing of abortion clinics, refugee housing or Baghdad. People will always make their own history and write it, rewrite it and claim it according to their needs and interests. Even groups that are consumption-oriented, manifesting themselves in pseudo-critical, aggressive and pseudo-aggressive youth cultures, fashion and music movements, even these groups do have moments of protest and counter public discourse. MTV is one of the most important public voices creating, occupying and globally broadcasting images of youth and difference, transgressing borders, languages, cultures and classes. But even within these mega-channels one can find possibilities for change and resistance. Although their effects can easily and critically be written off as domesticating, repressive and uncritical, they should not be dismissed as ineffective, though it is true that TV and public mass media spheres tend to serve people information they do not need and withhold from them that which is of greatest concern.
The correlation between critic and consumer is complicated, cryptic, curious, corrupt and contradictory. On one hand, critique and negativity as a condition for a counter public discourse needs a medium, one which in most cases is commodified if it wants to be effective. On the other hand, there is a danger that critical thinking can turn into consequenceless consumption. This is the fate of most youth public protest movements: from a certain point on, they merely entertain the establishment, decorate it and legitimize it freshly with radical chic. As an example, in Geneva, the well-educated youth often live in bourgeois, upper-middle class squats. The moment they break into a house, the occupying group reports it to the police in order to guarantee the right to use it and to keep it from other squatters. In some cases, these groups start an investment fund in order to purchase these run-down houses; this process transforms the student from house squatters into house owners. This is not unlike the formation of aesthetic tastes, which are mainly socially defined and experienced: small, productive protest and alternative communities can very quickly turn into multimedia mass markets. Even piercing, the penetration of unusual body parts - including primary and secondary sexual organs - with metal, an act that used to be practiced mostly in criminal, outlaw and outcast societies, has by now been domesticated into a fashionable accessory.
Along these lines, Guy Debord denies criticality and authenticity to any culture of spectacle. In a totalizing way, he tends to denounce almost any cultural or counter-cultural activity as spectacle. The position of the Frankfurt School is also mostly negative towards any form of mass and pop culture, though Adorno's writings are more self-contradicting and dialectical than they appear when read or quoted out of context; rather, he appreciated and valued so-called “low culture” as a useful tool in order to denounce the demands and the reality of a high culture which he saw as complicit with the evil, the barbaric and the merely stupid.
The industrialized distribution, reception and consumption of information is today beyond limits owing to advanced information technology. Counter cultural impulses are also transmitted via the global network. Aside from the internet there is a wide range of cheap but effective baby media ranging from photocopiers, silkscreens, hand held video, audio tape dubbing to CD burning, software distribution, beepers, cellular phones, instant messaging technologies, digital audio-visual imaging, and many more. This allows for subversion and counter-spectacle within the medium of mass media. For example, MTV started out in the 80s as an all white music channel that refused black artists, something that has changed drastically in the 90s, when it began presenting inner-city gangster rap artists and their violent counter-messages. Audiovisual data are now convertible without any loss into digital information clusters that - through “revolutionary” technologies - allow almost endless compression, storage and transmission for a simultaneous reception globally. It is remarkable how technology and shared interests produces autonomous quasi-public spheres that are challenging legal standards and even rendering them obsolete and anachronistic. This manifests as individual CD-burning and distribution, free internet-TV, internet conferences and internet telephone, so-called mailing lists, hacking and spaming etc. to name just a few examples.
Counter-public spheres are also occurring through practices which are a mixture of symbolic and purpose-oriented actions. Civil disobedience, for example can take on many dimensions. It can be peaceful but can end also in violence and distraction, something that is often the case, when the police intervene. The tactics and successes of the relatively peaceful and relatively legal civil disobedience actions in the 60s, 70s and 80s in Europe and the USA articulated pacifist concerns (against the Vietnam war, the Gulf war) ecological issues (atomic power, the destruction of the rain forests, deep sea oil platforms, etc....) and humanitarian, anti-discrimination concerns (AIDS crisis, black liberation, anti-racism, feminism, gay issues, police violence, animal rights etc..) . More famous are those groups that turned radical in their ideology and their actions. They became known as terrorists. A new form of effective and violent counter public sphere emerged beginning in the 70s in Germany, Italy, Palestine, Japan, the USA and other places. It was essential for terrorism to instrumentalize mass media for their political fight. Terrorism wasn't only just an instrument for left-wing liberation struggles, but quickly played a role in right-wing terrorism whose purpose was turn the state into a police state using confusion, fear and oppression as a instrument. Today, uncivil disobedience and right-wing terrorism has been mastered by radical reactionaries, as is evidenced in the bombing of abortion clinics and federal buildings in the USA. The issue of terrorism and its multifaceted appearance all over the world is so complex that it cannot be thoroughly discussed here.
The new media produces new forms of digital disobedience, encompassing a wide spectrum of interventions in networks and data banks. Hacking is only one form of unwanted and illegal penetration into protected data infrastructures that is of concern to the public. Digital activism differentiates itself from profit and trophy oriented data theft. This E-activism with its electronic-information interventions tries to create critical awareness concerning security and data-Öffentlichkeit. Electronic activism (“hacktivism”) and intervention, ranging from information blockades, electronic disturbance (spams, for examples) and information publishing to information distraction, have direct political, ecological and other consequences. Indeed, the electronic-digital public sphere, information wars and its global universe is not only an inspiration for recent Hollywood films- there is no James Bond film without electronic battlefield or theater - but also a space where new counter-spheres occur in order to influence and change the existing dominant public sphere. Digital civil disobedience will have to conform to a variety of creative and hybrid strategies of the new global technological, political-economical landscapes. It will contribute to create critical, electronic activist counter public spheres. It is essential that the creation of Gegenöffentlichkeit will make use of the entire spectrum of traditional and digital media and strategies and can so face today's nature of power, capital, politics and the military.
This essay started with Öffentlichkeit - public discourse/sphere - and then continued with Gegenöffentlichkeit - counter-public discourse/sphere. Now I would like to discuss what I call Doppelöffentlichkeit, the world's double on the internet. The internet belongs to the most advanced forms of electronic media with a public character. It was developed during the Cold War as mobile, nomadic, non-hierarchical information infrastructure for the command centers of the US Military. In case of network damage, information is rerouted without loss. Soon it became also accessible to science and university users, and that was followed by a creative strata of colorful users that didn't have any purposes other than information, expression and personal communication. Parallel to the growth of a mass market of relatively cheap powerful personal computers, a fast and intensive communicating cyberculture appeared which understood itself as alternative, anti-commercial, critical and postmodern. Also attracted to the internet were many right-wing radicals and anti-social elements together with early marketers and police surveillance agents. Utopias of a new digital era were flying as high as internet-related stocks today. The potentially egalitarian, democratic and public qualities of the medium were praised in a rather naive way. The relentless improvement of the software and hardware industry opened up new business carriers. Today the internet has turned into the global informational organ of the transcapital world. It is no longer a time of the technophile “hello”-sentences and pixel graphics made by enthusiastic students or artists exchanging messages between Sydney, Halifax, San Diego, Vienna and Budapest in well announced communicational events with long lasting hours of technical breakdowns. Today on the internet a corporate world unfolds with its products and services: E-shopping, E-banking, E-trading in stocks, E-education, E-entertainment and E-communication. It has also turned into an electronic industrial workplace, and for many it is business as usual. There is barely an American company without a web-site or not about to install one. Also individual users prefer to communicate silently through a modem. The world of commodities, services and information has found its double, its second market on the internet.
Like today's shopping centers, malls and entertainment parks create a public sphere, the internet allows us to speak of Doppelöffentlichkeit, the public sphere's/discourse's double. It is a corporate Doppelgänger that doubles every imaginable business environment on-line. Paraphrasing Ranke, a German historian of the 19th century, on line, technologically speaking, all are at the same distance to God. Each participant can have his/her web site without much effort. Each address is reachable independent of its local distance. A vast amount of data covering the entire spectrum of knowledge, information, entertainment, services and commodities are on line and virtually accessible, visible, purchasable. Cybergurus and media utopists were quick to embrace the new media with an access and download euphoria. In fact, access to high technologies and the internet is very problematic. Parts of some continents are barely equipped with telephones let alone high speed fiber optic networks. Differences within a technologically existing context are also remarkable. In the USA, where the internet is propagated by government and reinforced by the economy as a marketing machine and democratic tool, there still exists a disproportionate user relationship between African Americans and White Americans. The first group has less access to the internet but even when computers and internet access is available to African Americans they use it less frequently then White Americans. This discrepancy becomes greater when it comes to criteria like income. The smaller the income of the compared population, the larger the discrepancy. These comparisons are significant insofar, as these technological and information specific differences create economic, informational, sexual, educational and professional disqualifications. Advertising copy and TV ads just list URL addresses. Banks justify the closure of less used branches in the US with the argument of on line services for most of their business activities.
A public sphere is, in spite of the potentials of these technologies, only partially realized. It is only achieved where economic and social conditions guarantee everybody the same potential for access, something that isn't available when it comes to the internet and the technologizing of the entire society. Concerning government, fiscal and police regulations the internet is so far relatively untouched, something that will drastically change if the technology becomes pervasive, economically viable and embraced by the mass public. Changes over on line fiscal policy are already being programmed and reinforced daily as I am writing.
Apart from the access to the internet that re-inscribes social, economic, cultural, sexual and ethnic differences, the quality of information in this originally quite electronic net has gone through a change itself over the few years of its existence. It has turned noisy, going from a text-oriented, relatively simple interface landscape that consisted of dialog oriented bulletin boards to a loud, multi-media, multi-dimensional mega-spectacle. Within seconds, the internet fulfills the needs of specialized nuclear or animal researchers, the discussion groups of people waiting for organs or airplane tickets, and the audio-visual desires of unusual sexual or religious practitioners. The principally democratic and dialogically structured information network, which could serve as a real basis for a participatory and critical public sphere, has transformed into a consumer oriented neo-liberal bazaar whose participants, more isolated then ever before, are exchanging services and goods for credit card numbers and secret codes while leaving behind statistical material for individual profiles.
Indeed, even if nobody aims directly at the relationship of buying and consuming, the inherent hierarchies of desires and offerings in the non-electronic world have doubled. Here one speaks of Doppelöffentlichkeit, the public realm's double. It is the big media and corporate world that is counting the most mouse clicks on the internet. They purchase without limits all those initiatives and businesses that show up on a screen as content providers. People try with a variety of strategies to align the pleasant chaos, the nameless multiplicity of things, back into transparent, consumer-friendly information blocks of the old corporate mega-providers with internet portals. Big names, big turnovers, big overview, big connections, big exclusions and high stock prices. Portals don't just allow mass consumer access the gigantic consumer universe but also pre-determine the orientation for mall like shopping with links to famous labels. Competitors whose addresses are not inscribed into these access landscapes fall out. Profit and consumer oriented behavior has to give in to market logistics. Participatory communication projects that focus on critical discourses and that are dependent on the participation and the texts of unpaid readers/writers become increasingly difficult. Creating communities in a new diasporic electronic public sphere must be a viable, desirable and liberating alternative, bringing together individuals and groups which until the arrival of the internet couldn't communicate due to spatial, social, temporal and communicative barriers.
The issue of the Öffentlichkeit gains an additional aspect on the internet along with other digital interactive media. The medium allows the tracking and analysis of each mouse click. Complex and highly detailed visitor profiles can be detected and constructed through movements on the net like that created with credit card usage information. So-called cookies are offered. These are mini-programs transferred into a user's computer that prepare and administrate the next visit to a site. These cookies can grow into cupcakes or blobs (Binary Large Objects) and may provide with the help of the total digital profile some plausible, personal data that is useful if not enticing to selective media buyers benefiting advertisers, insurance companies, banks, job researchers, health care providers and eventually also the government and the police. What are your problems, diseases, interests, desires, religious and sexual orientation, contacts, etc.? The old terrorist profile search methods of the 70s in Germany looks dilettantish compared to today's digital profile construction methods. Through mere participation, private use of these technologies turns public, i. e. publicly or semi-publicly re-applicable. It shouldn't make anybody wonder why Microsoft bought Firefly Networks Inc., the leading software producer in the field of filter technologies and in the production of visitor profiles. These technologies will provide the techno-social environment with registration and measurement sensors. The information of built-in GPS - Global Positioning System - into mobile phones delivers not only evidence in murder cases through the mere reception of any phone call which the culprit receives near the site of the crime, but is also accessible for any consumer, concerned parent, or jealous partner . Also, more and more digital telephone receptionists greet the caller automatically with their name and their identification codes (for example, account numbers, insurance numbers, etc.) that gets activated through the calling telephone number. In the moment of connection, all data of the calling party is pulled up and available in detail without any delay. It is no wonder that opinion researchers that are essentially influencing the formation of public opinion - politically as well as economically - are also resorting to internet technologies that allow them in a Borgesian way to gather without delay statistical data from a population almost equal to the total population.
Private protection is becoming with today's and tomorrow's digital information technologies almost a farce. “Private” means under the new industrial norm “information not for further use”, while “public”, accordingly, stands for “information for use”. Today, the individual doubles oneself , taking on - as mentioned - a shadowy data body, an info-doppelgänger, present in surveillance and bureaucracy. Doppelöffentlichkeit therefore doesn't point just to the doubling of the consumer and communication reality on the internet but also to an electronic data omnipresence. Today, participation in the public sphere is represented by the mouse click on the internet, the use of telephones, computers, credit cards, medical drugs, transports and many other services. Simultaneously, population profiles are created. Now, an unlimited amount of people can be observed, quantified and finally manipulated individually into its smallest and most intimate movements, even down to their genetic information. The compilation and use of demographic data has been happening since the 17th century and is now in the form of public polls dominating modern election processes, public opinion and political praxis. What can be mourned in the traditional sense as loss in the public sphere (Öffentlichkeitsverlust) is compensated through polls and filter data banks. The miniaturization and immaterialization of technologies permit the users, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, to carry their digital assistants and work platforms with them. Cyborg theories are even talking of implanted technologies. This renders each participant permanently reachable, ready for contact and therefore also public and controllable. Schools and universities should start to teach students the conscious and careful use of data and technologies in order to develop counter strategies. But factually speaking, it is more likely that babies and children will become accustomed to being observed by surveillance cameras in kindergardens, preschools and schools rather than pupils and students questioning these surveillance techniques.




introdctuion to the book -


Introduction - It is upsetting...It is upsetting to look at a table of newly published books in Paris commenmorating the 30th anniversary of the events of 1968: Whether interviews with protagonists, historical analysis, simple narration, visual material or graffiti, these mostly well-made books cost far too much. They are electronically protected against shoplifting.But it is far more upsetting and disturbing when I see books by Julia Kristeva that are soliciting “un nouveau sacré”, the new sacred. Revolt is for Kristeva no longer considered political upheaval, a fundamental expression paired with action for freedom and liberty that can break oppression and undo a repressive status quo. Rather, she reinterprets revolt as something intimate, private and psychoanalytical. The books I am referring to are “Contre la depression nationale” and “Les femmes et le sacré”, and are placed not far from the new arrivals on the events of 1968. The position she takes in her latest books reiterates what she said in the interview included in this volume. I am highly opposed to her reinterpretion of revolt and of her stance against politics and feminism. Because Julia Kristeva is often associated with the radical political and feminist positions I find it very important to initiate a broader discussion of these issues, something I had tried to do with a critical discussion about her via the internet.
Contrary to this discrepancy between the events and their comodification, there is also some new activity on the French book market . There is a series of very cheap books - between 10 and 30 FF, barely the price a sandwich or a newspaper. Their contents are also encouraging and politically engaged. Unlike jaded '68 protagonists such Baudrillard, who now has another career publicly denouncing the effects of resistance to oppression, these new books by Pierre Bourdieu and a group of far less known but socially conscious authors are stimulating and affirm the importance of independent, socially and politically committed publishing houses. Once liberal and critical publishing houses are falling prey to new marketing strategies and take-overism. Today, it is not a critical or literary view that determines whether something goes to print, but its selling potential, as the neo-liberal market thinks of itself as omnipotent and invincible.
It is also upsetting that the student revolt in Indonesia - which was taking place when I began writing this in the summer of 1998 - had severe racist dimensions. Students and workers were not just revolting against the oppressive regime of Suharto but were also burning and vandalizing the shops of the Chinese minority living in the country. Despite these contradictions, I would like to underscore that organized and justified resistance works even in these so-called “post-historic” and neo-liberal, bankocratic societies. “No regime lasts forever” has turned into an advertising slogan of an US phone company. But in spite of its appearance as a commercial, it is also true: oppression and injustice can be overthrown. In the case of Indonesia, the successful (and unfortunately bloody) student upheaval was well-documented by the media. In the non-western world, however, Gil Scott Heron's poetic projection that “the revolution will not be televised” always was reality - that is, until global Western investments changed things. Revolts and student protests went mostly unreported and gained very limited media recognition. A lot has been written and published about the events of 1968 in Paris, Frankfurt, Berlin and Berkeley. But one forgets the many students and young rebels around the world - from South America to Africa to Asia - who also lost their lives but went unseen by international television cameras and news reporters.
My visit to Paris also allowed me to search for books published soon after the events of '68 that addressed the subject of revolt, revolution and utopia: books like De la Révolution aux révoltes (Jacques Ellul), Phénoménologie de l'esprit révolutionnaire (Vittorio Mathieu), On a raison de se révolter, (Jean-Paul Sartre) and Utopiques: Jeux d'Espaces (Louis Marin) to name just a few. As much as I would like to read and reread and study them carefully, I find it impossible to include the massive and often theoretically overdetermining material into this small and limited book project. The same applies to Karl Marx's theories. My project remains therefore limited, and cannot include the huge amount of accademic work on this subject. Somebody else should to do this properly. I am also opposed to the way some artists, filmmakers and book editors today approach this subject by simply exploiting the nostalgic aura of the remaining images, TV footage, graffities and other relics. Folklore and nostalgia for both the revolt and the fashion of '68 go hand in hand and sell well. Increasingly, bookshops in the Quartier Latin have been converted into fashion boutiques. At the same time, the fashion industry itself is also appropriating the imaginary of libraries or radical books for their advertising campaigns.
Even copies of a reprint of Karl Marx's The Communist Manifesto by Verso Books decorated the Haute Couture window displays of some upscale New York department stores. Ironically, this Marx text describes very accurately the conditions of the classes of people who make and purchase these fashion products. He details how the bourgeoisie has to permanently revolutionize the instruments and the relationships of production which, in return, revolutionize social relationships. The consequences are discontent, permanent insecurity and dramatic change, things that force people to observe their lives with sober eyes. Fashion is a good cover-up for the bodies of individuals who could lose their jobs and portfolios overnight. Moreover, the Manifesto anticipates the socio-economic situation of what today is labeled globalization: Marx knows that instruments of production and knowhow - now called software - is concentrated into a few monopolized hands (Microsoft, Boing, Airbus, DaimlerChrysler, etc...), thanks to the revolution in communication and transportation infrastructures. He underscores how the markets go cosmopolitan, global and sometimes out of control, producing financial crises, trade wars and military wars. Marx's book, while promoting textiles and shoes in shopping paradises in Manhattan, speaks clearly of how women and children are abused the most, and how (neo-) colonial exploitation provides the basis of capitalism. He predicts and requires resistance and revolt - something we could watch on CNN, like the images from Indonesia I saw while writing this introduction. The moment Wall Street and the world financial markets lose control over the savings of the middle classes around the world, threatening and pushing local and national industries to their limits with gigantic mergers, wealth is likely to evaporate - something we just have observed in Asia and even with some renowned US, Japanese, French and British financial institutions. The boom will gloom, the dresses fall down to the books and revolt by the dispossesed, left out and unprotected will be immanent once more.
The idea of this book goes back to an invitation by In Vitro, a tiny initiative run by artist Gianni Motti that works with public billboards and a tiny window display in a central tram station, for a public space project in Geneva. Following the logic of my public reading seminars project, my proposal consisted of a bulletin board discussion on the internet of Julia Kristeva's recently published book Sense et Non-Sense de la Révolte. I was interested in the book but was confused about what Kristeva tried to do with the term “revolt”. I then opened up a critical discussion on my internet reading seminar site (rainer's reading seminar, that covered approximately one year. This reading seminar was accompanied with a sound file and a transcription of an interview I conducted with Julia Kristeva in New York. This conversation alarmed me. I didn't expect such an outspoken position against political engagement and feminism, since she was associated with radical politics and feminism during the '70s. Her research for “Les nouvelles formes du sacré” (the new forms of the sacred) had a particularly disturbing effect on me.
Books entitled Les Femmes et le sacré (Women and the sacred), La révolte intime (The Intimate Revolt) and Contre la dépression nationale (Against National Depression) have appeared in France, and confirm that our interview was not an exception . Similar positions surface in other interviews. But her return to the rather oppressive, irrational concepts of the sacred and the intimate reminded me of a variety of German-speaking intellectuals who underwent a dramatic shift to a new right wing, one that has nationalistic, militaristic-chauvinistic, anti-immigrant and revisionistic - in regard to the Holocaust - politics on their agenda . The tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the construction of the European Union, the Euro as a common currency, and the severe effects of the turbo-capitalistic globalization of production, work and markets have been accelerating this process. High unemployment, rapidly changing economic situations, the transformation of the European social welfare system, wars within Europe, financial crisis around the world and the general inflexibility to transcend national, ethical, religious and linguistic barriers might help to explain why certain people seem to revert precisely to repressive ideologies and politics.
In spite of my fundamental disagrement with Kristeva's ideas, I still find it necessary to publish them in relationship to this book's contrary beliefs. In Germany, Jürger Habermas, Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge have developed a variety of research projects under the names Öffentlichkeit and Gegenöffentlichkeit on the very origin and constitution of the political and media systems over the last 400 years. Both terms translate (inadequately) as 'public sphere' and 'consent in public sphere'. These authors analyze in historical and structurak terms the development of the media as well as all other kinds of public expression, and developments in constitutional politics. These discussions on the bourgeois public sphere by Habermas and on the proletarian public sphere by Kluge and Negt were barely translated into an Anglo-Saxon or French context, where discussions on similar issues were discussed under the categories of urbanism, media, sociology, politics and constitutional disciplines.
With the advent of neoliberalism and its powerful communication and exchange infrastructures, the question of Öffentlichkeit (public sphere) and resistance in it arises anew. In my text for this volume, “Public Sphere and Contest” (“Öffentlichkeit, Gegenöffentlichkeit, Doppelöffentlichkeit”), I introduce the discussion in the way Jürgen Habermas opened it in the 1950s and 1960s. With the untranslatable term “Doppelöffentlichkeit,” I try to extend it to the contemporary media landscape that is dominated not only by instant, cableless, world wide communications but also by the advent of the internet. 40 years ago the media landscape was rather easy to observe. Print media, radio and TV were rather simple and their control mechanisms understandable. In Europe, the state held a monopoly on almost all audio-visual media. The variety of the media structure at the time was small, the media offers limited and stable, and the influence direct and remarkable. After publication of some health advice in one of the handful of magazines distributed all over the German-speaking countries, for example, you could have millions of Germans, Austrians and Swiss spending some minutes in the morning upside down on their heads. People cared about the little media that there was. Neo-liberalism, total commercialization as well as a revolutionized and revolutionizing technology - powerful but inexpensive digital production and distribution facilities, commerical communication satelites, fiber-optic cables, WWW, etc. - dissolved the “clear picture” and its monopolies. The relative loss of influence of any individual medium occurs almost simultaneously with the difficulties which traditional political parties have today in Europe. But interest in politics too has decreased and this not just in the USA where over the last years substantial political debates have been replaced by sex and scandalism, where private and public space have collapsed in the most vulgar and abject way for a scandal adicted audience. Independent of these polit-soap operas important decissions - even about war and bombardment of entire countries, but also on many other issues that bear major consequences - are done nonetheless by goverments and their lobbying machines or by TNCs, away from the public case that is consumed and entertained in an ecology of scandals.
Nonetheless, the media machine hasn't lost complete power. In many ways, its influence has increased and even affected domains that define themselves independent from media and market forces. 30 years ago journalists were hanging out with the leaders of labor movements; today they line up for dinner parties with corporations and big decision makers. Today, studies show how journalism has lost a lot of its independence and has become promiscuous. Within the cultural industry, the arts, too, is surrendering to spectacle and corporate interests. Connected networks of communications and hierarchical dependencies tend to program all the same thing at the same time. The “stars” of each cultural field function like corporate brand names. They assure profits and have high exchange value. They dominate all symbolic fields with a raising tendency of interdisciplinary and intercultural penetration and progamming. To be “hot” in fashion or advertisment, music or sports, lubricates any kind of exchange and opens even previously higly guarded fields of artistic practices. These “joint ventures” are becoming as common and profitable for artistic, social and financial capitalization as takeovers and corporate mergers are becoming significant economically. Efficency and excellence, visibility and sales, flexibility and nobility on the scene became major terms for profitable returns in the financial sphere as well as in the cultural and social domain. Museums need to sell gala dinners to corporations, fine artists sell fashion shows, super models and media stars join art events in order to stage and paraphrase political events or icons. To be sucessful in any of these arenas implies and demands cooperation and programming everywhere. Careers are judged instantly. In or out, complete ignorance or over-attention oscillate dramatically and remind us of the climatical changes of nature that is threatened by the effects of global warming. Globalization seems to replace any local logic which is responsive to the interest and needs of people that are not just on-line, on-time informed and uniformed.
Last but not least we remember the old myth of Odysseus, when he was exposed to the seduction but death bringing sybelles. Odysseus had himself chained on a mast to protect himself from what he wanted. Isn't this a tail that not only made sense for Horkheimer and Adorno who used it to describe modernity? Today, it could once more be applied to any kind of cultural production where a major choice is to negotiate between the polyvalent factors of attention, information, interest, criticism, market, adaptation, seduction and resitance. With these essays and interviews this book tries to some raise questions about critical consciousness and resistance in an age dominated by neoliberalism and digital communication via the internet, superindividualism and cynicism: Operation Desert Fox or Desert Monica - it is upsetting!! See also in Germany: A history on the Frankfurt School and the student movement was just published: 10 years work in three volumes with nearly 2000 pages in a format closed to letter size with lots of b/w illustrations cost only approximately 45 US Dollars.
Bankokratie - see Karl Marx, Das Kapital, p. 385, (24. Kapitel, I. Buch) Kröner Verlag, Stuttgart 1957.
for example Ralph Lauren store on Madison Avenue
“Les Femmes et le sacré”, “La révolte intime” and “Contre la dépression nationale” ...
see Diedrich Dietrichson, . October article.....
Doppel = double in relationship with the word Gegen = counter
Bourdieu Television