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Neither Static, Nor Unitary

Vijay Tankha

Edited by Divya Dwivedi  and Sanil V.
Bloomsbury, London, 2015, pp. 360, £64.99

VOLUME XL NUMBER 8 August 2016

The public sphere is a phrase coined by Jurgen Habermas to refer to the critical space for public discourse and rational argument. It has its roots in postEnlightenment critiques of state authority. Increasingly the public sphere has been seen not only as a conceptual space but also as a physical one, the locus for action, but made possible only within a truly democratic polity: the sphere where men act with other men. Mit-sein is the Heideggarean term that Divya Diwedi’s essay imports to demarcate where the private and the public interface: human beings are related to others through their deeds. The polis, in Greece, was the theatre for all such interactions. Perhaps this is why some discussions here take their cue from the emergence of democracy in ancient Greece using the contrast of the household (oikos) with that of the city (polis). To that opposition can be added the older one of word and deed. The public sphere encompasses both.The Old French root of the Latin term, probably derived from pubes (adult), has the sense of ‘open to general observation’. Bernard Steigler points out that the early Greek democratic emphasis on inscribing the laws on stone and displaying them in the centre of the city, constitutes the essence of the transparency of the public domain in contrast to the secrecy of the private sphere, but in a topsy-turvy world, things are not only not the same, but can become the opposite of what they seem to be. In a sense the public sphere has always been, academically with us, both in its antique or classical form as well as in more modern manifestations, signalled by and opposed to the private sphere—the private being all that is personal or internal, domestic, centered on the family. Having said this we can at once understand that we are and have always in a sense been, on shifting sands. Are there two or really only one sphere? Increasingly as the digital age clouds our thoughts, technologies penetrate our homes, apps administer to and anticipate if not create our needs, maps both guide and follow us, bots talk back to us, we need to return to the question of just what it is that is now the public sphere and to whom does it really belong. The essays in this collection indicate not only the depth but also the problematics of what ...

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