School of Athens

There has been a significant shift in the boundaries between the private and public realm in recent years. The increasing indistinction between the two spheres has multiple causes, among them the rise of identity politics and the popularity of the confessional mode. The former might be said to underwrite the latter: the feminist rallying cry,  ‘the personal is the political’ providing a substantial justification for radical autobiography. The motto continues as a cornerstone of feminist consciousness, as well as other forms of identity politics (after all, the agora remains predicated upon exclusion to some degree), but the ongoing consequences for public discourse are unclear. Some suggest that the privileging of positions based upon more and more specific identities promotes a form of narcissism or victimhood which threatens collective agency and the possibilities of larger conceptions of ‘the public good’. 

While identity politics and the confessional mode have contributed to the enlargement of ‘the private’, the increasing dominance of the corporate model has led to the erosion of what has traditionally been conceived of as ‘the public’, most notably in the commercialisation of the media, and the edging out of the public-interest model. Institutions such as museums, universities and schools have also become defined by the corporate paradigm, and public space is increasingly no such thing. New technologies, in particular social media, have played their part in blurring the boundaries between public and private, formal and informal.

Has there been a retreat into private and individualised experience? Have the critical languages that might abstract this individualised experience been largely abandoned in favour of the logic of spectacle? What constitutes the public sphere in the contemporary moment? If the traditional notion of the public sphere involves a ‘top down' model, what are the possibilities for the ‘bottom-up’ paradigm offered by the commons, and enabled by online networks?

Issue 21 of FORUM engages with the debate about the distinctions or indistinctions between the private and public spheres.

Editors: Sarah Bernstein and Emma Sullivan 

Review Team Winter 2015: Sarah Arens, Laura Beattie, Anahit Behrooz, Kenneth Chan, Michelle Devereaux, Chloe Elder*, Camille Feidt, Alex Grafen, Niki Holzapfel, Alice Kelly*, Julia Kropf, Mengchen Lang, Delaina Lawson*, Vicki Madden, Clara Martinez, Briar McFarlane, Iain McMaster, Alba Morollón, Bridget Moynihan, Feroz Salam, Vivek Santayana*, Justine Seran, Jennifer Shearman, Colin Smith*, Thanos Spiliotakaras, Sarah Stewart, Greer Temnick, Matthew Tibble, Amy Waterson, Kelvin Wong Article editors are marked with a star (*)

Published: 10-Dec-2015