Public Sphere as Assemblage: Assembling Political Cultures
School of Geography, Politics and Sociology Newcastle University Newcastle Upon Tyne, United Kingdom
This paper investigates contemporary academic accounts of political culture which centre on and mobilise the notion of the public sphere. It does so in order to draw out a series of assumptions which are embedded within the conceptual scaffolding of such accounts - assumptions about, for example, the boundaries of public/private life; the forms, locations and conditions of possibility for public deliberation and participation; relations of power and resistance in liberal, democratic polities; processes and techniques of (mass) mediation; and the nature and attributes of "the public". Making use of recent developments in Deleuzian-inspired assemblage theory - most especially drawn from DeLanda´s (2006) "new philosophy of society" - the paper sets out an alternative perspective on the notion of the public sphere, and regards it as a space of connectivity brought into being through a contingent and heterogeneous assemblage of discursive, visual and performative practices. This is mapped out with reference to the cultural politics of crime and punishment. However, a/the public sphere as an assemblage is not simply a "social construction" brought into being through a logic of connectivity, but is an emergent and ephemeral space which reflexively nurtures and assembles the political cultures of which it is an integral part. The discussion concludes, then, with a consideration of the contribution of assemblage theory to identifying the progressive, inclusionary and liberatory potentialities of different kinds of politico-cultural relations and connections.