Public sphere as assemblage: the cultural politics of roadside memorialization

Authors

  • Elaine Campbell

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    • School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, Claremont Bridge Building, Newcastle University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, United Kingdom
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Corresponding author email: elaine.campbell@ncl.ac.uk

Abstract

This paper investigates contemporary academic accounts of the public sphere. In particular, it takes stock of post-Habermasian public sphere scholarship, and acknowledges a lively and variegated debate concerning the multiple ways in which individuals engage in contemporary political affairs. A critical eye is cast over a range of key insights which have come to establish the parameters of what ‘counts’ as a/the public sphere, who can be involved, and where and how communicative networks are established. This opens up the conceptual space for re-imagining a/the public sphere as an assemblage. 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 roadside memorialization. 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 cultural politics (and political cultures) of which it is an integral part. The discussion concludes, then, with a consideration of the contribution of assemblage theory to public sphere studies. (Also see Campbell 2009a)

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