“Claim for public space”: new words have entered public space: we now commonly speak of “confinement”, “barrier gesture” or “distancing”. The very idea of public space has been transformed: with restrictions on movement and interaction in public; with the reinscription of life (certain lives) in the home (when there is a home) and in the private space; with publication of the private space in Internet connections; with urban space occupied, in times of confinement, by so-called “essential” workers; with restrictions on political gatherings and demonstrations in public spaces.
Following these recent changes, Sandra Laugier suggests returning to the very notion of public space and the boundary between public and private, which has experienced a new undermining in recent years. She signs the chapter “Public space’s new coordinates” in “Reclaiming public space”book written together with Nilüfer Göle, Richard Rechtman and Yves Cohen (CNRS EDITIONS).
The public discussion space, delineated by Habermas in the 20th century from his habilitation thesis, made it possible to define an ideal of communication. “Public space. The archeology of advertising as a constitutive dimension of civil society”, published in 1962, created the concept of public space as a conversation that allows the settlement of all relations between individuals, whether in political, cultural, educational or family spheres. This discursive and metaphorical model of space still governs contemporary political thinking well into the 20th century.
The notion of public space is therefore immediately a carrier of a normativity in the discussion. Participating in a conversation implies and even performs the act of accepting the rules of discussion. This approach will be criticized as “conformist” by Stanley Cavell, for whom setting an agreement on rules as the very condition of discussion is a way of excluding forms of radical disagreement. In any case, it is clear that for Habermas, and despite his strong and clear analysis of the divergences in the discussion, the latter cannot lead to active political questions: Habermas’s public space has neither a calling nor conquest nor participation in any form. of power. He clearly states, regarding what he calls “communicative power,” that it “acts on the premises of the judgment and decisions of the political system without the intention of conquering it.” Hannah Arendtin “Condition de l’homme moderne”, aims to “revitalize the political public space” so that citizens “(re)appropriate the power of the state”, but for Habermas the public space is not a decision-making body. -making or power.
The new coordinates of public space. Maidan, Tahrir, Gezi, Occupy Walt Street, Night Stand…The square movements that emerged during the 2010s in different parts of the world have renovated public space and signal a new way of doing politics. Each time, individuals from all walks of life come together to resist the forces in place, proclaim their presence without highlighting a leader, share feelings, experience a new togetherness “on the spot” and celebrate their diversity. These citizens take up issues of general interest in order to have a concrete influence on the common good. Democracy seems possible, here and now.
How to understand the meaning of these movements? Are they really ushering in a new political era? Or are they just isolated epiphenomena? So far they have “naturally” run out of steam, or been suffocated by violent repression. Are they just a fleeting dream? Nothing is less secure. The effects of some goods remain even after their eradication, as in the case of the Maidan. Above all, they highlight a fundamental trend: the now impossible vertical encounter between a heterogeneous society, which claims a very real space, and a national political power, which renounces its agency in the face of the planetary problems of the economic crisis. environmental destruction, the spread of terrorism or growing poverty. The aspiration carried by these occupations of the public square still has a bright future ahead of it.
Sandra Laugier is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Member of the Institut universitaire de France, Deputy Director of the Institute of Legal and Philosophical Sciences at the Sorbonne (ISJPS, UMR 8103, CNRS, Paris 1). A specialist in contemporary philosophy – philosophy of ordinary language and moral philosophy – she has recently published on democracy and civil disobedience, ethics of care and popular culture (especially TV series). She has published several articles and books, including, with Albert Ogien, Why disobey in democracy? The Principle of Democracy and Anti-Democracy, (La Découverte, 2010, 2014 and 2017), “Forms of Life” (dir. with Estelle Ferrarese), CNRS Éditions, 2018; “Our life in series” (Flammarion, 2019); “The Power of Weak Ties” (dir. with Alexandre Gefen, CNRS Éditions, 2020); “Wittgenstein. Politics of the ordinary” (Vrin, 2021).
Sandra Laugier is a columnist at Liberation. She signs the chapter “the new coordinates of public space” in “Reclaiming public space”book written in collaboration with Nilüfer Göle, Richard Rechtman and Yves Cohen, published by CNRS EDITIONS.