Public Space and Democracy

Public Space and Democracy

Public Space and Democracy

Public Space and Democracy


Moving from classical Greece to the present, Public Space and Democracy provides both historical accounts and a comparative analytical framework for understanding public space both as a place and as a product of various media, from speech to the Internet. These essays make a powerful case for thinking of modern technological developments not as the end of public space, but as an opportunity for reframing the idea of the public and of the public space as the locus of power.


I must introduce these claims about early Greek cities with three disclaimers.

First, there can be no question of speaking of the Greeks as if they were directly, and by nature, the discoverers or the founders of that which was one day called—in their own language, it is true—democracy.

Second, rather than finding that Greek alterity sprang up on its own, whether in grandeur or in an empty universality (in either case, an academic and compulsive exercise), I will propose a constructive comparison between three societies or social groups. Each of these is unknown to the other, and in their observed and observable practices, each inaugurates and establishes a public space, and puts into action a sort of autonomy of the political: one, contemporary, in Africa, in southern Ethiopia; a second in Europe, the French Constituent Assembly between 1789 and 1791; and the last, some very small cities of continental Greece and southern Italy with which we become more and more familiar every day, thanks to archeological research and epigraphist historians.

One further comment: if by this comparative approach, I intend to instigate reflections on certain elements of a more complex configuration (as elaborated in the other essays in this volume and as proposed by the editors), I must also state that I reject as a starting point the stance that the political springs up, already fully equipped, as common sense silently based on the institutions of an Athenian space, a space that is itself already inhabited by Solon, if not by Cleisthenes. In saying the political, I allude to that which a Greek, who, when addressing himself to the Great King, called, according to the Histories of Herodotus, tò politikón. He referred to a public place where those people, which the Great King found so interesting, came together to talk while appearing to argue among themselves. Such was an exotic spectacle for the despot from Asia. My approach will be to look at practices and . . .

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