The public is both a body of people within a society and a domain within which debate about that society occurs. The concept of ‘publicness’ permeates much of our discourse, from the most esteemed civic activity through to the local toilets. Publicness is defined partly through spaces that may be accessed by all members of the community, such as public parks and galleries. Publicness is also defined partly through visibility: an activity or event is public if it is open to general scrutiny. Publicness can be defined through an association with the state: hospitals, universities and broadcasters are public because they are owned and funded by government. Publicness carries with it particular values: to be ‘public-spirited’ is to be motivated by a desire to promote the common good. It follows that, while publicness is usually conceptualised as both a domain and a body of people, it also encapsulates a kind of subjectivity. The condition of publicness fosters a particular ethico-political orientation towards others. As outlined in chapter 1, the public in contemporary times is constituted through media discourse: we experience public life chiefly through our common consumption of the media rather than experiences of physical co-presence. ‘Public’ generates meaning through its opposition to ‘private’. To make this point is to highlight that the public and the private are not a priori categories but are defined through political struggle and public debate.
‘Public’ has a broad range of applications but carries with it very particular connotations. ‘The public’ is distinguished against ‘the social’ through the foregrounding of civic functions and duties; it carries with