Reason in the City of Difference: Pragmatism, Communicative Action, and Contemporary Urbanism

By Gary Bridge | Go to book overview

5

In the public realm

Can the public spaces of the city nurture any kind of wider public realm, beyond individual self-interest or community norms? And if so, can we have a public realm that accommodates difference? The character of public space in cities and the possibilities of a self-constituting public have long fascinated urban scholars and philosophers. These are ever more pressing questions given the segregated and competitive nature of many of our cities. Recent philosophical understandings of the public and the city have offered a number of possibilities. There is a form of cognitive communicative rationality that transcends difference (Habermas), an emotional urban performativity that dramatizes difference (Sennett) and a kind of urban encounter between strangers, the particularity of which makes difference undeniable (Young).

Although communicative, performative and undeniable encounters are part of everyday life, in these conceptions of the public they all rely strongly on set-piece interactions that are focused and absorbing. They are deliberately meaningful in terms of communication. They also depend on a relatively static, or at least 'stilled' idea of urban space. What I explore in this chapter is an understanding of everyday life and the public that comes from the edges of communication (rather than the centre of communication) and involves all the improvisations and non-discursive communications that go on through bodies, in tacit routines in the street and forms of particular innovative activity in the community. In all this we see a re-engagement of the rational and the public that blurs the distinctions between cognition and emotion, body and mind, sympathy and empathy. It leaves us with an idea of the public as fluid, emergent and as much about the formation of self as the constitution of a wider public. It offers a view of public space that is circulatory and networked, rather than still and symbolic.


RATIONALITY RESTRICTS THE PUBLIC

As Richard Sennett has argued (1974, 2000) Hegel's answer to the question of how an impersonal realm could become a self-constituting public was to link the impersonal with the rational. Simmel (1950) reworks the understanding of the rational from law-making into a social construction. He sees

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Reason in the City of Difference: Pragmatism, Communicative Action, and Contemporary Urbanism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • 1 - Reason in the City of Difference 1
  • 2 - On the Body 15
  • 3 - On the Street 39
  • 4 - In the Community 65
  • 5 - In the Public Realm 85
  • 6 - At Work and Home in the Urban Economy 105
  • 7 - In City Hall 125
  • 8 - Cosmopolitan Reason and the Global City 147
  • References 159
  • Index 172
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