Public Space as Text

Public Space as Text

What is generally referred to as ‘public space’ is, in fact, an intricate bundle of cultural-geographic and discursive structures – i.e. a social artifact. Once we have moved away from the perspective according to which late capitalism’s social environment is naturally given, then this statement may very well appear to be rather trivial. But this perspective is nevertheless hegemonic – despite the fact that this supposed naturalness has now been interrupted by a financial crisis, a crisis which, after an appropriate homeopathic meditation, will bail out on us again, leaving only a ruin of individual catastrophes of the individuated subject’s everyday lives in its wake.

Perhaps it soothes one’s own as well as everybody’s, the global as well as individual suffering from capitalism to picture capitalism as the naturally given environment; as a power of destiny, effacing human lives and the products of their endeavors arbitrarily, unpredictably, and seemingly without affection. This perspective no doubt reconciles us to our late capitalist fate of hopelessness, lack of alternatives and relieves us of guilt feelings generated by our entanglement in social, cultural, and ecological catastrophes, catastrophes that we like to think of as occuring blindly, naturally – not as the consequences of our own actions.

But the manner in which capitalism presents itself to us as an all so natural environment is, in fact, the effect of social, cultural, economic, and ideological landscaping. This is especially the case in spaces we treat as public in our everyday communicative and cultural lives. Spaces we frequent and use, spaces which absorb and form us and, thus, allow us to appear.

So as not to be powerlessly subjected to their formative forces, we need to understand how these spaces – where we communicate, participate, and represent – are constructed. We need to know both how and why they function, as well as who has an interest in their smooth functioning.

It is clear from the well-known and tiring lamentations of helplessness crying about the loss of good old publicity that such an understanding is by no means self-evident. Lamentations which generally dress themselves up in the language of nature conservation. What this outfit is missing is the fact that this seemingly idyllic public community is also only a product of capitalist dynamics, one that just happens to belong to a product-line now discontinued.

Classical theories of public space and publicity have failed to provide a critical understanding because they are unable to acknowledge their own ideological position within spatial structuring. ()


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