and Counterpublics revolves around a central question: What
is a public? The idea of a public is a cultural form, a kind of
practical fiction, present in the modern world in a way that is
very different from other or earlier societies. Like the idea of
rights, or nations, or markets, it can now seem universal. But it
has not always been so. Publics exist only by virtue of their imagining.
They are a kind of fiction that has taken on life, and very potent
life at that. Publics have some regular properties as a form, with
powerful implications for the way our social world takes shape;
but much of modern life involves struggles over the nature of publics
and their interrelation. There are ambiguities, even contradictions
in the idea of a public. As it is extended to new contexts and media,
new polities and rhetorics, its meaning can be seen to change, in
ways that we have scarcely begun to appreciate.
By combining historical analysis, theoretical reflection, and extended
case studies, Publics and Counterpublics shows how the
idea of a public works as a formal device in modern culture and
traces its implications for contemporary life. Michael Warner offers
a revisionist account at the junction of two intellectual traditions
with which he has been associated: public-sphere theory and queer
theory. To public-sphere theory, this book brings a new emphasis
on cultural forms, and a new focus on the dynamics of counterpublics.
To queer theory, it brings a new way of seeing how queer culture
(among other examples) is shaped by the counterpublic environment.