Public is usually defined as “open to all,” but Craig Calhoun, director of the London School of Economics and Political Science, believes that many “public” organizations are becoming more and more exclusive.
Calhoun discussed this shift in his speech “Publicness (and its problems),” which he delivered to an audience of about 100 people at Rackham Auditorium on Thursday. He focused on the notion of “public” in relation to the rise of society and system integration. Calhoun said that, over time, the demarcation between what is public and what is private is becoming more complicated.
Calhoun discussed how several public institutions have been reorganized, adjusting what public really means within such organizations. He suggested that some firms are retaining the term “public” but have become exclusive by selectively allowing only certain members of the public in, such as universities.
Calhoun cited the expansion of the public sphere as the reason behind its growing exclusivity and suggested that communication will help solve this problem. He added that improved debates and discussions would shape the future of the public.
“Large-scale socialization and mediated communication is either the devil or the angel that we want on our side,” he said.
Calhoun said movements, cultural change and connections are also critical in solving the issues of the public sphere. These will depend on the constitution of an inclusive, interconnected field of public action with multiple, but overlapping and interactive publics, he said.
While Calhoun said the evolution of society threatens both the public and private, publicness has the capacity for great action. Calhoun argued that the expansion of economy, statistics and administration affects the “partial publicness” of ordinary life.
Calhoun said real privacy has been “squeezed,” eliminating people’s solitude, while publicness has also been pushed aside, since people are unable to fully discuss and take action on their ideas within the society.
Thursday’s lecture was the opening event for the Tanner Lecture on Human Values. The two-day symposium continues Friday at the Rackham Amphitheater from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. featuring Prof. Geoff Eley, chair of the history department, and Sociology and Germanic Languages Prof. George Steinmetz.