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Public Realm

Lyn H. Lofland

Subject Cultural Studies
Sociology » Social Psychology, Sociological and Social Theory

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


While widely used in the contemporary discourse of such diverse fields as philosophy, political theory, sociology, art, media studies, architecture and urban planning, and gender studies, as well as in everyday speech, the concept of public realm has no consensual definition and definitions that are proffered are often both imprecise and enigmatic. What all the diverse usages do agree upon is that their referent is some sort of non-private arena of social life and most judge that arena to be both critically beneficial and unappreciated; what they disagree about is its exact character. To add to the confusion, the non-private arena may also be discussed under other names such as public sphere, public order, public domain, public world, and civic space. Arendt's (1958) usage is at once among the most enigmatic, evocative, and, perhaps, influential. She traces the term back to the Aristotelian and Roman distinctions between the private world of the household and the public world of the bios politikos (for the Greeks) or the polis (for the Romans). And although the meanings attached to each realm shift somewhat through time, the dyadic distinction remains and is, for her, of considerable philosophic import. The public realm is that arena where “everything that appears … can be seen and heard by everybody and has the widest possible publicity … [and] appearance – something that is ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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