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Workshop 5: The Trouble with Publics and Counterpublics

Primarily Synchronous (June 1-4)

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Workshop Leaders:

Robert Asen, University of Wisconsin-Madison:
Daniel C. Brouwer, Arizona State University:

A range of contemporary developments—including rising authoritarianism and white nationalism, environmental devastation, gun violence, xenophobia, and market hegemony—portend trouble for publics and counterpublics. These troubles are not necessarily new, but many of them are newly intense or newly reconfigured in contemporary political, economic, and cultural conditions. In their varying forms, these troubles, as well as ongoing efforts of publics and counterpublics to enact just visions of public life, warrant scholarly attention.

In this workshop, we will explore the troubles with publics and counterpublics through three distinct but related themes: discourses, disciplines, and theories/methods. We offer these themes to suggest specific, concrete grounding and to open up an expansive terrain in which participants can find or locate their current or aspirational projects. Studying public and counterpublic discourses, workshop participants may examine advocacy, movements, debates, etc. that resist hegemonic publics and institutions as well as those that sustain dynamics of power and privilege. Attending to scholarly disciplines, participants may engage disciplinary conversations that carry import for challenging and revising publics, such as the dynamics of an ideology of whiteness and associated questions of inclusion and leadership; citational politics; and microaggressions. With regard to theories and methods, participants may consider the capacities of current critical tools to illuminate emancipatory and oppressive publics and counterpublics, as well as explore revisions and new formulations of critical investigation.

Participants should submit a portion of a current project related to the workshop themes. Written submissions should be no longer than ten pages; we also invite works-in-progress in artistic and aesthetic formats (e.g., write-ups of fieldnotes, video interventions, etc.). To explore the intersecting threads of discourses, disciplines, and theories/methods, we will engage in several modalities. These include discussing the three themes of the workshop in a large-group format, workshopping participants’ works-in-progress in small-group formats, and discussing a set of common readings in both small- and large-group formats.

Robert Asen Robert Asen conducts research and teaches in the areas of public sphere studies, public policy, and rhetoric and critical theory. Asen focuses on the ways that political, economic, and cultural inequalities interact with relations of power to shape public discourse. He considers how powerful individuals and groups use discourse to maintain their privilege and how marginalized people seek to overcome exclusions to represent their needs, interests, and identities in the public sphere. Asen explores the democratic possibilities of rhetorical practice, as ordinary folks may connect with others to build diverse communities and support individuals, as well as the ways that rhetorical practices may divide and scapegoat people, and sustain oppression. Asen is the author of, most recently, Democracy, Deliberation, and Education. With Daniel C. Brouwer, Asen has co-edited Counterpublics and the State and Public Modalities: Rhetoric, Culture, Media, and the Shape of Public Life.


Daniel C. BrouwerDaniel C. Brouwer is an Associate Professor in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University. His research and teaching foci include social movements, publics and counterpublics, cultural performance, genders and sexualities, and HIV and AIDS. Broadly, he examines how social and political inequalities shape communication practices, how power is exerted or resisted through different types of communication, and how different means of public rhetoric might create better conditions for democratic life. Brouwer is particularly interested in how individuals and groups who are structurally disadvantaged or alienated from public life create alternative forums and strategies for communication. Co-editor (with Robert Asen) of the book projects Counterpublics and the State (2001) and Public Modalities: Rhetoric, Culture, Media, and the Shape of Public Life (2010), his work has also appeared in Quarterly Journal of Speech, Rhetoric and Public Affairs, Women’s Studies in Communication, and Critical Studies in Media Communication.

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