March 01, 2005

Memory, Identity & the Public Sphere – Karsten's proposal

How do memory and identity influence communication in the public sphere?

Proposal for Major Project 2005

‘Memory’ and ‘identity’ may be viewed as important tools that are needed to allow meaningful communication between different people, or groups of people, to take place. They often act as bridges, or stumps of bridges, which can lead to further communication and meaningful relationships. However, they can act as obstacles, as walls, that stop people from seeing beyond their ‘walls’ of prejudice and preoccupations about others, thus making communication and interaction in the public sphere difficult, and possibly harmful. Examples of features of memory and identity include language barriers (in spite of ‘sharing’ English as a common language, the lingua franca may, or may not, be accompanied by a cultura franca), opposing views of history or tradition, and issues related to ethnicity, religion and nationalism.

The project will look at practical instances when different value systems are hegemonized under a standard ‘egalitarian’/’democratic’ framework of a liberal nature. On the other hand, it will consider instances when both sides of the cultural relationship change, transform themselves and go beyond their own limitations (in terms of Sardar’s opposition between ‘acculturation’ and ‘mutuality’). Practical examples might include references to current public debates with regard to faith schools, arranged marriages, initiation rights, commercial practices, tolerance of criticism of one’s values and sexuality in the public sphere.

The project will refer to Habermas’ theories of the public sphere and the public sphere’s potential as a mode of societal integration and a location to work out how different social groups work at communication in public, with special emphasis on how they negotiate their differences with one another and decide to take common action. Issues about public conversation will be seen through a Habermasian light, and the Foucauldian critique of this view (which considers change as an important element – again, the project will have to be very clear on the terms of reference used). The work of both theoreticians will be used to frame the rise of the independent civil society (as distinguished from the bourgeois public sphere and the state’s control of it) and the private person’s public rights. The project will also comment on the relationship between the state and the market and its impact on people’s participation in the public sphere.

Karsten Xuereb
MA European Cultural Policy & Management
University of Warwick

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