Decline, demise, deliberation: the question of criticism in the public sphere
presented as part of Creating Dialogues: Performing Arts Criticism and the Public Sphere
In 1989, in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Jurgen Habermas argues that the formation of the bourgeois public sphere in the 18th century developed through democratic deliberation and the exercising and constitution of public opinion. Habermas is influential in tracing a relationship between criticism, deliberation and political practice that, despite its flaws, has been instrumental in thinking about criticism’s role and position in the public sphere. Habermas situates criticism and gives intellectual and political weight to its capacity to operate collectively.
In 2011, art theorist Hito Steyerl argues, in Free-Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective, that we find ourselves in constant free-fall, a perspective that ‘throws jaw-dropping social inequalities in sharp focus’, but also ‘a shifting formation’, a productive instability. This is a different moment for criticism; one in which we declare its fall, its deterritorialisation, but also where we profess our passion for its sustained engagement and ongoing re-formation. Yet if the ground is no longer there, then where is criticism situated? And where and what are its spaces of debate?
In this masterclass, we will use these starting points to think through the question of criticism in the public sphere. How can criticism consider and actively engage with the spaces it occupies and creates in the public sphere under these circumstances? How can we revisit notions of community and deliberation under these circumstances, where spaces of critical dialogue are in constant conflict with the mechanisms of neoliberalism? And what of public opinion- is it something to be constructed, or something to be rescued?