The Problem With Our Public

In the chapter “The Placelessness of Political Theory” in City of Rhetoric, David Fleming describes the foundation for the idea that public discourse no longer exists as in our world due to the built environment. Public discourse, in the context of Fleming’s work, refers to civil and just speech and debate between people who make up a society. In Fleming’s eyes, the people of the public should have a way and a place to come together and discuss similarities and differences in a setting that is safe for all views. This place is what Fleming refers to as a “commonplace.” The goal of people coming together in these commonplaces is to have a physical shared experience of hashing out politics (note: politics is not used here in terms of Republican/Democrat). However, to have these interactions in these so-called “commonplaces,” we must step away from our idea of mobility and fluidity. In what Fleming refers to as the “postmodern public” we as humans focus on three main things: globalization, diaspora, and multipositionality. In other words, we try to be everywhere at once. We try to do everything and communicate with everyone. In this postmodern public, the things that connect us are mainly things from our collective imagination. This is not to say that we need to go back to republicanism or liberalism; we don’t. While these two places for politics have been used in the past, they have been just that– the past. With the technology and constantly-developing physical spaces we have today, we need to find a way to ground ourselves and construct a place for open discussion of the issues relevant to societies today. The main issue with this, as Fleming argues, is our current built environment. The ways we have set up our cities and towns are not inviting to unity. And this is not just on the larger scale of cities themselves. This disconnect can be seen in architecture too. The design of buildings themselves and their placements in their environments can dictate who is able to go where easily and vise versa. Because of this, the public has been separated, and there is no easy or convenient way to come together for public discourse. Even as we keep developing our world, we still need to communicate with the people around us; we need to communicate with the people who are affected by the same changes in society as us. Everyone has a say in at least one issue. If we could all come together and hash it out in a civil manner, then why don’t we? Without commonplaces and public discourse, we run the risk of giving up our civil liberties to those in power and we ourselves become a part of whatever collective imaginations we follow.

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