Counterpublic Formations in 19th Century America

Michael Warner, Yale University

The promise and mystery of the public sphere—in which opinion, criticism, and other genres of writing could be seen as manifesting the social reality of a public organizing itself in progressive history with democratic agency and legitimacy—took many forms in 19th century America. As Craig Calhoun notes in The Roots of Radicalism, evangelicals, political radicals, temperance and antislavery activists, and some ethnic/racial formations saw themselves at least partly in these terms. This seminar will aim to think comparatively about these different ways of being public. When and how did they understand themselves as “counter,” and when did they aim to instantiate the broader public? What media histories and material conditions of circulation underlay them? How did writers manage the narrativity of progressive hope, or the imagination of social space, or the conflicted and polemical arena of struggle? How did various fantasies of common history and agency interact with the performative work of public-making? What is the relation between the rationalizing work of public discourse and its nonrational dimensions? What examples are less studied?

Michael Warner works on early American literature and print culture, publics and social movements, and most currently, secularism. He is the author of a number of books, including The Letters of the Republic: Publication and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century America (1990), Fear of a Queer Planet: Queer Politics and Social Theory (1993), The Trouble with Normal (1999), and Publics and Counterpublics (2002), and is the editor of Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age (2010).

Comments are closed.