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Reign of Appearances
The Misery and Splendor of the Public Sphere


  • Author: Ari Adut, University of Texas, Austin
  • Date Published: March 2018
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107180932

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About the Authors
  • The public sphere, be it the Greek agora or the New York Times op-ed page, is the realm of appearances - not citizenship. Its central event is spectacle - not dialogue. Public dialogue, the mantra of many intellectuals and political commentators, is but a contradiction in terms. Marked by an asymmetry between the few who act and the many who watch, the public sphere can undermine liberal democracy, law, and morality. Inauthenticity, superficiality, and objectification are the very essence of the public sphere. But the public sphere also liberates us from the bondages of private life and fosters an existentially vital aesthetic experience. Reign of Appearances uses a variety of cases to reveal the logic of the public sphere, including homosexuality in Victorian England, the 2008 crash, antisemitism in Europe, confidence in American presidents, communications in social media, special prosecutor investigations, the visibility of African-Americans, violence during the French Revolution, the Islamic veil, and contemporary sexual politics. This unconventional account of the public sphere is critical reading for anyone who wants to understand the effects of visibility in urban life, politics, and the media.

    • Challenges the common wisdom that the public sphere is always good for democracy
    • Asserts that spectatorship - and not civic participation - is the essence of the public sphere
    • Argues that spectatorship, which is a much-disdained stance, is an existentially vital aesthetic experience
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'For most political theorists, the public sphere is simply the place where people like them argue about politics. Ari Adut thinks that this is both unrealistic and unimaginative. In this brilliant and original book, he gives us a far more critical account - and then a lovely (and unexpected) appreciation of how we live in public places and in public view.' Michael Walzer, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey

    'An original, provocative, sustained, and sophisticated theoretical-cum-empirical work on a vital topic. Written with panache and style, and filled with deft scholarly references from the history of philosophy, the visual arts, and literature, the book is a great pleasure to read.' Jeffrey Alexander, Lillian Chavenson Saden Professor of Sociology, Yale University, Connecticut

    '… the work is careful scholarship with appropriate citations. Adut's writing is never boring. The book is intense, original, stimulating' R. E. O'Connor, Choice

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    Product details

    • Date Published: March 2018
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107180932
    • length: 218 pages
    • dimensions: 236 x 157 x 19 mm
    • weight: 0.45kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. A critique
    2. A realistic perspective
    3. Publicity
    4. Politics in public
    5. Content regulation
    6. Visibility in society
    7. Law and morality in the public sphere
    8. A defense of spectatorship

  • Author

    Ari Adut, University of Texas, Austin
    Ari Adut is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas, Austin. He holds graduate degrees from the University of Chicago and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris. He is also a former member of Institute for Advanced Study. He is the author of On Scandal: Moral Disturbances in Society, Politics, and Art (Cambridge, 2008). Adut's research has been featured in the New York Times and by the BBC, and it has received support from the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies.

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