Iveson, Kurt. Publics and the City.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Valenzuela-Aguilera, Alfonso
Pub Date: 12/22/2008
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2008 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Winter, 2008 Source Volume: 17 Source Issue: 2
Topic: NamedWork: Publics and the City (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Iveson, Kurt
Accession Number: 210868155
Full Text: Iveson, Kurt.

Publics and the City.

Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2007.

256 pp.

ISBN: 1405127309.

As part of the ongoing conversation on the nature of the public spheres, Kurt Iveson comes closer to the original and open concept of publicity (Offentlichkeit) that Jurgen Habermas intended to explore in his seminal writings on the Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. In this sense, Publics and the City goes beyond the characterization of public spaces as physical realms and expands their meaning to include different spatialities of their publicness within the city. Iveson first theorizes on the development of a framework which would account for the complexity and multidimensionality of publicness in the city. Later he presents a series of cases across Australia where the construction of different kinds of publicness generate social struggles and finally he addresses some conceptual considerations on the introduction of an expanded concept of publicness for urban analysis of contemporary cities.

Following Hanna Arendt's remarks on the complex geographies of publicness, Iveson implies that the public space has expanded rather than rendering the physical public spaces irrelevant, therefore creating a broader spectrum of publicness. Therefore, the provision of public spaces by local governments as places for social exchanges is just one dimension of publicity, but it is the unmediated ways in which new modes of public discourse are constructed that interest Iveson as the object of his research. Building upon the narrative of a Hip-Hop columnist taking back public spaces in Chicago in order to get across his writings and even creating his own audiences, Iveson undertakes the task of developing a conceptual framework to understand the urban dimensions of the struggles associated with the creation of the public discourse in the city. In order to do this, Ivenson differentiates between a topographical approach to public spaces as physical locations in the city and any space used for collective action and debate. However, an underlying question permeates along the book regarding to whom belongs the public space in the city. In this sense, the right to access public spaces is often granted on ideological grounds depending on the treat that--allegedly--the different kind of users pose. Discourses of loss and reclamation can justify the exclusion of gangs, drug-dealers and the homeless, but also denies the access of teenagers, homosexuals and protesters. Iveson criticizes the romantic approach of some narratives that call for the "original" public spaces and points instead to the political struggles that come along the appropriation of the public realm by marginal groups in the city. Therefore, the importance of public spaces becomes crucial for the visibility of the needs and desires of the different collectives.

Ivenson constructs his theoretical framework drawing from Nancy Fraser's notion of subaltern counter publics. This conception goes beyond Habermas' analysis of the bourgeois public sphere through the incorporation of different publics. The inclusion of oppositional interpretations of identities, interests and needs of subordinated social groups are central to Iveson's approach. Also, the distinction between strategic and tactical spatial practices proposed by Michel de Certeau play a central role within the subsequent analysis that Iveson undertakes in the series of case studies, stressing the interchangeability of territorial claiming and temporary occupation of urban space. In the case studies, Iveson analyzes examples of insurgent uses of public spaces in Australia, from social protests, gay cruising, graffiti-writing, political activism and civil resistance and as such interrogates the boundaries between public-private, inclusion-exclusion and public-counter publics. An important contribution of the book is the distinction that the presence of forms of public address does not necessarily imply the existence of a physical (public) space, but instead recalls the flexibility and hybridism between the public and private realms.

The book points out major issues regarding the conception of publicness in the city which are directly connected to democratic practices. Building upon Iris Marion Young's reflections on the capacity of city dwellers to recognize other ways to be together as a public, Iveson stresses the importance of the struggles to construct these publics as well as the role of power in altering the equilibrium of the different groups involved. However, the formation of different publics may also be linked to education and the media and their role in transforming information into knowledge and understanding in order to enable citizens to participate in democratic discussions and--ultimately--deliberate on political priorities for their own interest. It is part of the ongoing conversation that a significant expansion and redefinition of the public sphere is underway and includes new forms of social exchange within the city. However, social struggles relate not only to different imaginaries depending on particular individuals but often to quests for power in the territory and elsewhere. Expanding Iveson's framework to other parts of the world--especially in developing countries--we may find several other dichotomies such as legal--illegal, formal--informal or local--global which also affect urban dynamics and may prove crucial to understand and flame the discourses of publicity in the city.

Alfonso Valenzuela-Aguilera

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