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Public Sphere
Public Sphere
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This book is a critique of the public sphere, both as the centrepiece of some liberal theory about political communications, and as a description of actually existing media practice in Ireland and beyond – in traditional commercial news media and in social media. Written in an accessible style, it is a call to more and deeper critical thinking about media, old and new, as well as a consideration of the communicative needs of a present and future movement for transformative political and economic change.
Our media systems, many argue, have moved from an economics of information to an economics of attention, whereby getting us to look, to click, is the constant and central objective. Donald Trump got our attention like perhaps no one has ever done before. Ironically, for all that he is a symptom of democratic and media decay, he is also the nearest thing we have had to a centre point for a global public sphere. The first chapter of the book introduces the public sphere as an historic idea and ideal, a place where proto-democratic and even truly democratic subjects deliberate and ensure civil society has a voice at the table of state. It challenges that idea, in terms of its theoretical limitations and elisions and its ultimately technocratic-consensual model of how politics works, its evasion of ‘the ineradicability of antagonism’.
The next chapter examines, among other things, what we can and can’t learn by looking at media behaviour through the lens of proprietors’ commercial interests. The biases of broadcasters and newspapers in the recent economic crisis are considered, along with the pressures and consequences of declining print circulation and migration of advertising online, as well as some initial questions about pluralism and the continuing important role of the public service media, in Ireland and elsewhere. This chapter includes an extensive review of previously unpublished results of a study into newspaper coverage of the Irish movement against the Iraq war. The final part of the book moves the discussion online, where, though nearly infinite pluralism appears to rule the day, power and freedom are more elusive. Under the regime of ‘communicative capitalism’, we are all ‘content providers’, generally without remuneration – unless we are lucky enough to be bestowed with the neological title of ‘social influencers’. Browne asks what we need to do to ensure our media actions and activism really do have a positive social influence.
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As a figure of thought, the concept of freedom tends to shuttle between abstraction and ideal – the first exemplified by Isaiah Berlin’s contrast between negative and positive liberty, and the second by Philip Pettit’s neo-republican conception of freedom as non-domination. Located within the realm of lived experience however, freedom is invariably forged from context-specific constraints and takes the form of cultural practices. In this contribution to the Síreacht series, the collaborative platform Two Fuse examine the practice of freedom in the context of neo-liberal enterprise culture, focusing specifically on how this is shaped by power relations that sustain social suffering by generating an equality of inequality. Engaging with this situation, Two Fuse look to socially-engaged art with a view to exploring possibilities to reimagine the practice of freedom, paying particular attention to the 2016 performance Natural History of Hope by Fiona Whelan, Rialto Youth Project and Brokentalkers.
Series: Síreacht: Longings for another Ireland


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This book, written during Ireland’s decade of centenaries, draws on the aims of the Síreacht series to re-imagine commemoration. A commemoration process that is shaped by a desire to re-invigorate the social imagination and encourage speculation on alternatives to current orthodoxies considers not only what happened in the past, but what else might conceivably have happened. By acknowledging the existence of historical alternatives at a given moment, we can access that moment’s contingencies. These unrealised yet fully realisable past futures are especially numerous during periods of potent possibility; points in time when the future seems particularly open to being shaped by those living in the present.

Commemoration proposes ways that we can both make the roads untaken in history visible and ‘remember’ them. It links the untaken roads of the past to side-branching roads in the present: real possible alternatives to dominant ways of thinking and being, outlining commemorative practices that could connect these two sets of roads.

The book – while referring to history, literature, television drama and documentary, economics, politics, law and art – is grounded in concepts and practices of land and property occupancy and usage. That said, the ideas that it explores are relevant to the broader set of struggles concerning collective welfare that impel the Síreacht series. In keeping with the series’s utopian-inflected subtitle, ‘Longings for Another Ireland’, the book proposes that a commemoration process which recognises that the past could have been other than it was and that it could have given rise to other possible futures can assist us in the difficult but necessary process of imagining our future as both different too and better than the here and now.

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Síreacht: Longings for another Ireland

Money is power. It shapes our world in ways that can leave the mind reeling. Indeed, the bank crisis and subsequent recession made clear the influence that it has over our lives. Yet this despite this, money remains an opaque and abstract space, with its own language and gatekeepers to knowledge. As citizens we are required to support the profit-seeking strategies of banks and other financial institutions, but we are not supposed to question those strategies, the logic that underpins them, nor the unequal power relations that envelop its world.

This book seeks to do precisely that. It explains and questions the world of money, and does so in an Irish context. It then puts forward ways for progressives to come together and work for a better and more inclusive Ireland – one where the money system works for public cohesion over private accumulation.

It will argue that money is a social technology, one that underpins a complex system of social relations, and the ownership and control of that technology gives those who hold it enormous social, economic and political power.

It will show that there is a class in Ireland that has carved out a niche for itself within that system at a national and international level, and that class is deeply embedded in the institutions of the State.

It will put forward alternatives that involve facing up to both the deep economic class divisions within Irish society and the gendered nature of economic inequality, as well as working collectively to transform the institutions and ideas which sustain and reproduce those divisions.

Dr Conor McCabe is a research associate with UCD Equality Studies Centre.. He has written extensively on Irish finance and is involved in activist education, working with political, trade union, and community groups in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

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