It was in the coffee-houses of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century London and other cities, Habermas famously observed, that ‘the sphere of private people [came] together as a public’. There, a ‘bourgeois public sphere’, began to distinguish itself from the aristocracy, and from the street. A clientele of professional lawyers, merchants, journalists and others, seated together at long tables, expressed an implicit egalitarianism as well as an exclusivity of class, race and gender. These were rowdy and chaotic, noisy and smoky places in which debate and discussion were conducted in a cacophony of cross-talk rather than ordered turn-taking. They were where people came to talk, and to write: periodicals, journals and newsletters were founded and headquartered there; the postal service originated in arrangements for sending messages between coffee-houses.
The French Revolution had to create the crowd, or at least some physical approximation of the people in whose name it went on. 400 000 filled temporary circus stands erected on the Champ de mars for the celebration of the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1790. As Peter Sloterdijk has it, the ‘crowd’, the ‘nation’ or the ‘people’ as a collective subject ‘only exist to the extent that the physical assembling of these quantities is the object of artful orchestration – from mobilisation through participation to directed effects in a stadium’. He describes a ‘reborn circus, as political focus and as fascinogenic crowd collector’.
By the time of the second World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, an Intercontinental Youth Camp had come to be recognised as an integral part of its organization. It was designed and developed in workshops and commissions leading up to the event, by architecture and communications students, hip-hop, queer and black activists, the youth wing of the Labour Party and community radio stations.
When protestors against the Iraq war gathered at Fort Bragg, in Fayetteville, North Carolina in 2005, they were challenging military and pro-war interests as directly and immediately as they could: Fort Bragg is a major base of US airborne and military forces, and North Carolina was one of the states Bush had won in 2000 and 2004. But they also drew on a local history of activism against the Vietnam War and more recently against the death penalty. Organising in Fayetteville meant working closely with veterans and military families, projecting support for the troops while opposing the war. The national prominence of the Fayetteville rally drew in others protesting against capitalism, racism and homophobia, for religious freedom for Muslims, for an end to conflict elsewhere, in Israel and Palestine. It prompted local counterprotests in support of the troops and the war, amid claims that those who had gathered in Fayetteville were ‘not from here’.
The definition of the situation in Fayetteville was contingent on the changing and alternative ways it was ‘framed’, or made to mean what it did to different protaganists, on the different ways its physical space was made into a significant place. Fayetteville stood for ‘patriotism, militarism, resistance to militarism, the South, or racism, depending on who you ask’.
Eric Laurier and Chris Philo cite Habermas’s Structural Transformation of the Public Spherein their (2007) ”A parcel of muddling muckworms’: revisiting Habermas and the English coffee-houses’, Social and Cultural Geography 8 (2) 259-281, p 261; their observation about Steele, Ward and others is made p 276; ‘One more important constituent…’: Ainė Ramonaitė, ”Parallel society’ in Soviet Lithuania’, op cit, p 95
Peter Sloterdijk talks about the architecture of the French Revolution in (2008) ‘Foam city’, trans Jeremy Gaines, Distinktion 16 47-59, p 54
On Carlo Giulani City, see Romualdo Paz de Oliveira (2005) ‘Constructing the Intercontinental Youth Camp’, ephemera 5 (2) 319-333; the quotation is p 321
‘Plural and public action…’: Judith Butler, Notes toward a Performative Theory of Assembly, Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP; pp 59-60, 71, 127
The Fayetteville case study is from Michael Heaney and Fabio Rojas (2006) ‘The place of framing: multiple audiences and antiwar protests near Fort Bragg’, Qualitative Sociology 29 485–505, and the quotation p 503; their idea of the frame is from Goffman, Frame Analysis. An essay on the organization of experience, Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1974