7 Spaces 7 Spaces

A place to gather

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.

One more important constituent of the Catholic underground was the private self-education circle. It is hard or even impossible to reconstruct a complete picture of the network of these circles, yet a few prominent and significant centres of attraction should be mentioned: Doctor P. Butkevičius’ house on Molėtų Street, the political prisoner J. Brazauskas’ place in Kaunas, Aukštieji Šančiai suburb, A. Patackas’ room in the hostel for postgraduate students in Vilnius and his organised network of self-education lectures in Kaunas and other towns.

Ainė Ramonaitė, ”Parallel society’ in Soviet Lithuania’, 2010

Steele, Ward and others like them could for the first time report on the public of the city and ‘its’ opinions, but they had to cope with one of the common problems of the city that, unlike the village, opinions representing ‘it’ are hard to gather (since ‘its’ residents can only be ‘talked to’ under special circumstances). As a solution, these early-modern opinion-gatherers either spent their days at one coffee-house, having a cross-section of city groups crossing their path, or travelled from one coffee-house to the next, dropping in on different crowds and eavesdropping different conversations. In the process, they formed an impression of ‘something happening’, something worth remark, and they began, in effect, to posit the unspoken rules of these social spaces.

Eric Laurier and Chris Philo, ‘Habermas and the English coffee-houses’, 2007

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.

Plural and public action… is the means by which the space of appearance is presupposed and brought into being… (A)ssembly and speech reconfigure the materiality of public space and produce, or reproduce, the public character of that material environment… (T)he space of appearance is not ever fully separable from questions of infrastructure and architecture, and that they not only condition the action, but take part in the making of the space of politics.

Judith Butler, Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly, 2015

Carlo Giuliani City was divided into three main axes: Residential, Conviviality, and Activity. The Residential Axis provided the campers with areas to assemble their tents, toilets, tables and barbecue places. The tents were set under the sun and covered by sombrite – a special cover used in greenhouses to reduce the incidence of sun radiation. The campers were expected to leave their tents early in the morning and head to the Conviviality and Activity Axes located near the green areas of the park. The Activity Axis comprised the following spaces: the Cultural Axon, a space built with bioconstruction techniques where the workshops took place; the Cultural Decentralizer Spaces located outside of Carlo Giuliani City in many central areas of Porto Alegre; the Contestation Cinema where movies and videos were exhibited; The Kaleidoscope Space, a place for testimonials, debates, chats, and musical shows where people of different cultures could interact; and finally, the Convergence Axis which was composed of the Communication Factory, the Administration Shed, the Recycling Shed, the Sanitation Area (with showers and chemical toilets) as well as kiosks, barbecue places, and the Central Square where a huge bonfire was kept burning throughout the event.

Romualdo Paz de Oliveira ‘Constructing the Intercontinental Youth Camp’, 2005

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