PUBLIC LIFE OF IDEAS NETWORK
The Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative has an ongoing relationship with the Public Life of Ideas Network.
The Network is a robust scholarly enclave of interlocutors of the former Constitution of Public Intellectual Life Research Project (based at the University of the Witwatersrand from 2004 – 2007), and other scholars. An interdisciplinary platform, the Network shares with the former project an overlapping research interest in exploring notions of publicness, and the limits of the concepts of the public sphere, publics and counterpublics. It highlights the ways in which public debate is both actively promoted and effectively constrained, sometimes by the very institutions and policies and funding forms designed to foster it.
The Network addresses sets of questions around contemporary intellectual engagements that take place across various domains of public life including media, and politics, examining the role of the former in orchestrating debate, investigating the tactics of public address and forms of language drawn on in public deliberation and offering methodologies of tracking the public life of ideas. The Network sustains enquiry into and explication of issues related to convened public sphere (Hamilton 2010) and those that lie outside ‘officialised’ spheres of public engagement.
Cognisant of the limits of the Habermasian public sphere, the Network theorises publicness in terms of an ongoing, dynamic space of encounter with discourse. Such discourse need not occur through dialogue between co-present interlocutors, but may unfold in diverse and parallel virtual media-scapes, journals and increasingly visual forms.
Methodologically, and in addition to its central operative term, ‘the public’, the Network makes use of concepts such as ‘circulation’, ‘consecration’ and ‘take-up’. These have proved helpful in elucidating how publics come into being, and their intellectual make up and significance. Circulation, for instance, frames the dynamic biographies of texts within ongoing public critical exchanges that give content to topical debates. However, texts and their accompanying ‘smaller texts’ in the form of what the theorist Gérard Genette call ‘paratexts’, become the lifeblood of publicness through take up by various individuals at different points of their circulation. At this level, the Network has arrived at a dynamic and fluid idea of public intellectual life – more alive to the contemporary ‘life world’ than the Habermasian model of the public sphere allows.
The Network supports a community of emerging scholars in the publication of their theses as books and peer-reviewed articles. It provides ongoing opportunities for supportive career planning and strategizing. The Network also facilitates ongoing collaborations and inter-institutional connections. One of the Network’s current projects is the joint development of a book manuscript The Public Life of Ideas, jointly co-authored by Carolyn Hamilton, Rory Bester, Lesley Cowling, Alan Finlay, Anthea Garman, Litheko Modisane and Pascal Mwale.
The work of the Network, and of its predecessor, the Constitution of Public Intellectual Life Project, is featured in the two-part symposium, Exceeding Public Spheres – Social Dynamics, 35(2), 2009 & 36(1), 2010, andin a special edition of Ecquid Novi: African Journalism Studies 32(3), 2011.