I have been conducting a seminar on “media and micro-politics” in a variety of different forms since publishing The Politics of Small Thingsoften with my dear friend and colleague, Daniel Dayan. This year the newest member of the The New School ‘s sociology department, Julia Sonnevend, the author of a brilliant book on the fall of the Berlin Wall as a global media event, Stories without Borders will join me. She will bring her special insights to our investigation later in the semester.

The seminar has a simple theoretical starting point: “politics happens” in social interaction through a variety of different media, i.e. through media, politics emerges in social interaction, is constituted through interaction and shapes interaction. The project of the course is to review and critically evaluate the theory and research that will help us to investigate this, and to apply our investigation to an understanding of the political crises of our times, specifically to an understanding of the global development of a new form of authoritarianism and the opposition to it.

It is my intention to link the theoretical development of the course to an understanding of themes I addressed with students last summer in a course given at the Democracy and Diversity Institute in Wroclaw. The background reading for our first session was the series of posts I wrote on that course (see syllabus below).

Our first meeting was last Wednesday. I gave the seminar members an overview of the syllabus and explained the course requirements, and asked them to introduce themselves. Then, one of the seminar participants, Ahad Ali, asked me to do the same. I explained how the class is tied to my intellectual project, centered on my life long obsession on the conditions for and consequences of free speech broadly understood. I noted, that while in the past the course focused on the creation of alternatives to organized systems of discipline, power and authority, on “the power of the powerless,” on “the politics of small things,” this year we would be focused on the breakdown of a coherent sphere of publics, what I named in Wroclaw, “the bifurcation of the public sphere,” as the interactive infrastructure of the new authoritarianism. This, I hope will help us understand the potential of alternatives.

I will be writing periodically posts on the development of our investigations. I know already that you can expect one with the working title “Democracy, Deference and Demeanor.” Look forward to posts from the other members of the seminar as well.

Jeffrey C. Goldfarb, the Michael E. Gellert Professor of Sociology at The New School for Social Research, is the Publisher and founder of Public Seminar

The syllabus:

In this course, we will explore media and politics as two sides of the same coin, studying how politics is made possible and shaped by specific media forms, and how the forms of media have embedded within themselves specific political possibilities and difficulties.

The approaches to political power of Weber, Foucault, Goffman and Arendt will be considered. Special attention will be given to how media make things visible and how the project of showing is a key to the constitution of political power. The two theoretical starting points for the discussion of media and politics will be Goldfarb’s account of “the politics of small things” and Dayan’s exploration of “monstration,” the problematics of visibility and showing,

During our deliberations, we will consider how the new forms of authoritarianism, emerging in many different places but all appearing at the same time — the early years of the Twenty First Century — have been constituted through the new forms of mediated politics, focusing on the way the contemporary media order facilitates the new authoritarianism, as it also provides the grounds for the opposition to the authorities.

Weekly sessions

1. Introduction

Jeffrey Goldfarb, “The New Authoritarianism and Its Alternative”

A collection of Public Seminar posts:

1) The Media, the New Authoritarianism, and its Alternatives

2) Our Dark Times

3) The Media, the New Authoritarianism, and its Alternatives : An Update

4) The New Authoritarianism and the Structural Transformation of the Mediated Public Sphere

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

2. Social Interaction

Georg Simmel: On Individuality and Social Forms , specifically his essays “The Problem of Sociology,” “The stranger” and “Fashion”

George Herbert Mead: Mind, Self and Society

*Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, “The Nature of Deference and Demeanor.”

3. Power

Max Weber, Economy and Society, selections on authority

Michel Foucault, “Truth and Power”

Hannah Arendt, “Truth and Politics”

Jeffrey Goldfarb, Reinventing Political Culture, p. 15-40

4. Micro-politics

Goldfarb, The Politics of Small Things

Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life

Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, especially p. 22-78, “Truth and Politics”

Randall Collins, “ The Micro Contribution to Macro Sociology .” Sociological Theory Vol. 6, No. 2 (Autumn, 1988): 242-253

Vaclav Havel, “The Power of the Powerless.” in Jan Vladislav ed. Living in Truth: 22 Essays Published on the Occasion of the Award of the Erasmus Prize to Vaclav Havel . Boston, MA.: Faber and Faber 1990 p. 41

5 & 6. Publics

Jeff Weintraub, “The Theory and Practice of the Public / Private Distinction”

Jurgen Habermas: The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, “ The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article” (1964), “Political Communication in Media Society,” “Further Reflections on the Public Sphere,”

Nancy Fraser: “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy” in Craig Calhoun, ed., Habermas and the Public Sphere, 1993, pp. 113-115, 117, 122-128, 131, 139

“From Redistribution to Recognition? Dilemmas of Justice in a ’Postsocialist’ Age,” New Left Review, no. 212 (July/August 1995): pp. 68-93.

“Transnationalizing the Public Sphere” in Max Pensky, ed. Globalizing Critical Theory. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield. 2005. pp. 37-48

Seyla Benhabib, “Models of Public Space: Hannah Arendt, the Liberal Tradition, and Jurgen Habermas” in Craig Calhoun. ed Habermas and the Public Sphere.. Cambridge: MIT Press. 1993 pp. 74-75, 78, 86-87, 89-90

Michael Schudson,. “Was There Ever a Public Sphere? If So, When? Reflections of the American Case” in Craig Calhoun Ed. Habermas and the Public Sphere.. Cambridge: MIT Press. 1993 pp. 143-163

Hannah Arendt: Between Past and Future, The Human Condition

Elzbieta Matynia, Performative Democracy

Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man

Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion

John Dewey, The Public and its Problems

Jeffrey Goldfarb, Civility and Subversion

Daniel Dayan, On Monstration

7&8. Media I: Print/Radio/Television

Tarde, “Opinion and Conversation”

Anderson, Imagined Communities, p. 37 – 46

Meyrowitz, No Sense of Place

Dayan and Katz, Media Events: The Live Broadcasting of History

Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: public discourse in the age of show business . New York: Penguin Books, 1986 pp. 92, 130, 140-141

Dayan “The Peculiar Public of Television”

9. Media II: Digital

Nick Couldry Media, Society, World

Marwick and Boyd, “Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience”

Bucher “A Technicity of Attention”

Dayan, “On Un-Publics,”

“Overhearing in the Public Sphere”

Goldfarb, “ Solidarity and the Rise and Fall of the Public Sphere 

10. Media Events & Global Publics I.

Katz, E., & Liebes, T. (2007), “No more peace!” How disaster, terror and war have upstaged media events.

Sonnevend (2016), Media Events are Still Important in the 21st century

Cottle, S. (2006). Mediatized rituals: beyond manufacturing consent

Sonnevend (2016), Global Iconic Events: The Five Dimensions of Transnational Storytelling

11. Media Events & Global Publics II.

Lee, Ch.-Ch., Li, H., & and Lee, F. L. F. (2011) Symbolic Use of Decisive Events: Tiananmen as a News Icon in the Editorials of the Elite U.S. Press,

Cui, X. (2013). Media events are still alive: The opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics as a media ritual.

Sonnevend, J. (2016): “Interruptions of Time: The Coverage of the Missing Malaysian Plane MH370 and the Concept of ‘Events’ in Media Research”

Dekavalla, M. (2012). Constructing the public at the royal wedding

12. Media and Storytelling

Carey, J. W. (1992). Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. (Chapter 1, “A Cultural Approach to Communication,”)

Sonnevend (2018), Facts (Almost) Never Win Over Myths

Alexander, J. C. (2002). On the social construction of moral universals: The ‘Holocaust’ from war crime to trauma drama.

13. New Media Publics

Papacharissi, Z. (2014) Affective Publics: Sentiment, Technology and Politics (introduction, excerpts)

Shifman, L. (2014) The Cultural Logic of Photo-Based Meme Genres

Kreiss (2018), The Media Are About Identity, Not Information

Sandvig, C., Hamilton, K., Karahalios, K., & Langbort, C. (2016). When the Algorithm Itself is a Racist: Diagnosing Ethical Harm in the Basic Components of Software .

14. Conclusions