Salena, Trina, Myrella and Jennifer's mid-term mapping of the keyword "public"

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initial concept map

1. What kinds of critical projects does the keyword enable?


Implementation in schools of what is called "differentiated instruction" in which teachers spend time understanding their students' individual needs rather than imposing a dominant authoritarian learning culture. Alternatives to public education: charter schools, private schools, home schools, and co-ops. "Integrated” education – similar to home schooling but seamless, community-based. Exploration of "illiteracy" ideas a la Foucault.

Public Art

Public art seems to be just about as old as dirt. Perhaps the dinosaurs were not sculpting mud monuments in their courtyard, but there are drawings found on cave walls, ornate pictures on tents and animal skins and rock formations built all over the world, not to mention the many styles of pottery out there. A NYTimes editor commented that public art could be almost anything. Public art is used to reach larger audiences and to create a communal experience. There are countless art schools, art galleries, performances of art and art history has been a choice for students trying to find a major that will almost certainly be useless in "the real world." As far as Art History goes, you can google "dead white guys" and find many of the people you will be studying during your stay at the University. This being said, one can also find the Guerilla Girls, Hung Liu, Betty Saar, Frida Kahlo and Cindy Sherman (forgive me for my bias towards female artists). Public art has become a way to bring the private to the public, to provoke and question the status quo, to fight existing power structures and to intermingle "content, context and controversy," as Harriet F. Senie and Sally Webster explain in thier book on public art. As Judy Baca states, "art is a tool for social change and self-transformation, capable of fostering civic dialogue in the most uncivil places." We find evidence that this creating of dialogue and social change is happening in the academy as well. New forms of museums are emerging from this collaboratory approach, such as the Wing Luke Asian Museum. Public art has been utilized to heal and rebuild, as in South Africa, or to preserve public memory as we witnessed after September 11. Even the public space of the internet has created "youtube Professors" video stars (Young, 2008). Although all of this sounds remarkable and makes for very exciting possibilities, there has been plenty of controversy. The idea of the "public" does not always include everyone. Even when it does include as much of the public as possible, there is a fine line between provocation and downright offensive. Consider the Yale art student who inseminated herself in order to create and video her miscarriages. Her work was not allowed to be shown to the "public." The public has also criticized the "corporate control of culture" (Ivey 2008). Who decides who the public is and what is appropriate(d) for the public? To whom does public art belong? The example of the nazi-looted art highlights this debate. Does public art have to "do" something for the public? Does public art need to be place-based? Is graffiti public art or vandalism? All of these issues have surrounded the term "public" and continues to get played out through public art.

In "Bowling Alone", Robert Putnam claims that "social capital refers to features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit" (2). Public art functions in many communities as a narrative, a textual, visual communication to everyone. In many cases the creation and existence of art in the community brings more than just s visual backdrop, it becomes an active site of discourse and civic engagement.

The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program started 25 years ago as a project to eradicate graffiti. Fifteen years into the project a mural was suggested in a racially divided neighborhood. The aim was to explore themes of racial unity. The peace wall was created after a brutal attack on a black family by a mob of white men. About 20 white men left a catholic church and attacked a black woman, her son and her nephew on February 22, 1997. Only two men were arrested for this crime. In response, about 1,000+ black people marched through their neighborhood in protest of those attacks. Whites left racist graffiti throughout the neighborhood. With racial tensions past the breaking point and an area plagued with crime, community activists sought a way to bring people together and so the mural was started. [1] File:The Peace Wall.jpg

The result of their efforts have been a cleaner neighborhood, far less crime, new homes and a collaboration of two groups that had previously distrusted the other. Although there are still problems, people are more relaxed and involved in their community.

As one contemplates the value of public art, it should not be forgotten that it can also be used to divide a community. In Germany and many other places in Europe, Nazi's used graffiti to mark Jewish owned businesses with various racial slurs and hate-speech.

File:Norway 1940.jpg  File:Austria-1938.GIF

I retrieved images from this website: [2]. Propaganda has been used to influence public opinion most likely from the beginning of human intellectual history. Although I have not researched this as yet, I am sure the Romans were not shy of expressing their opinions through graffiti and Caesar does seem the type to use art as a propaganda tool. What comes to mind is much later, mostly because I have seen the remnants of socialist Russian propaganda while I was in Berlin.

Public Justice

The U.S. Department of justice's mission statement reads: "To enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law; to ensure public safety against threats foreign and domestic; to provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime; to seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior; and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans."

Who is to decide what the "interests of the United States" are? Who decides what is "just punishment" and "fair and impartial administration of justice"? Most definately not those whom it is supposed to be serving: "all Americans". The U.S. Justice Department's website ironically proves this in making the claim that citizens can "take part directly in the criminal justice process by reporting crime to the police, by being a reliable participant (for example, a witness or a juror) in a criminal proceeding and by accepting the disposition of the system as just or reasonable." The Justice Department's website also asserts that, "our justice system prosecutes individuals as though they victimized all of society". So essentially, it considers its criminals as public enemies and enemies of the state.

This comes back to the question posted earlier on the wiki: How about Public enemy? Who is the public enemy? According to Jeffrey A. Tucker, the State is the enemy, and the public justice system is an authoritative system that penalizes the poor and the marginalized in order to gain capital for the state. [3] The state on the other hand would have us believe that these same people are in fact public enemies.

The U.S. Department of Justice, tries to assure citizens that the system indeed is not simply an authoritative system because citizens can take part, "As voters and taxpayers ... through the policymaking process that affects how the criminal justice process operates, the resources available to it, and its goals and objectives." So does this mean that we in fact have the power to change the system? Or will we always be subject to the will of powerful men in black robes?

File:Public execution.jpg

Other possible projects include:


Creative Expression




Public Access

Public Discourse

Public Domain

Public Health

Public Spaces


2. What are the critical genealogies of the term and how do they affect its use today?

The word Public comes into use in 1436, "of or pertaining to the people," from O.Fr. public (1311), from L. publicus, altered (by influence of L. pubes "adult population, adult") from Old L. poplicus "pertaining to the people," from populus "people." Meaning "open to all in the community" is from 1542. The noun meaning "the community" is attested from 1611. Public enemy is attested from 1756. Public Relations first recorded 1913 (after an isolated use by Thomas Jefferson in 1807); abbreviation P.R. is from 1942. Public School is from 1580, originally, in Britain, a grammar school endowed for the benefit of the public, but most have evolved into boarding-schools for the well-to-do. The main modern meaning in U.S., "school (usually free) provided at public expense and run by local authorities," is attested from 1644.

Hoi Polloi

Wikipedia defines "Hoi Polloi" as: "the masses" or "the people", usually in a derogatory sense. Synonyms for "hoi polloi" include "...commoners, great unwashed, minions, multitude, plebeians, proletariat, rabble, rank and file, riffraff, the common people, the herd, the many, the masses, the peons, the muggles, the working class". So essentially this term is used as a way of referring to the undereducated, and disengaged, or more straightforward: those who are simple and ignorant.

From "Hoi Polloi" originates the idea of the public as a vulnerable commodity to be manipulated for the advantage of the upper classes, because with ignorance comes vulnerability.

Civic Engagement is the practice capable of changing this notion of the "Hoi Polloi" , and some feel that the internet is the public domain in which this change can be enacted. The blogging site titled, Hoi Polloi is an example of this greater vision for those considered to be simply commoners:[4]

Other contributing factors to the creation/maintaining of this term include:









3. Are there ways of thinking that are occluded by the use of this term?

Using the term "public" frames the discussion in a way that may seem selfless, i.e. public service, public official, publicly-owned, but tends to be involved in a lot of doublespeak. Public persona is usually a false front for the naive public. Public relations has become a perfecting of doublespeak to hide the ugly truth. Publicity is a way to network this false front so the majority of the public can be reached. This being said, if you don't play the word game very well, you may get left out. Resume and grant writing, for instance, is a way to "sell" yourself or your ideas in order to get a job, money, or support in some way. If you can't hit the right keywords and set them in the right frame, you lose, do not pass go, do not collect $200. The public has also been homogenized and perhaps even replaced by the community. Public officials, as well as public/social services has learned that feminizing the public, turning it into the community is a good way to appeal to the public and gain sympathy or support. (this is still just a thought-the feminizing of public-and needs to be researched)


The tension between the "public" and "individual" is a tension which has existed since the time when our country was first established. James Madison was largely responsible for this nation’s system of government. A critical component of his ideas was the notion that people are inherently driven by self-interest and that they are thus guaranteed to oppress one another in order to fulfill their individual interests. Madison decided that the best solution would be to control the selfish desires of citizens through the establishment of a strong national government that would protect people from one another, thus placing a great deal of control in the hands of government. This consequently limits both the liberty and equality of citizens while placing an emphasis on individuality. Daniel Kemiss, author of Community and Politics of Place, claims, “It was no accident that this approach to public life was put forward by people who were centrally interested in creating optimal conditions for an expanding commercial industrial economy” (Kemmis 15).

The emphasis on the individual is a strategy used for the benefit of government and big business because not only does it serve to keep people in competition with one another, it also places ultimate authority in the hands of a government that is meant to keep people "safe" from one another's selfish interests. Thus creative free will is never granted to the people.

Ironically, while it is Individualism which the system claims to protect it is also Individualism which the system prevents. Individualism as defined by the philosophy of Existentialism is the state of being free to define for oneself ones own values, morality, and life circumstances. This is also what is referred to as free will.

So technically we have never been granted even a chance to define our own realities because we are forced into a system that assumes the worst of human nature. Government was created in order to bridge the gap between public interest and individual interests, but this unfortunately is a bridge which has been poorly constructed. How might things have been different if the universal beleif was that we are inherently compassionate rather than inherently selfish? Compassion and a sense of co-responsibility are the values that can enable the peaceful coexistence of public and the individual. Now is the time to make these values mainstream.


As Tomaselli writes in Stories to Tell, Stories to Sell, "Being not-a-stranger somewhere entails some level of public conduct and commitment, allegiance to ‘community’. Quite which community (political, alcoholic, temperate, ‘traditional’, ‘western/pastoral’, urban, rural, periurban, insider/outsider, pastoral/traditional) of the many that criss-cross our subjects’ lives and social networks is never quite clear." Other factors leading to occlusion:





4. What other keywords constellate around it?

Public Education

Public Education has been part of US American culture since early colonialization in the 1600s. The realm of education in the US is an arena of centuries-old history of struggle over mandate, administration, and what portions of the population receive instruction through public education. In early US history, small schools grew in the 1600s, sponsored by regional churches for the express purpose of the transmission of religious beliefs to school-age children. Those who did not agree with the particular religious teachings simply founded their own schools.

After the Revolution, the US emphasized the importance of education through the eighth grade. Public schools were available, but had fees associated with them, and so were only within the purview of the wealthy elite.

Until the 1830s, public mass education remained a social issue. Upon return from a trip to examine the Prussian system of public education, educator Horace Mann promoted the idea of a common school ideology in the US. By 1870, all states provided free elementary schooling, although only 57 per cent of children in the US, 5 to 18 years old, were actually enrolled in school. Higher education was not readily available, although “normal schools,” intended to train teachers, were slowly replaced in the 1900s by the university system.

In 1919 the Education Bill was introduced into Congress, but was resisted by states reluctance to have centralized governance over individual welfare. By 1920 the per cent of US children enrolled in school had risen to 77 percent. The ostensible purpose of extending education to the public was to “promote democracy.” While few citizens were educated, few were eligible to hold office or to even vote in elections. The goal of promoting and protecting the shared American democratic ideal could be realized through a standardized public education system, the production of human beings indoctrinated in the accepted curricula of the time.

Possibly the idea of an educated citizenry is a good one, ensuring the ability to protect one’s self and one’s rights, and for those educated folk to communicate, collaborate, and even compete in the social structure.

In the last century, public education has been the focus of a multitude of stakeholders. As a function of government, public school is innately imbued with the purpose of transmitting the cultural ideals of the dominant culture, perpetuating the ideals as common sense and a common foundation, the reproduction of the democratic ideal. Public school is perceived as the norm, an a priori concept, as states enact education-based standards and create truancy laws. Power is denied any citizen who cannot prove his “successful” movement through a K-12 education and subsequent participation in higher education. Those who cannot negotiate the system are seen as the “other” and are silenced and disenfranchised.

Raymond Williams, in Keywords, writes that the distinction between educated and uneducated has actually been more common since the implementation of universal education. The sense of class difference has been fostered by the continual "adjustment up" of what “educated” or “properly brought up” mean.

If the public education system is not adequately serving its constituents, evidenced by comparisons with other developed nations’ rates of literacy and graduation, and drop-out rates in the US steadily increase—especially among under-represented or disenfranchised population groups—whose interests are being served? Are we producing an effectively-educated citizenry who are able to perform acts of critical analysis and progressive self-governance?

Nevertheless, it is argued with validity that the function of public education and post-secondary education serves a critical purpose, that of transmitting knowledge (knowledge production) and the formation of new generations of critical thinkers. Not only teaching, but methods of teaching and metacritical critiques of thinking must inform and shape constituents. Henry Giroux, whose work on critical pedagogy relentlessly examines how institutions are teaching teachers to teach, says that universities must serve as public spheres for protecting and maintaining democracy. Education is inherently politicized, says Giroux, so whose needs does it serve? The examination of that question is key to engaging a broader constituency.

In Crossing Figueroa, George Sanchez addresses questions of protecting and reproducing democracy in the US in institutions of higher education through engagement and access. Admissions processes must be “inclusive” and hiring practices must emphasize diversity. A question that is emphatically asked at our institution (Bellevue College): does our faculty (and employee base) reflect the demographic of our students? If not, why not, and what does that mean? Are students effectively taught and connected to the community of learning if they never see a person with whom they closely identify?

How do we heal the rift between the elite represented in our public education system and our expanding population of non-white students who reject the dominant culture? If hegemonic strategies are no longer effective, how do we provide education in a post-hegemonic environment?


Private has a number of usages and a long history. Wikipedia gives the terms privacy, privately held companies, rank (military), name of a popular porn company, property, genitalia, school and university. If you google this word you will also find usages related to exclusivity, as in private label or private club, the private sector and private industry, the private prison industry, private lessons, private loans, private eye, private ownership, private vs. non/public schools, and private citizen-a company that protects you from junk e-mail. Their motto: "We protect your right to be left alone." This list is not exhaustive, however we can tell that definition of private is accurate, "personal or restricted, as opposed to public, not publicly held." So how has this word been used by the talking heads in power?

Private has been linked to natural resources and ownership for quite some time, as well as to private vs. public schooling, tying private to it's most literal definition. More recently, however, we find that private is being connected to regulation, public burden vs. personal choice, policy practices, community organizing and to culture. As scholar Manning Marable wrote, "In the area of culture, some of the fiercest battles between public vs. private interests have been waged..." (The Left, 1998). Seeing how these terms, public and private, are polar opposites, it is difficult to imagine a combining of the terms' interests in an effort to relieve some of the tension in this epic battle for one to win over the other. But if we can frame these two in terms of complimentary, then we can revolutionize how we do business, look at community and enter into relationships.


The definition for social in the Merriam Webster's Dictionary is "of or relating to human society, the interaction of the individual and the group, or the welfare of human beings as members of society". However Social is used in conjunction with many other words that have many different meanings: social realism, social justice, social constructivism, social psychology, social capital, social security, ect.

The social question is also the basis for Socialism. Socialism seeks to answer what the appropriate relationship between the individual and the public ought to be. This social question is also at the root of the majority of leftist thinking, while right winged thinking places less importance on "social" aspects of culture.

Other Words Connected to Public

include, but not limited to: broadcasting, citizen(ship), civic, collective, country, discourse, folk, image, individual, interest, knowledge, masses, nation(al), popular, service.