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2020-2021: Affective Publics – Places, Networks, Media

Prof. Birgitt Röttger-Rössler / Prof. Margreth Lünenborg

The tandem during winter semester 2020 and summer semester 2021 is formed by communication scholar Margreth Lünenborg and social anthropologist and spokesperson of the CRC Birgitt Röttger-Rössler. This year’s work will focus on questions concerning the changing structure and nature of publics - both in different configurations of physical co-presence and in mediatized and digitally networked forms. While Western discourse for a long time primarily tied in with normative concepts of the public sphere in Habermas' deliberative understanding, such a concept oriented towards the rational exchange of arguments seems to have long since become obsolete under the conditions of polyphonic and often seemingly chaotic digital network communication. At the same time, a dichotomous understanding of privacy and publicity from a social anthropological point of view has been criticized long before the establishment of digital communication structures, because it cannot adequately describe the complex interaction of the hidden, the secret, the private and the public.

Against this background, we will examine how contemporary concepts of the public sphere can be designed and re-formulated relying on affect theory. What role do outrage and fear, but also solidarity and togetherness play in the emergence of publics? Who receives agency in these formations of publicness? How are existing institutions challenged by the emergence of multiple publics? What processes of inclusion and exclusion go along with these developments? How are they intertwined with gender relations?

In different formats of exchange, we will deal with transnational influencers as well as with digital media practices of diaspora communities and their respective affective registers. But we will also look at formations of the public sphere outside of "the West" and ask to what extent the public sphere can be understood as a travelling Western concept that challenges and is challenged by other social and political constellations. We will address the link between virtual networking and physical co-presence in public places, which has become evident in numerous contemporary political movements (e.g. in the "Arab Spring"), and last but not least we will focus on algorithmic publics, i.e. on the formative power of technology and its economic as well as political driving forces.