Counterpublics

All information included in this page can be found in Michael Wagner's essay "Publics and Counterpublics"

Counter publics are Publics, but of course they do differ in some respect.

Although a counterpublic is a public, it is not in line with the dominant social group. A counterpublic relates heavily to the idea of the underdogs. According to Wagner, a counterpublic is what emerges when a dominated group aspires to re-create itself as a public and, in doing so, finds itself in conflict not only with that dominant social group, but also with the norms that constitute the dominant culture as a public. In fact, a counterpublic may establish itself just to reflect their own norms, which differ from the dominant culture's and that help it in establishing its own confident posture.

In short, these public came to be known as counterpublics because they differ in one form or another from the assumptions that allow the dominant culture to understand itself as a public. They simply don't fit in. They serve as a counter to some facet of what is considered or accepted as the norm.

It is hard to discuss counterpublics without understanding that, like dominant publics, they are ideological in that they provide a sense of active belongs through its ability to circulate and be influenced by so many of a public.

A counterpublic maintains on some level, conscious or not, an awareness of its subordinate status. The means through which it measures itself is not by a greater or better public, but by a more dominant public. Like all publics, a counterpublic achieves existence through those which interact with it and give it attention. However, what distinguishes a counterpublic is that its discussion addresses its strangers, or its members as more than just completely anonymous - like a dominant, general public would - because addressees are marked by their participation in that certain type of discourse. As if imagining it as an unfashionable school club, most ordinary people, or those that are a part of the dominant public culture would not want to be mistaken for the type of person who would participate in that counterpublic and its culture.

Wagner's example is the gay or queer counterpublic, and it makes understanding this form of public much easier. For example, within the queer counterpublic, no one is in the closet because the presumptive heterosexuality that constitutes the closet for individuals in ordinary speech is suspended within their public and its discourse. However, even this counterpublic, along with most likely all publics, is bound to meet some of the same resistance that began the counterpublic in the first place. Wagner explains that within the queer counterpublic, eventually, with everything being addressed to every queer participant, the texts will eventually circulate to a point at which it is certain to meet resistance, and a counterpublic would emerge, leaving the queer counterpublic it diverged from as a new dominant public. The cycle will have come full circle.
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