Remapping the public: Pubic libraries and the public sphere

Newman, Janet (2007). Remapping the public: Pubic libraries and the public sphere. Cultural Studies, 21(6) pp. 887–909.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09502380701470916

Abstract

This paper traces the changing political/cultural formations of publicness in Britain, and how these intersect with emerging strategies for governing the social. It draws on three sets of discursive oppositions or elisions - those of public/community; community/bureaucracy; and public/social - to trace successive struggles over the fortunes of a public institution that, I argue, stands as an icon of the public sphere - the public library service. The account illuminates how notions of publics and publicness have been made and remade, expanded and residualized, by state professionals in Britain over the last 50 years as they struggled with the incursions of 'new' publics as well as seeking to mediate the impact of the Thatcher years and Blair governments. But rather than reading the decline of the public library service in Britain as just another example of neo-liberal governance, the paper argues for an approach that pays attention to the specificity of institutional histories and to the organizational and occupational forces that produce and mediate cultural change.

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