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Exploring the Public: Participation and Engagement




Admission Requirements



Exploring the Public (EP) is a cases-led investigation about its core concept: the public. In this course you will learn to trace the origins of this concept and distinguish its multiple nuances in everyday debates – are we talking about the same when we refer to the “public” good, or “public” service, or “public” opinion, or “public” interest, or the “public” sector; or the “public” sphere? What accounts for this overreaching idea of “the public”? And equally important, who accounts for it, who is the public?

The introductory words of Dan Hind, author of The Return of the Public, illustrate the departing concern of this course: “At the moment when our grasp of the concept of the public has become so confused, paradoxes multiply and compound the confusion. The publics that do exist as site of effective and self-conscious decision about the future of our countries for the most part deliberate without publicity. Ours is an age of secluded, even secretive, publics” (5). Departing from this assumption, the task of this course is to involve students in thinking and engaging with the idea(s) of the public(s) that we need in order to face the global and local challenges of our contemporary societies. A pressing task considering the extent to our globalised inter-dependence, but also how pervasive and progressive segregation and exclusion are in our highly differentiated societies.

Course Objectives

The learning aims and core objectives of this course are:

  • To develop in students an analytical and critical understanding over the multiple facets of the public so they can gauge their challenges when put into practice.

  • To provoke in students a critical reflection about the concept of the public and its implications, particularly for their self-understanding as global citizens.

  • To develop in students a creative ability to examine key issues linked to prevailing notions of the public that affect the ways in which contemporary societies are organised.

  • To motivate and actively engage students in imagining alternative ways to think about the public that foster their collaborative capacities.

Mode of Instruction

  • This course will be run as a seminar, with a combination of lecture time, class discussions, and student presentations. Time will be allocated in the first session for student presentations of specific case studies along the block.

  • Students will prepare for each seminar by completing the assigned readings. In addition, each student will need to complete one brief and critical “reading synopsis” per session.

  • Mutual respect and rapport are fundamental for the development of this course. Your continuous and active participation is crucial: it is with the active and respectful engagement of us all that we can produce an exciting and inspiring learning community.




A reader for the course required readings will be compiled and made electronically available in Blackboard. Students are expected to use these readings as minimum requirement to inform their participation in our classes discussions. Supplementary readings and students own literature reviews will be encouraged through the course and expected during students presentations and final essay.

Contact Information

For further information please contact Dr. Daniela Vicherat Mattar at:

Weekly Overview

WEEK 1 – Exploring the Public – A matter of opposing definitions?
WEEK 2 – The classical public: private vices public virtues
WEEK 3 – The neoliberal publics: publics as publicity
WEEK 4 – The fall of the public
WEEK 5 – A renewed call for the public: social movements return to the streets
WEEK 6 – Public realm, public sphere, public space, public knowledge
WEEK 7 – Thinking the public beyond oppositions
WEEK 8 – Reading Week

Preparation for first session

A. Hannay (2005) “The Public” in On The Public. London: Rutledge Pages: 1-25.

Students are requested to reflect upon their own understanding of the public and it contemporary relevance. In the first session those ideas will be discussed and framed in the light of the course objectives.