Public culture

Title Public culture
Location Chicago
Publisher Society for Transnational Cultural Studies; Duke University Press
Periodicity Thrice a year
ISSN 0899-2363
Published Since 1988-
Indexed Holdings 2002-


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Periodical's Overview

"Public culture is a reviewed interdisciplinary journal of cultural studies, published three times a year in Fall, Winter, and Spring for the Society for Transnational Cultural Studies by the Duke University Press.

In the twenty years of its existence, Public culture has established itself as a prize-winning, field-defining cultural studies journal. Public culture seeks a critical understanding of the global cultural flows and the cultural forms of the public sphere which define the late twentieth century. As such, the journal provides a forum for the discussion of the places and occasions where cultural, social, and political differences emerge as public phenomena, manifested in everything from highly particular and localized events in popular or folk culture to global advertising, consumption, and information networks.

Artists, activists, and both well-established and younger scholars, from across the humanities and social sciences and around the world, present some of their most innovative and exciting work in the pages of Public culture."

Selected Subject Headings

  • Acid Survivors Foundation (organization)
  • Cellular phones - Philippines
  • Concentration camps - Greece
  • Copyright - Cuba
  • Economic anthropology - Chad Basin Region
  • East Indians - South Africa
  • Eugenics - China
  • Gang members - Guatemala
  • Indonesian language - political aspects
  • Informal sector (economics) - Nigeria
  • Islam and secularism - Turkey
  • Memory - political aspects - Korea (South)
  • Methamphetamine - United States
  • Mexican agricultural laborers - California
  • National Slum Dweller’s Federation
  • Pentecostalism - Venezuela
  • Political corruption - Ghana
  • Sikh diaspora
  • Veils - France
  • War and society - United States


We quote Marshall Berman quoting and thinking Hannah Arendt quoting and thinking Marx:

"Marx predicted correctly, though with an unjustified glee, the ‘withering away’ of the public realm under the conditions of the unhampered development of ‘the productive forces of society.'” The members of his communist society would find themselves, ironically, “caught in the fulfillment of needs that nobody can share and which nobody can fully communicate.” Arendt understands the depth of the individualism that underlies Marx’s communism, and understands, too, the nihilistic directions in which that individualism may lead. In a communist society where the free development of each is a condition for the free development of all, what is going to hold these freely developing individuals together? They might share a common quest for infinite experiential wealth; but this would be “no true public realm, but only private activities displayed in the open.” A society like this might well come to feel a sense of collective futility: “the futility of a life which does not fix or realize itself in any permanent subject that endures after its labor is past.”[1]

Berman wrote his words in 1982; Arendt in 1958; Marx in 1848. We wonder what would they think were they to scroll down to our Share/Bookmark link below, and got a glimpse of the social networks that are, we are told, the new public realm. Our liquid modern world.

To contest, or rather, to nuance this assumption that the public realm resides now only in the Ethernet we have Public culture, a serious journal bringing us analysis of how modernity is faring all throughout the world, in all the possible and existing realms; in all the possible and existing combinations: digital and mediated interactions, but also concretely human.

Though the list of Selected Subject Headings above might give an impression that their approach is a journalistic or documentarian one, this might be misleading, as we could have chosen the following in order to give a different impression:

  • Agent (philosophy)
  • Allegory
  • Ambivalence
  • Compulsive shopping
  • Cosmopolitanism
  • Enthusiasm - history
  • Globalization - social aspects
  • Hints
  • Hoarding of money
  • National state
  • Nationalism and ethnicity
  • Orientalism
  • Reconciliation
  • Revenge
  • Truth commissions - history

It is this precise combination of very concrete historical sociopolitical contexts with current theoretical frameworks or piercing analytic tools that make Public culture an extremely useful vehicle to understand the current state of our world modernity, or, as they rather call it, globalization.

True to its espoused transnationalism the roster of editors and editorial advisors is an international one, albeit based in U.S. Academia, the heterogeneous locus of thought distribution; and true to its imbrications with our current ever-shifting society, the masthead has been an itinerant one: first based in Pennsylvania, then in Chicago, and lastly in New York City. The journal also embraces the arts as tools from which a deeper understanding of our reality can be ascertained, our preconceptions challenged and our knowledge increased, though in this case more an emphasis on the documentary than on the aesthetic is given. Different approaches.

To end we’d like to quote Marshall Berman again,

“The great gift he [Marx] can give us today, it seems to me, is not a way out of the contradiction of modern life but a surer and deeper way into these contradictions. He knew that the way beyond the contradictions would have to lead through modernity, not out of it. He knew we must start where we are: physically naked, stripped of all religious, aesthetic, moral haloes and sentimental veils, thrown back on our individual will and energy, forced to exploit each other and ourselves in order to survive; and yet, in spite of all, thrown together by the same forces that pull us apart, dimly aware of all we might be together, ready to stretch ourselves to grasp new human possibilities, to develop identities and mutual bonds that can help us hold together as the fierce modern air blows hot and cold through us all.”[2]

We do not believe that Public culture embraces a Marxist view of society, but we do find that Public culture is a very helpful tool to stretch ourselves, and to stretch our minds and understanding of our and our fellow humans’ conditions, a necessary task before grasping new human possibilities. Transnationally.

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[1]Marshall Berman. All that’s solid melts in the air. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982: 128; Hannah Arendt. The human condition: a study of the central dilemmas facing modern man. New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1959.

[2]Ibid., 129.