Publics and Counterpublics

8 Feb

Michael Warner’s “Publics and Counterpublics”

Give an example of a text/public/circulation that meets Warner’s definition of a public.  What are the key rhetorical modes of this public or counterpublic?  

Publics are an essential part of society. Michael Warner’s “Publics and Counterpublics” addresses the characters of texts, text creation, styles of address, and relations between conflicting dominant publics and marginalized counterpublics. A dominant public of anti-racism will be contrasted with a subordinate counterpublic of white supremacy or neo-Nazism in order to better understand both the public and the counterpublic.  Anti-racism movements are an example of a public that can be fitted into the definition and framework of Warner’s “Publics and Counterpublics” (2002). The white supremacist movement as a counterpublic, exists therefore with a distinct lack of political power and is denounced by the opposing and dominant anti-racism public (Asen and Brouwer 3). As such I propose that the rhetorical aspects of a text from the counterpublic, the American Nazi Party, reveals a conscious or unconscious understanding of its marginalised position to the dominant public and the necessity it feels in promoting itself towards the position of public.

Warner’s definition, described by Mark Porrovecchio as a “delightfully complex configuration” (235), identifies a public as coming into being only in relation to texts and their circulation (Warner 413). Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar proposes that Warner’s approach allows for ‘”more reflective” handling of the till-then “shadowy existence” of publics’ (Porrovecchio 236). Warner’s definition is contested by those such as Robert Asen and Daniel C. Brouwer who instead suggest a re-conceptualization of the public sphere “as a multiplicity of dialectically related public spheres rather than a single, encompassing arena of discourse” (Porrovecchio 235). Warner labels seven components which can be used to describe a public. Firstly, a public is self-organised. Secondly, a public is a relation among strangers. Thirdly, the address of a public speech is both personal and impersonal. Fourthly, a public is constituted through mere attention. Fifthly, a public is the social space created by the reflexive circulation of discourse. Sixthly, publics act historically according to the temporality of their circulation. Seventhly, a public is poetic world making. Brouwer states that “Candidates for the most controversial and innovative of these claims are Warner’s assertion about the necessity of stranger relations, his emphasis on the reflexive circulation of texts, and his presumption that mere attention can give rise to publics” (283). These seven components will be applied to the anti-racism movement to justify its existence as a public.

The first component of a public is its ability to be self-organised. The public of anti-racism exists by virtue of being addressed. The texts that create an anti-racist public exist for their own sake rather than to gain a material reward or avoid punishment. These texts have an internal purpose within themselves. They exist as ends for which websites are posted and books are published (Warner 413). Sentiments of anti-racism are capable of drawing individuals into a self-organised public where opinions are anonymously and vicariously exchanged. Warner avers that a public is a space organised by nothing other than discourse itself (413). This can be seen to be true for the anti-racism public where people through emotive texts participate in what have become broadly organised feelings of resentment against racial targeting. These people do not know who will enter into the public but it becomes a given that if you are a member of mainstream society you will not openly express racist opinions. The mainstream public is dominant over the unconventional counterpublic. Anti-racism as a public can be seen to be self-organised in the outbursts of anger towards groups who incite racial hatred, such as the white supremacist group who attempted to assassinate African American students and democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama (ABC “Neo-Nazi Arrested etc.”). An anti-racist public is independent of state, law, citizenship and pre-existing institutions; “It is self-creating and self-organised, and herein lies its power, as well as its elusive strangeness” (Warner 414). Racist issues and events are public texts which people access independently, which cause people to speak, write and think about their anti-racist feelings thereby involving people actively in a self-organised public.  

The second component refers to a public as a relation among strangers. The primary orientation of an anti-racist public is to reach strangers and involve them in the public. The anonymity of the public becomes the necessary medium of commonality. It is never really verifiable to determine who belongs. Texts are orientated at indefinite strangers that not only can be treated as already belonging to the group but must belong (Warner 417).  The crucial background of public opinion enables strangers to interact with the same texts to create an indefinite audience, and hence indefinite number of strangers as members of the public. The necessary medium of stranger hood commonality requires constant imagining (Warner 417).  For this reason when we access an anti-racist text, for example on a website, we do not assume that we are the only one accessing this text, in the past, present or future, nor that we alone share its values. The third component states that the address of a public speech is both personal and impersonal. A participant in an anti-racist text knows it was not addressed exactly to them but rather to the stranger they were until they started to interact with it. The address is not singular or particular: we are constantly changing from intimate to stranger. Warner suggests that public speech singles us out by virtue of our participation in the discourse alone and therefore in common with strangers (418). The fourth component is that a public is constituted through mere attention. The anti-racism public exists only through its participants predicating some degree of attention. By coming into range of anti-racism discourse you fulfil the only stipulation required by the public. The public that is created is a virtual entity, commencing with the moment of attention and must continually predicate renewed attention and cease to exist when attention is no longer predicated (Warner 419). Anti-racism publics resemble this model of free, voluntary and active membership. Individuals access texts, think, speak or write about them in their momentary participation.

The fifth component states a public is the social space created by the reflexive circulation of discourse. Anti-racism discourse does not exist with the intention of pre-meditated circulation. The public in order to subsist needs multiple texts from multiple mediums. Anti-racism creates a public through interconnecting anti-racist texts through time. A text needs to be enjoined (dialectically or otherwise) in order to give rise to a public (Brouwer 284). The discourse stems from movements from its counterpublics and its own circular public. Discourse is always present however, only when previously supporting discourse can be supposed and when a responding discourse can be postulated can a text address a public (Warner 420). The sixth component states that publics act historically according to the temporality of their circulation. Publics have an ongoing life; it is the way texts circulate and become a basis for further representations that convince us that publics have activity and duration (Warner 421). The website based forum of anti-racism is increasingly organised as continuous. The temporality of the circulation gives existence to the public. The public of anti-racism has come about through historical platforms. The public of anti-racism becomes a scene of historical rather than timeless belonging. The seventh component states that a public is poetic world making. The anti-racism public commits itself in principle to the possible participation of any stranger; it consequently and deliberately puts at risk the tangible world that is its given condition of possibility (Warner 422). The public discourse of anti-racism characterises the world in which it attempts to circulate by address through discursive claims and the pragmatics of its speech. This will be looked at further in an analysis of a counterpublic text involving the interface of counterpublic with public discursive claims.

Warner devotes a small portion of this chapter to counterpublics. Warner states that like all publics a counterpublic comes into being through an address to indefinite strangers (Warner 424). Counterpublics take the form of social movements when they take a position against the state. The white supremacist or neo-Nazi counterpublic exists in a conflicting relationship to the dominant public of anti-racists and against the state. Nancy Fraser and Rita Felski’s describe a counterpublic as having unequal access to power, uneven distribution of material resources which advantage dominant social groups and disadvantage subordinate groups in public discourse (Asen and Brouwer 3, 21). Asen and Brouwer propose that marginalized groups circulate terms to force issues into wider agendas through counter-publicity (9, 10). Counterpublics make different assumptions about the protocols of what can be said and what goes without saying (Warner 423). The cultural sphere which a counterpublic is against is not just a general public or wider public but the dominant public (Warner 424). To demonstrate the existence of a white supremacist counterpublic an analysis of the rhetorical modes of a recruitment pamphlet for the American Nazi Party, appendix A, follows. The analysis will demonstrate the rhetorical features of the text that represent the conflicting ideas of the counterpublic, which would be regarded with hostility or as indecorous by the anti-racist public, and its conscious or unconscious awareness of its subordinate status to the dominant public. The conflict between the public of anti-racism and the counterpublic of white supremacy extends to ideas, policy questions and modes of address that comprise the public (Warner 424).

The recruitment pamphlet for the American Nazi Party uses demonstrative or epideictic rhetoric to persuade the public to the worldview presented by drawing upon their values. It uses testimony in the form of statistics to address its public as witnesses to the world around them. It functions as virtual witnessing where the public is encouraged to be there in absentia. For example, the text states “…only 23% of the American population under the age of 18 is WHITE.” The justifier of ‘only’ serves to emphasize the minority aspect of this statistic, while the capitalisation, of ‘WHITE’ explicitly shows the importance of racial identity and the position of dominance in society the public of white supremacy desire. The technique of capitalisation is used often to enforce this idea. This testimony creates a prosthetic witnessing which can be understood to purposely cause its public to envision these statistics around themselves and alter their worldview. This desire for dominance can be seen to be an expression of the counterpublic’s conscious awareness of its subordination to the dominant anti-racist public. This can be further illustrated through the use of negatively connotated expressions used to describe people other than caucasians. Non-white people are described as “ILLEGAL ALIENS who have INVADED OUR NATION”, “illegals” and even “creatures.” These descriptions create the image of what are in majority citizens of the United States as physically dangerous and inferior to white Americans. Terms such as these force issues into wider agendas through counter-publicity.

The counterpublic exists in conflict with the public’s portrayal of race relations. The pamphlet portrays caucasians as being victimized: “If you are tired of being blamed for all the world’s problems- simply because you are White.” The use of second person singular/plural directly addresses the public in both an impersonal and personal text. This public speech singles us out by virtue of our participation in the discourse alone and therefore in common with strangers. The connotations of ‘tired’ coupled with the absolute of ‘all’ to describe the counterpublic’s negative feelings emphasize their subordinate position. Unlike the dominant public the counterpublic feels that it needs to encourage people to join the circulation of the public. This discourse is clearly not the only text in circulation. The text tries to convince the public to act upon its assertions using rhetorical questions and hypophora; “Do these FACTS disturb you? They should” and declaring “JOIN US NOW” and “DO ANYTHING NECESSARY to ACHIEVE THAT GOAL [of white supremacy].” This mode of address approaches strangers in a conflicting manner to the dominant public, which is seen to be readily accepted by a larger, more circulated public. People are aware of the conflict and risk involved in associating with the counterpublic and the pushing of frontiers. Through the testimony of statistics and allocating blame the text creates a circulation of a counterpublic aware of its marginalized position.

Publics’ confliction with counterpublics is an important relationship which engenders societal progression. In order to better recognize a public’s dominant position, the counterpublic must be recognized as well. The rhetorical modes of counterpublics reveal their conscious or unconscious awareness of their marginalized position. Counterpublics develop not only as one among many discursive entities but as overtly expressed alternatives to the dominant publics that exclude the appeal of potential members. They challenge existing publics through discursive relations among strangers to create social entities. Warner’s article clearly expresses that publics’ interrelations have powerful implications for the way society forms.


Appendix A

American Nazi Party, “American Nazi Party” 19 Oct. 2008.                                                                 visited 20/10/08


Today, according to the latest U.S. Census – only 23% of the American population under the age of 18 is WHITE. Already, four U.S. states are MAJORITY NON-WHITE, and 10% of all counties in America are MAJORITY NON-WHITE. World-wide, White women of child-bearing age comprise only 3% of the earth’s population. Do these FACTS disturb you? They should.

Currently, America has an estimated 20 MILLION brown, mestizo ILLEGAL ALIENS who have INVADED OUR NATION – this evil, corrupt Judeo-Capitalist system – where basically 3% of the population, control 85% of the nation’s wealth, are demanding and will eventually grant “amnesty” to these foreigners. Why?

Because they want a cheap, slave-like work force – where decent wages and benefits will be a thing of the past. All in the name of selfishness and greed. Every year, our White children’s expected life-style – is declining – compared to the previous generations. Once these illegals ARE granted “citizenship”, by LAW – they are allowed to bring into our country – ALL their “extended families”. This means not only their usual very LARGE amount of children – but, mom, pop, grandma, grandpa and who have you.

By 2025 – given only CURRENT population trends, coupled with this “amnesty” – WHITE AMERICA will be a total MINORITY in a nation that WAS ONCE THEIR BIRTHRIGHT! Does this please you? “HOW” do you think a White MINORITY will be TREATED – once it’s an established fact? Do you think that life for your children, and their children will be “business as usual”?

If you are tired of being blamed for all the world’s problems – simply because you are White. If you are fed up with a government that is more concerned about everyone and everything on this planet – EXCEPT the well-being of the people who FOUNDED and BUILT America – the WHITE WORKING CLASS population, and are intelligent and clear-sighted enough to see REALITY when it stares you in the face – JOIN WITH US.

American National Socialists are NOT “monsters” as portrayed by the systems controlled media – we are White men and women who care deeply for the future of our children in a decadent, corrupt world gone mad. A world where decency is “wrong” – and “perversion” is more than “acceptable” – why, it’s a preferred “lifestyle choice”!

National Socialists reject the materialist chains that bind the minds of so many, and realize that there IS more to life than acquiring vast amounts of high-interest debt – in the mad race to gather together like pack-rats, more and more plastic junk made in China.

To a National Socialist, things like PRIDE, HONOR, LOYALTY, COURAGE, DISCIPLINE, and MORALITY – actually MEAN something. Like our fore-fathers, we too are willing to SACRIFICE to build a better world for our children whom we love deeply, and like them as well – we are willing to DO ANYTHING NECESSARY to ACHIEVE THAT GOAL.

We are your brothers and your sisters, we are your fathers and your mothers, your friends and your co-workers – WE ARE WHITE AMERICA, just like YOU! Your enemies in control attempt with their constant “anti-nazi” propaganda – to persuade you that “they” are your “real friends” – and that WE, your own kin, are your lifelong enemies. Yet, ask yourself THIS – “WHO” have you to “THANK” for ALL the PROBLEMS FACING YOU? The creatures who HAVE been in total CONTROL – or – those of us resisting the evil? The TRUTH is right there in front of you – DON’T be afraid to understand it and to ACT upon it! You hold the FUTURE – BRIGHT or DARK – in YOUR hands, and TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

Are YOU a TALKER or do YOU make a difference now?

If so, you can contact us at:

P.O. Box 85942
Westland, MI 48185



Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf, an ideological
blueprint for healthy, Aryan survival…
Download Here!

Henry Ford’s work on “The World’s Foremost Problem,”
The International Jew….
Download Here!

Reference List

ABC News, “Neo-Nazis Arrested Over Obama Assassination Plot” 28 Oct. 2008              (28 Oct. 2008)

Aho, James. “Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United         States.” Political Science Quarterly 111.2 (1996): 369-71.

American Nazi Party, “American Nazi Party” 19 Oct. 2008.                                                                 (20 Oct. 2008)

Asen, Robert and Daniel C. Brouwer, eds. Counterpublics and The State. Albany: State     University of New York Press, 2001.

Berlet, Chip., “White Supremacist, Antisemitic, and Race Hate Groups in the U.S.: A         Geneology,” Political Research Associates, 2004. (25 Oct.2008)

Brouwer, Daniel C. “Publics and Counterpublics.” Argumentation and Advocacy 39.4 (2003):        283-88.

Corrigan, Dan. “Hate Groups Target St. Louis.” St. Louis Journalism Review 28.205 (1998): 1-       4.

Dry, Murray. “Free Speech in Political Philosophy and Its Relation to American Constitutional      Law: A Consideration of Mill, Meiklejohn, and Plato.” Constitutional Commentary            11.1 (1994): 81-100.

Heilbrunn, Jacob. “Germany’s New Right.” Foreign Affairs 75.6 (1996): 80-99.

Hirschkind, Charles. The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic           Counterpublics. New York: Columbia UP, 2006.

New Zealand Herald, “White Supremacist Movement in Disarray, says US Report” 16 April         2003.                              (25 Oct.           2008)

Porrovecchio, Mark. “Lost in the WTO Shuffle: Publics, Counterpublics, and The Individual.          (World Trade Organization).” Western Journal of Communication 71.3 (2007): 235-        57.

Rule, James B. “The Legitimization of Violence.” Political Science Quarterly  113.1 (1998):            148-150.

Stephenson, Marcia. “Forging an Indigenous Counterpublic Sphere: The Taller de Historia           Oral Andina in Bolivia.” Latin American Research Review, 37.2 (2002): 99-118.

Stiff, James B. and Paul A. Mongeau. Persuasive Communication. 2nd ed. New York: Guilford       Press, 2003.

Stormfront White Nationalist Information Center, “Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler” 2000.        (25 Oct. 2008)

Stormfront White Nationalist Information Center, “Stormfront White Nationalist Community” 25 Oct. 2008.                                                                                            (25 Oct. 2008)

“Strange Sects.” The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide 8.2 (2001): 6.

Texas Gang Investigators Association, “White Supremacy” 20 Oct. 2008.                y.html (20 Oct. 2008)

University of Florida, “White Supremacy: A Legacy of Hate” 2003.                                         (25 Oct.                2008)

Warner, Michael. “Publics and Counterpublics (abbreviated version).” Quarterly Journal of         Speech 88.4 (2002): 413-425.




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