Little publics: the articulation of youth voice

Edg, Edgbaston B15 2RT, Room 139, School of Education Building R19
Research, Social Sciences
Friday 18th May 2012 (12:00-14:00)
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Aidan Thompson, Research Administrator
Phone: +44 (0) 121 414 3602

Speaker: Anna Hickey-Moody, lecturer in Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney.

The capacity of art to effect a movement from political invisibility to visibility, to create new stories and publics, is a critical cultural function that existing scholarship on youth arts and discussions of popular and public pedagogy fail to acknowledge. Through examining alternative publics, the ‘little publics’ created through youth art, this paper offers a theory of aesthetic citizenship that is specific to the lives and choices of young people. Deleuze and Guattari’s work can be employed to enrich understandings of youth arts as forms of popular, public and cultural pedagogy that make little publics: civic spaces in which youth voices are heard through performance or the materiality of art.

I read Habermas (1962), Fraser (1990), Berlant (1997) and Warner’s (2002) discussions of publics and counterpublics as a continuation of the call made by Raymond Williams’ to establish a role for education in contributing to debates about ‘public good’. In his response to 'Rethinking the Public Sphere', Warner extends Fraser’s emphasis on the fact that it is only when public discourse is understood a 'single, comprehensive, overarching public' (2002: 85) that members of subordinated groups are silenced.

Publics, then, are always/already multiple. A theory of little publics captures the political agency of minority that is inherent in this multiplicity. It also speaks to the materiality of youth. Through asking '… what makes such a public “counter” or “oppositional"'? (2002: 85) Warner shows us that the nature of political ‘opposition’ is difficult to define. In and out of school arts often try to create dominant cultural positions on and of youth. They can attempt to do so by involving marginalized young people and utilizing arts practices that are of interest to marginalized youth (or exploring themes that are topical in the lives of marginalized youth).

However, youth arts practices are also often politically conservative. There are major distinctions between the natures of the publics formed and / or addressed through various in and out of school youth arts projects. The contribution to the public sphere being advanced is small in scale and the public addressed is selective. The little publics to which youth arts speak are created through the process of making and displaying arts. They can articulate youth voice and adult imaginings of youth voice. Through a case study of an out of school public art project, I give an example of adults and young people working together to shift what I call ‘black panic’ discourses by building an aesthetic community. Via Deleuze’s concepts of differenciation and affect and Guattari’s writings on ethico-aesthetics, I show that the material products of youth cultural practices, such as dance texts, stencil art or music, can refigure individual subjectivities and augment popular storylines about youth told through media texts.


Berlant, L. (1997) The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship, Durham, N.C.

Deleuze, G. (1994) Difference and Repetition Continuum: London and New York

Fraser, N. (1990) Rethinking the Public Sphere: A contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy, Social Text 25 (26): 56-80.

Guattari, F. (1995) Chaosmosis: An ethico-aesthetic paradigm, Indiana University Press. Indianapolis.

Habermas, J. (1962 trans 1989) The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a category of Bourgeois Society, Polity Cambridge.

Warner M (2002) Publics and Counterpublics, Zone Books Cambridge.

Williams, R. (1958) 'Culture is Ordinary' in N. Mackenzie (ed.) Conviction, London: McGibbon and Kee; reprinted in J.O. Higgins (ed.) (2001) The Raymond Williams Reader, Oxford: Blackwell.

Williams, R. (1963) Culture and Society, New York: Columbia University Press; first published (1958) London: Chatto and Windus.

Williams, R. (1965) The Long Revolution, Harmondsworth: Penguin; first published (1961) London: Chatto and Windus.

Williams, R. (1967) Communications, 2nd edn, New York: Barnes and Noble.

Anna is a lecturer in Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. She has developed a philosophically informed cultural studies approach to youth arts as a subcultural form of humanities education. She is interested in how core theoretical projects of humanities and ideas of ethics both inform, and can be erased, by recent theoretical turns to affect. Her work explores the implications of these theoretical developments for cultural studies of education. Anna also researches and publishes on masculinity. She is interested in the politics and aesthetics of masculinity read as embodied critique of institutionalized patterns of hegemony. She teaches and supervises in the areas of youth culture, masculinity, the cultural politics of schooling and aesthetics.

Cost: Free of Charge