Published online by Cambridge University Press: 04 August 2010
Summary: Classic liberal conceptions of the public sphere generally miscast the public participation of popular sectors in the developing world as premodern, proto-political, or nonrational. The term “popular intellectual” is a useful corrective since it focuses attention on discourses and symbols that are consciously created and endure beyond the individuals and events which put them into play. The term “popular publics” – intentionally organized relational contexts in which specific networks of people from the popular classes seek to bridge to other networks, form coalitions, and expand the influence of their discourse – preserves this emphasis but also changes the unit of analysis from individual or collective actors to relational contexts. Here I use this concept to analyze two cases of popular public participation in late twentieth-century Caracas, Venezuela. In the first case we will look at a street protest, in which dislocated members of the informal economy work to make their private concerns into public issues. In the second case, we will look at plaza services, in which Pentecostal Christians address Venezuela's contemporary social and political reality through an alternative rationality. Each of these cases challenge classic liberal concepts of the public sphere.
FROM POPULAR INTELLECTUALS TO POPULAR PUBLICS
The term “popular intellectuals” contains an interesting tension. On the one hand, “intellectuals” refers to people with a special vocation in reflecting upon and discussing issues of collective social life. In both critical and approbatory uses it generally refers to elites who are relatively insulated from the vicissitudes of concrete, everyday life. “Popular”, on the other hand, is generally used by intellectuals precisely to refer to non-elites who are organically grounded in concrete, everyday life.