Foundational theories of the public sphere prioritize civic speech while distrusting forms of visuality. As a corrective to this model of the public sphere, rhetorical theorists have recently emphasized visuality as a constitutive mode of contemporary public culture, but they nevertheless tend to prioritize the civic actor over the civic spectator. A productive alternative would begin to distinguish an emerging shift from “deliberative publicity” to “photographic publicity.” The bourgeois public sphere innovated verbal communicative practices that produced a specifically deliberative publicity, enabling one resolution to the core political problems of an earlier (feudal) era. Likewise, contemporary publics utilize emerging digital technologies to produce a specifically photographic publicity, allowing them to address fundamental limitations of the bourgeois public sphere. Photographic publicity helps us rethink the problem of the public sphere in terms of theatricality and civic spectatorship.

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