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Demonstrate a clear and critical understanding of theoretical constructions of the public relevant to your subject.

Words: 1096
Pages: 4
Subject: Sociology

Divided Publics?


Within a topic of your choice, critically analyse how concepts of the
public have structured attitudes and behaviour. In particular, pay
attention to –

(a) criteria for categories derived from these concepts, and
(b) their normative implications
(c) division and its effects
(d) steps taken to address division

You may, but do not have to, give your essay a title of your own
choice. Any title will not be included in the word count.

Word limit: 3, 000 words.

Note: essays can exceed the word limit by 10%, but no more.
The essay counts for 70% of the marks for this module.


Your work should:
1. Demonstrate a clear and critical understanding of theoretical
constructions of the public relevant to your subject.
2. Show an ability to critically apply that understanding to the
analysis of attitudes and behaviour in respect of your topic.
3. Present clear arguments for the conclusions and insights you seek
to draw, grounded in evidence specific to your subject area.
4. Be clearly structured, presented and organised.

Divided Publics?


Initial steps
Locate an area where the notion of “the public” is an important
organising concept. This might be explicit, for example the public
sector, public interest, public health, or public art. It might also be
implicit, for example the environment, regeneration partnerships, or
political morals.
How is the term “the public” used?

NB: this investigation is sociological, as well as conceptual, so the
following dimensions of use are important to consider –
Differences over time – has usage changed over time?
Differences across people – who uses it and how?
So, for example, the same group of people may use the term
differently over time, or different groups may use it differently. Note
that these usages might not always be explicit – they may have to be

Relate use of “the public” to framework & theories of ‘the
public’ we’ve looked at:

1. Is it part of a dichotomy? Or is there more than one category? Or is it
a continuum?

2. Criteria: What determines what is public, and what is private? Is this
a clear criterion?

3. Dimensions
i. Interest – end of action
ii. Agency – scope of action
iii. Access – object of action

NB: Different usages and, as we have seen, different theories of the
public may emphasise one or more of these dimensions, and/or de-
emphasise others e.g. ‘sociability’ versions of the public, such as
Sennett’s, downgrade interests in favour of (personal/impersonal)

4. Normative implications – how is the particular notion of the public
you have chosen used to justify action, or restrict or guide behaviour?
Action and behaviour could include an organisation or group’s policy,
but might not. What purposes does this categorisation serve?
This framework will help make clear the versions of “the public”
advanced in the sphere you’ve chosen. However, be careful here. At
this stage you are trying to accurately represent views expressed in
the world. Where these are ambiguous or unstated, you should not
seek to cram them into your framework. Simply note the scope of
ambiguity or gap in articulation.

Once you have identified the different descriptive and normative uses
of “the public” in the sphere in which you are interested, you can then
use the framework to relate those uses to the theories of “the public”
we’ve been looking at in the conceptual part of this course.

Again – don’t expect the fit to be perfect. Viewpoints advanced by
particular individuals or groups might combine elements of different
approaches, or might slip from one to another over time. Moreover,
you may come across novel formulations of “the public.” Noting how
these deviate from the models we have been looking at will help you
think about their implications, however. Note these different features.
They will be important in your analysis.

This process of relating uses of “the public” in the area in which you
are interested to theories of “the public” will allow your analysis to be
informed by your knowledge of the commitments, strengths and
weaknesses of these different models, and whether “real world” uses
conform or deviate from these models. In doing this, you will be
drawing on your critical knowledge and discussion of the commitments
of these models in our lectures and seminars.

You should then use these elements to assess and explain the
influence of notions of “the public” on action and behaviour within the
area you have chosen. Consider in particular any divisions, and how
these relate to the way in which the public is conceived. What effect
have these divisions had? Do they threaten the dominant conception of
the public? In what way? Similarly, consider any steps to address these
divisions, and their underlying conceptions of the public. Or, if no steps
have been taken, try to explain why this might be, again relating to the
underlying dimensions of the public that are important. have been taken, try to explain why this might be, again relating to the

Divided Publics?

Original insights derived from critical application of relevant
theoretical frameworks to your field centred on how the public is
conceived, divisions and their effects, and steps taken to address
them. Originality may relate to the insights about the substantive
field derived from your application of the conceptual frames. Or they
may relate to insights about the limitations, complexity or inter-
relation of the theoretical frameworks themselves, derived from this
attempt to apply them. A wide range of appropriate reading, from
within and outside the reading list.

Upper Second
Critical application of relevant theoretical frameworks to your topic,
describing insights into the substantive field you have chosen
centred on how the public is conceived, divisions and their effects,
and steps taken to address them. Comments on the usefulness of
the theoretical frameworks, including, where pertinent, their
interaction. Appropriate supporting evidence and a range of
relevant sources. Clear understanding of the substantive and
theoretical subject area. Clearly structured and consistently argued.

Lower Second
Application of relevant theoretical frameworks to your topic,
providing basic description of the substantive field you have chosen.
Lack of critical discussion of insights into substantive field /
theoretical frameworks. Elementary grasp of the theoretical
frameworks and their application. Structure / argument not clear in
places. Basic reading.

Inappropriate and partial application of theoretical frameworks to
your topic. Partial understanding of theoretical frameworks or the
substantive field. Poor structure / argument. Limited reading.

NB: These are only broad guidelines. It is important to read them in
conjunction with the assessment description for the Public Domain