The Relational Public

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This article sets out three ways of conceiving publics: (1) an organic conception, the public as the body politic; (2) an individualized conception, the public as an aggregate of individuals, grouped by social categories; and (3) a relational conception, in which publics are defined as open-ended networks of actors linked through flows of communication, shared stories, and civic or other collective concerns. These conceptions have emerged not only through theoretical reflection but also as the result of historical and institutional developments. Building on work from Tarde and Habermas down to recent theorists, I seek to advance the relational conception, suggest its implications for research, and highlight its connection to contemporary developments in both theory and society.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-80
Number of pages24
JournalSociological Theory
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


  • public
  • public sphere
  • relational sociology
  • social networks
  • virality


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