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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Thrift Stores and the Public Sphere: Hot Topic

In an effort to jazz up my posts, I will advert to an academic topic: the public sphere, as articulated by philosopher Jurgen Habermas. If you're too wiped out by the heat to look at the Wikipedia essay, here is the beginning:

The public sphere is an area in social life where people can get together and freely discuss and identify societal problems, and through that discussion influence political action. It is "a discursive space in which individuals and groups congregate to discuss matters of mutual interest and, where possible, to reach a common judgment."[1] The public sphere can be seen as "a theater in modern societies in which political participation is enacted through the medium of talk"[2] and "a realm of social life in which public opinion can be formed".[3]

The public sphere mediates between the "private sphere" and the "Sphere of Public Authority",[4] "The private sphere comprised civil society in the narrower sense, that is to say, the realm of commodity exchange and of social labor."[5] Whereas the "Sphere of Public Authority" dealt with the State, or realm of the police, and the ruling class,[5] the public sphere crossed over both these realms and "Through the vehicle of public opinion it put the state in touch with the needs of society."[6] "This area is conceptually distinct from the state: it [is] a site for the production and circulation of discourses that can in principle be critical of the state."[7] The public sphere 'is also distinct from the official economy; it is not an arena of market relations but rather one of discursive relations, a theater for debating and deliberating rather than for buying and selling."[7


I've been trying to figure out if two of the places I frequent--the public library and Goodwill--would qualify as public spheres. Not much talking in the library, that's for sure. i think Goodwill might qualify: there is a disregard for status: boundaries between workers and customers are regularly crossed. Also, among the customers, there is a crossing of the boundaries between wealthy and poor, not to mention black and white (and now, post-Katrina, Hispanic). Strangely, the thrift store also meets the criterion that it not be a place for buying and selling. I've seen both the current mayor (who averts her gaze) and the former mayor (a hale and hearty fellow) shopping.

Honestly, no one cares whether you buy anything or not. It is so hot here. Both the library and Goodwill have excellent air conditioning. You can sit as long as you want. Both have comfy chairs and lots of things to read. At Goodwill, however, you can chat.

The only long-term sitter that inspired some concern at Goodwill was a hugely pregnant woman who was taking advantage of the ac. There was some worry that she would go into labor then and there. I don't know about political discussions though: all we talk about in the public sphere (if it is one) is how hot it's been.

Hope you're all enjoying the summer. I'm not.

5 comments:

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

I would like to have some summer weather...I am tired of all this rain...
It must be very hot where you live if they have a/c in the Goodwill....in our thrift shops they throw open the doors!

Funny about Money said...

Yipe! 94 with a chance of thunderstorms! That is hot in a place where the air is humid. It was 103 here, but clear and dry--nice day, actually. Still cooling into the 70s at night.

metscan said...

I have not experienced the heat you are describing, but you have all my sympathy! About the thrift stores, Goodwill and likes: Something like this is so strange for me. I have brought for sale stuff ( too hasty purchases, I confess ) to a certain secondhand shop. Occasionally I get a minor sum of euros, if someone has bought my stuff.
Having read blogs, I have realized, that many bloggers visit thrift shops nearly on a daily basis. Why? Do we really need so much clothes and other things? Every day? Do we have to have a new outfit every single day? It is hard for me to believe, that one needs some 60 pairs of shoes, etc. Is this frugality? Has buying become a way to use your time off? What do you say FS ?

Duchesse said...

This is the kind of post I admire deeply, thank you!

The more pop term (which I'm betting you know) is "the third space", which Starbucks calls itself. However S$ also deliberately designs its stores to be not *too* hospitable to long stays- but twentysomethings are impervious and can occupy a little metal chair all day. There are no chairs in the thrifts here, people troll and get out. But we have a number of delightful indy coffee shops that are truly discursive gathering spaces.

Frugal Scholar said...

@hostess--It's been in the 90s. Because of the high humidity, it doesn't really cool down... EVER.

@Funny--Deserts have some advantages.

@metscan--The ones I frequent are mostly charities--they take donations. I will have to write more about why I enjoy them. It is alien to the Finnish sensibility, I realize. It can be an addiction...I suppose if I go over to the addicted state, I won't realize it. Hopefully, someone will tell me.

@Duchesse--You are an academic manque. (I am a financial advisor manque). I agree about the coffee shops--I think they are wonderful spots to while an afternoon away with friends or by yourself.