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." The public sphere can be seen as "a theater in modern societies in which political participation is enacted through the medium of talk" and "a realm of social life in which public opinion can be formed".
The public sphere mediates between the "private sphere" and the "Sphere of Public Authority", "The private sphere comprised civil society in the narrower sense, that is to say, the realm of commodity exchange and of social labor." Whereas the "Sphere of Public Authority" dealt with the State, or realm of the police, and the ruling class, 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." "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." 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.