Staeheli, L.A. and Mitchell, D. (2008). _The People’s Property? Power, Politics and the Public_. New York: Routledge.

Lynn Staeheli, PhD Geography, University of Washington, is Professor in the Department of Geography at Durham University. Along with public space, she researches citizenship, political activism, and immigration. (See other entry for Mitchell’s bio.)

This book is an expanded publication of earlier journal articles detailing five case studies that each reflects various iterations of public space (broadly defined) and examines the interrelations of “public space, property, politics, power in the construction of publicity” (xxv). The case studies discuss:

  1. permit requirements for protests in Washington, D.C.: the regulation of place, time, and manner of political demonstration
  2. property law in Santa Fe Plaza: the plaza as both a civic property and set of social relationships, and the governments’ contradictory roles of landlord and sovereign
  3. the public redevelopment for private interests and subsequent delegitimizing of the homeless population in downtown — the “neoliberalization of the city” (71)
  4. community spaces (and thus controlled) in private malls in Syracuse (“community” is an unwieldy term)
  5. the public-ization of public property in NYC gardens (Fraser’s [1992] subaltern groups and their “rescue” from Giuliani by land trusts, though they themselves are under no obligation to create space for mobilization)

Following Weintraub (1995), Staeheli & Mitchell conclude the book with two chapters that ask, What is the public? and What are the ‘regimes of publicity’? They assert you must look at property relationships to comprehend public space fully, as well as understand that the public nature is constantly in flux. The “differentiations of property are productive of differentiations within people” (138); and publicity itself is “an exercise of power” (141), therefore the struggle will never be resolved.

A regime of publicity comprises the “prevailing system of power” (152), characterized by the intersection of these three dimensions:

  1. property, which they contend the contest of which is not discussed nearly enough in the literature
  2. social norms and community membership, or civitas, that’s based on the notion of a public sphere and the Lefebvrian (1996) notion that the assertion of norms and community bear with them the potential for radical democratic remaking of the city
  3. legitimation, the social norm-hewing and normalized outcome of which ensures the regime is in accord with the prevailing concepts of publicity.

In all, we must look at “actually existing [Fraser, 1992] public spaces” (154) to understand the structural composition of regimes of publicity.

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Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Community Development, Major Field, Public Space, Research Fields

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