By Bruce Robbins

About Bruce Robbins

Bruce Robbins is Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. His most recent book is Perpetual War: Cosmopolitanism from the Viewpoint of Violence. He is also the director of the documentary film Some of My Best Friends Are Zionists.


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “public” originated from the Latin populus, or “people,” apparently under the influence of the word pubes, or “adult men.” The term’s considerable authority, based on its claim to represent the social whole, has continued to bump up against evidence that large classes of people have been omitted from it, as women and children are omitted from pubes. In American studies, relevant debates have focused on the continuing applicability of this ancient notion within a specialized modern division of labor in which no one has knowledge of the whole (Dewey 1927; Lippman 1927); on whether the apparent decline of public life (as in Robert Putnam’s “bowling alone” thesis [2000]) might reflect the larger percentage of U.S. women now doing paid rather than voluntary work; on whether “public spaces” in the past were ever really democratically accessible to all; and on how …

Collectivities, Places, Power
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