Michael Warner


“Counterpublics are, by definition, formed by their conflict with the norms and contexts of their cultural environment, and this context of domination inevitably entails distortion. Mass publics and counterpublics, in other words, are both damaged forms of publicness, just as gender and sexuality are, in this culture, damaged forms of privacy.” (Publics and Counterpublics, p.63)

Warner, Michael. (1993). Fear of a Queer Planet: Queer Politics and Social Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Michael Warner’s edited collection Fear of a Queer Planet collects thirteen essays by some of the most articulate and outspoken queer theorists of the late twentieth century. Notably, this volume contains the essay, ““How to Bring Your Kids up Gay” by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, who exposes the connections between homophobia and gender stereotypes. Steven Seidman’s “Identity and Politics in a Postmodern Gay Culture: Some Historical and Conceptual Notes” provides a thorough introduction to identity politics and looks at the impact of class, gender, and race on the modern gay rights movement. “Tremble Hetero Swine” by Cindy Patton offers a shocking overview how the New Right has expropriated the language of the gay rights movement to usurp efforts toward equal rights for homosexuals. Warner’s introduction also provides a good overview of queer theory, although it is clearly written for an academic audience.

Warner, Michael. (2002). Publics and Counterpublics. New York: Zone Books.

Publics and Counterpublics is a collection of essays by Michael Warner, a literary critic and social theories, and who is considered one of the founders of Queer Theory. In the uneven, pensive book, Warner explores the concepts of publicity and publicness, and meditates on how to make oneself public without necessisarily aligning with subaltern politics. He emphasizes the agency of culture in the forms of art, public speaking, media and performance, and looks at how people can use culture to create a space for themselves in the social world. In other words, Warner does not address the intersection of publics and politics, but rather how people express themselves as individuals and groups through participation in alternative subcultures. Publics and Counterpublics is a direct response to the work of Jürgen Habermas, a German philosopher and sociologist who perceived the public sphere as a liberal democratic utopia where continuous debate would ensure equal citizenship. Warner, however, believes that the public is not a cohesive entity, but actually comprised of multiple reflexive counterpublics that respond to the Habermasian public that excludes the interests of potential participants. Unfortunately, Warner’s arguments are often convoluted and compromised by the use of jargon that make several essays difficult to access for many readers.