Open Spaces and the Public Sphere


While watching C-SPAN’s coverage of the public Congressional debate over healthcare (very entertaining if not instructive), I found that a friend has been writing about Habermas’s concept of the ‘public sphere’: Slawkenbergius’s Tales.

To be more precise, he elucidates on the mistranslation of ‘Öffentlichkeit’ in the 1962 work Habilitationsschrift, Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit into English as ‘public sphere’.  The term, as used by Heidegger, was often translated into English as ‘publicity’ or ‘publicness’.

“The actually important text was Thomas Burger’s 1989 translation of the book, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. (As my advisor pointed out to me, the highly misleading rendering of the abstract noun Öffentlichkeit as the slightly less abstract but more "spatialized" public sphere may have been the source of all the present trouble.) Because the translation arrived at a point in time when issues of space, popular culture, material culture, and print media were at the forefront of historiographical innovation, the spatialized rendering fit very nicely with just about everyone’s research project. That’s when the hegemony of the "public sphere" began. ”

The mention of ‘space’ in Slawkenbergius’s discourse (he’ll wince at that word – read his blog entry to find out why) reminded me of the origins of the Open Space movement.

For those unfamiliar with it, open spaces are a way of loosely organizing meetings that is currently popular at software conferences and user groups.  The tenets of an open space follows, vis-a-vis Wikipedia:

  • Whoever comes is the right people [sic]: this alerts the participants that attendees of a session class as "right" simply because they care to attend
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have: this tells the attendees to pay attention to events of the moment, instead of worrying about what could possibly happen
  • Whenever it starts is the right time: clarifies the lack of any given schedule or structure and emphasizes creativity and innovation
  • When it’s over, it’s over: encourages the participants not to waste time, but to move on to something else when the fruitful discussion ends
  • The Law of Two Feet: If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet. Go to some other place where you may learn and contribute.
  • The open spaces I’ve encountered at software conferences have tended to be one man on a soapbox or several men staring at their navels.  But I digress.

    The notion of an Open Space was formulated by Harrison Owen in the early 1980’s (about the same time Habermas was achieving recognition in America) as a way to recreate the water-cooler conversation.  It is intended to be a space where people come without agendas simply to talk.  The goal of an open space, in its barest form, is to create an atmosphere where ‘talk’, of whatever sort, is generated.

    For me, this has an affinity with Jürgen Habermas’s notion of an ‘Ideal Speech Situation’, which is an idealized community where everyone comes together in a democratic manner and simply talks in order to come to agreement by consensus about the ‘Truth’ – with the postmodern correction that ‘Truth’ is not a metaphysical concept but merely this – a consensus.

    This should come with a warning, however, since in Heidegger’s use of Öffentlichkeit, public sphere | open space | publicness is not a good thing.  Publicness is characteristic of a false way of being that turns each of us (Dasein) into a sort of ‘they’ (Das Man) – the ‘they’ we talk about when we say “they say x” or “they are doing it this way this year.”  According to Heidegger – and take this with a grain of salt since he was a Nazi for a time, after all, and was himself rather untrustworthy – in Being and Time:

    The ‘they’ has its own ways in which to be …

    Thus the particular Dasein in its everydayness is disburdened by the ‘they’.  Not only that; by thus disburdening it of its Being, the ‘they’ accommodates Dasein … if Dasein has any tendency to take things easily and make them easy.  And because the ‘they’ constantly accommodates the particular Dasein by disburdening it of its Being, the ‘they’ retains and enhances its stubborn dominion.

    Everyone is the other, and no one is himself.

    Your First Windows Phone Development Book


    Shortly after the announcement at MIX that the Windows Phone Developer Tools were available for download, a free e-book by Charles Petzold on developing for Windows Phone showed up on the Internet.  You can download it from his site here.  It includes six chapters from the book and, from what I’ve read so far, is great.  The XPS I downloaded is 156 pages – so it is quite a bit more than a tease.

    The book begins in Petzold’s characteristically off-center and brilliant style:

    “This is a short draft preview of a much longer ebook that will be completed and published later this year. That later edition will be brilliantly conceived, exquisitely structured, elegantly written, delightfully witty, and refreshingly free of bugs, but this draft preview is none of that. It is very obviously a work-in-progress that was created under an impossible timeframe while targeting quickly evolving software.”

    Windows Phone Developer Tools and Silverlight 4 Released


    Scott Guthrie announced at the MIX10 keynote this morning that the Developer Tools for Wndows Phone Series 7 are now available for download.  You can get the tools here at

    Silverlight 4 for the Visual Studio 2010 RC and the Expression Blend Beta are also now available here on

    Mr. Guthrie (AKA ‘The Gu’) also announced that Blend 4 will be a free upgrade for licensed owners of Blend 3, which is fantastic news.

    The final release for all of these will occur in a month – one assumes it will coincide with the Visual Studio 2010 release on April 12.

    Bridging the Silverlight Code – Design Gap


    Several friends and associates have been sending me links to Blend resources since my last post on the Silverlight Code – Design Gap.  I would like to thank a few in particular: Corey Schuman, Adam Kinney and Amos Kabaki.

    ShineDraw: Amos told me about a site called ShineDraw that has a Flash vs Silverlight Gallery demonstrating how the same effect can be accomplished in Flash and in Silverlight.  Best of all, the examples are downloadable.

    Project Rosetta: Both Corey and Adam clued me in to the recent reboot of Project Rosetta.  Project Rosetta is quickly adding content to be the first stop for designers to learn to work with Blend and Silverlight.  There is a rich getting started guide, a guide that helps designers map Flash concepts to Silverlight concepts, and many, many tutorials including an essential introduction on importing Photoshop files into Blend.

    Expression Community: Not everyone knows about the forum for Expression Blend developers. It is set up along the same lines as the ASP.NET and Silverlight.NET forums with – clearly – a Blend bent.  There is also an associated gallery for those looking for a bit of inspiration.

    If you are aware of additional Blend and Silverlight resources for designers, dear reader, please add them to the comments.