I often hear (and, more often, read) that many online conflicts are due to misunderstandings that arise from written communication. There is an assumption, explicit or implicit, that these misunderstandings could have been avoided simply by talking face-to-face, that evolution has optimized oral communication and that hence everything else must constitute a step backwards. For some years I’ve been replying to these claims ‘I’m not so sure that’s true.’

In this talk I will try to provide some actual arguments. I guess it would be easier (and less prone to misunderstandings) for me to write them down and for you to read them, but since the first will not happen unless I give this talk and the latter is highly unlikely for the usual reasons, we’ll have to make do with the spoken word.

Kathrin Passig is a Berlin-based writer. She runs a shop for randomly generated unique T-shirts (zufallsshirt.de) and, together with several hundred co-authors, the blog ‘Technik-tagebuch’ (techniktagebuch.tumblr.com). Recent publications include Standardsituationen der Technologiekritik (Essays, Suhrkamp 2013), Weniger schlecht programmieren (On How to Suck Less at Programming, O’Reilly 2013, with Johannes Jander), and Die Gegenwart ist schon da, sie ist nur ungleichmäßig verteilt (Techniktagebuch ebook, 2018).
For more (in German), see: kathrin.passig.de

In English
Opening keynote of the Conference

Wild Publics
Language under the Conditions of Late Modernity

Blankensee Colloquium at FU Berlin
22- 24 March 2018

The notion of public space seems to be changing under the conditions of late modernity, and language use is both implicated in and affected by such forms of social and cultural change. Under the title Wild Publics – Language under the Conditions of Late Modernity, the 16th Blankensee Colloquium, funded by the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin and organized by the Department of English Philology, FU Berlin, will broach this subject.

In recent theories, public spheres are increasingly described as constituted through public discourse rather than, as in the Habermasian approach, through the emergence of the bourgeoisie. Gerard Hauser, for example, suggests a theory of public spheres that are centered on discursive practices and are made up of ‘vernacular voices’. Michael Gardiner questions Habermas’s assumption of an orderly, rational communication among bourgeois elites. Instead, he suggests a theory of ‘wild publics’ – not orderly and uniform, but polyphonous and transgressive, diverse and multilingual. This focus on discursive pluralism has been taken up by scholars of mobile communication, as it seems particularly well-fitted to the publics of late modernity.

For contemporary societies, several factors have led to sometimes drastic changes in the way public spaces are discursively constituted. Thus, the dynamics of globalization and superdiversity have rendered discourses publicly visible that are increasingly fractured and heterogeneous. And maybe most tangibly, the rise and pervasive spread of digital communication has reshaped the very ontology of the public: Ana Deumert speaks of the emergence of a ‘digital public sphere’ that allows for new forms of public interaction not yet fully understood and theorized and which reallocates and contests linguistic authority. These new conditions for public speech transform public space: new spaces emerge; existing spaces become reconfigured and gain in complexity. Old divisions of private and public are shaken up, and existing forms of discursive authority and power relations are altered.

By bringing together more than 20 international national and international researchers embracing a broad discourse-linguistic perspective, this meeting aims to gain a better understanding of public space and language use in contemporary globalized societies, and of the ontology of the public in general.

Organized by

Theresa Heyd
Britta Schneider
Institut für Englische Philologie, Freie Universität Berlin


The event, like all events at the ICI Berlin, is open to the public, free of charge. The audience is presumed to consent to a possible recording on the part of the ICI Berlin. If you would like to attend the event yet might require assistance, please contact Event Management.

The conference continues on
Friday and Saturday, 23-24 March 2017
at Freie Universität Berlin, ‘Holzlaube’, room -1.2009
Fabeckstr. 23-25, 14195 Berlin