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Public Space: Civic Culture and Subordinate Culture

Zheng Hong

Associate Professor, School of Political Science and Public Administration, China University of Political Science and Law. Email:, Address: CUPL, 27 FuXue Road, Changping District, Beijing, China, 102249.



Public space is a physical spot where public activities occur. By comparing the theatre of Dionysus in Athens polis and courtyard theatre in ancestral hall in Ming and Qing dynasty, in view of the component of the space, the activities in the space and sense of time and space on the stage, this article describes how the civic culture and subordinate culture occurred in the theatres, analyses the effects that theatre spaces and senses of the time and space made on the political culture. In the last part, the article in view of environmental psychology reveals the connection between the space and culture, which are the persistent vitality in the two political cultures.

In our daily language ‘public space’ is a word with both physical meaning and meta-physical meaning. Henri Lefebvre uses this word in view of city planning. As the representative in new Marxism, he criticized the production of space is the production of bourgeois social relations( Henri Lefebvre,1991.) David Harvey in view of geography talked about urban justice in a global sense and domestic sense. (David Harvey, 1996.) Both of them shared the common idea that in certain space citizens has interactions with each other and citizens interact with the power. These interactions have its political and social meaning. Michel Foucault perfectly analyzed these interactions, which was expressed in panopticon in Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Vintage Books, 1995). So this article aims to describe how the political cultures occur in the public spaces and how the spaces shape the citizens’ behaviors and minds, which are the features of political culture.

The Theater of Dionysus in ancient Athens polis was the representative at that time. It was built in 5th century BC. The courtyard theatres in the ancestral hall were built in Ming and Qing Dynasty, around 14th and 15th century. These two theaters were far away from each other in time. But they can be compared because both of them were the public space which offered daily entertainments in pre-modern society. Both of them were a part of regular life. The situation and manner of the audiences in this regularity were the core and stable part of political culture. What’s more, there were political educations in a disguised or obvious way in both spaces.

‘Public space’ is in contrast with private space. ‘Public’ can be explained as openly accessible, by common resources, common effect and for the performance of public roles. (John R. Parkinson,2012). ‘Public space’ includes squares, parks, streets and civic buildings. It also refers to the virtualized cyberspace. ‘Public sphere’ has a similar meaning to public space, but mainly in an abstract sense, as Habermas indicated. In his The Structure Transformation of the Public Sphere: an Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society(1989, Cambridge: Polity Press), he mentioned in the early modern period the coffee shop, salon and club were the beginners of the free speech. But in his writing, the public sphere fundamentally refers to a situation in which the citizens could have a free speech and participate in the policy-making. In this article ‘public space’ only refers to its physical sense.

In this article political culture is used in the sense of Almond’s civic culture, which refers to the political system internalized in citizens’ cognition, emotion, and evaluation. (Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba,1963) As for the comparing of the subordinate culture and civic culture this article takes Cong Rinyun’s The Tradition of Western Political Culture as a reference, especially in Chapter 3 Citizens’ Way of Thinking, pp.121-173.( Cong Rinyun, 2002). In this article, civic culture features in participation with reason; subordinate culture features in obeying with affection. In 16th Spain there were hotel theatres. Its inner planning and size were similar to that of the courtyard theatre. But it was not the public space.

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