Livingstone, Sonia (2005) On the relation between audiences and publics. In Livingstone, Sonia, (ed.) Audiences and publics: when cultural engagement matters for the public sphere. Intellect Books, Bristol, UK, pp. 17-41.

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As the media and communication environment changes, the relationships between publics and audiences changes, the differences between them are blurred. The mediation of publics and audiences, as well as their participation and influences sometimes intersect. As Livingstone points out, "In a thoroughly mediated world, audiences and publics, along with communities, nations, markets and crowds, are composed of the same people." (17)

In her analysis of processes of mediation, participation, and influence, Sonia Livingstone reveals how the concepts of publics and audiences are ambiguous. Her argument is that the both concepts should remain different and not be collapsed into a single one, but instead, the domain of "civic culture" or "civil society" should be positioned between "the public" and "the audience," "between the sphere of experience and idenitity and the sphere of collective, politically efficacious action." (17)

Traditionally the concept of "public" refers to:

  • a common forum
  • implies an orientation to collective and consensual action
  • shared understanding and inclusion
  • active
  • critically engaged
  • politically significant
  • rational
  • disinterested
  • participatory
  • shared
  • visible

Audiences are traditionally defined as opposite to "publics." Usually audiences are denigrated (considered inferior to publics) as:

  • trivial
  • passive
  • individualized
  • ascribed to the private domain
  • emotional
  • biased
  • withdrawn
  • individualized
  • hidden
  • a crowd (watching, sharing, and emoting) or mass consumers driven by tastes, preferences, and motivations

Besides having this traditional differences, there are cultural norms that are usually attached to "publics" and "audiences" in terms of reliability, authenticity, equality, trust, and accountability.

Livingstone, reviews literature from scholars who create media panics about the negative impact of media and how media culture undermines the public sphere (Abermas, 1969, 1989), bias the news agenda according to commercial imperatives (mcChesney, 2000), and distract citizens from civic engagement (Putnam, 2000). For this authors the understanding of politics is very idealistic and elitist. It opposes to popular culture and audience tastes. According to Linvingstone, public and audience should not be understood as completely opposites, nor the notions of public sphere and media. The notion of audience becomes more complex as people engagement in society becomes more and more mediated. As she explains, it is necessary to think of a broader conception of citizenship that goes beyond the formal political system. As she says,

"participation is increasingly a matter of identity, of belonging, and of lifestyle, research must surely be asking when these spill over into matters of identity politics, social inclusion and exclusion, and new social movements? And here media researchers may be expected to have much to contribute, for if even if the media have proved only partially effective in informing citizens about political issues, they have proved far more effective in shaping identities and lifestyles."