ARTICLE CRITIQUE: BRAVE NEW NEIGHBORHOODS
Although the idea of freedom of speech seems to be something that is fundamentally important to the fabric of the United States, many people are unaware of the extent to which these freedoms can and often are restricted in everyday life. The article, written by Margaret Kohn (2004), discusses how “private space” as a concept in American society has changed the way that freedom of speech is understood and structured within the cultural confines of the community and society as a whole (Kohn, 2004, pp. 3-4). Although Kohn (2004) writes that most Americans believe that freedom of speech is important for democratic function, Americans are also willing to accept limitations on freedom of speech because of a “underlying discomfort” with the realities of freedom of speech.
Kohn (2004) is highly concerned with the dichotomy between freedom of speech and the privatization of public space as a conceptual conflict within American society. There are restrictions on freedom of speech in American society; the United States Constitution does indeed guarantee that there is a right to freedom of speech within public spaces, but there are also an increasing number of spaces that are described as private spaces rather than public spaces (Kohn, 2004, pp. 7). Kohn (2004) is incredibly concerned about the privatization of public space; these spaces used to be available for democratic discussion, but in recent years, there have been changes in the understanding of public speech that Kohn (2004) suggests are limiting the efficacy of the democratic process. Indeed, Kohn (2004) believes that the privatization of the public space is essentially threatening the minority voices of the country as a whole, and that the privatization of the public spaces of the United States is threatening the diversity of opinion in the marketplace of ideas— an idea that has always been incredibly important in the structural fabric of American culture.
Kohn (2004) writes that the privatization of the public space has been incredibly destructive to the overall structure of the American political structure. “It is practically a truism,” Kohn (2004) writes, “that the disappearance of public space is caused by privatization. But what exactly is privatization? Privatization, in the narrow sense, describes the sale of state-owned assets to individuals or corporations” (Kohn, 2004, pp. 3). The central argument of the article is that this privatization is very destructive to democratic processes, and more importantly, functions to silence the voices of the minority groups in the United States.
Kohn (2004) begins her article with a discussion of a man in 2003 wearing a t-shirt, purchased at the mall, which said “give peace a chance” (Kohn, 2004, pp.1). In the political atmosphere that was endemic at the time, a statement of peace was unthinkable; the United States was on the brink of war in the Middle East, and the mall where the man purchased the t-shirt asked him to change the shirt or leave. He refused, stating that he had the freedom to engage in this type of symbolic speech in public in the United States (Kohn, 2004, pp. 1-2).
This individual case, Kohn (2004) write, speaks to the heart of the problem in the United States as a whole. The mall was determined by the government to be a private space, and the owners of that private space could control the speech that occurred. Kohn (2004) writes that the owners of such spaces often limit public speech in these locations because of the discomfort that freedom of speech causes in the general public.
Discomfort seems to be an underlying theme of the article— over and over again, Kohn (2004) writes that one of the reasons that speech is sometimes limited in public spaces is because there is difficulty in face-to-face confrontation and discussion in the public sphere. The article suggests that the rise of social media and social media activism has changed the way the public space and public speech is understood; Kohn (2004) also writes that privatization allows the people of the United States to implement de facto segregation based on beliefs. They are able to, by and large, exist within an echo chamber of belief in which their private space. Essentially, privatization and the limitation of discussion is a way for people to protect their intellectual belief from outside challenges or discussion.
Kohn (2004) does not write, necessarily, that there are gaps in the literature that are necessary to be filled; instead, Kohn (2004) writes that there must be a shift in the way that public speech is understood because of its fundamental necessity to the function of a proper democracy. The public-private dichotomy is the central theme of the discussion. The United States is in a constant conflict between the private rights of citizens as property owners and the rights of citizens as individuals to express their own ideas; the issues contained in this dichotomy are fundamentally important conceptual ideas for the foundation of the United States as a country. Although the United States has placed the right to freedom of speech in the First Amendment, the idea that an individual should be able to control his or her own property is also a foundational idea for the United States of America.
There are very specific methods utilized by Kohn (2004) in the introductory chapter of this text. The author does not heavily utilize quantitative methods of discussion, primarily because the purpose of the chapter is to introduce the important conceptual ideas to the reader, not to truly make an argument. Instead, Kohn (2004) writes most of the introductory chapter with the purpose of introducing and structuring her argument for the remainder of the paper. The chapter is also begun with a specific anecdote, which demonstrates the changes that have been occurring in the public and private spaces in the United States.
The purpose of this particular journal article is, of course, only to introduce the rest of the text. As previously stated, the analysis presented in the beginning of the text is cursory, but this serves a very important purpose; the purpose of this part of the article is only to outline the general argument that will be presented in the book as a whole (Kohn, 2004, pp. 13-15).
Kohn (2004) does indeed consider privatization of the public space to be a bad thing to the overall structure of the democratic process in the United States. Kohn (2004) is clearly biased against the current processes of privatization; this is not necessarily a negative aspect to the journal article as a whole. When writing an article about the negative processes within a culture like the United States, bias is unavoidable; there is no doubt that Kohn (2004) is expressing bias in her argument, because she clearly feels that privatization is a force that is both negative and destructive. The purpose of the text as a whole— not only the introduction— is to argue that the privatization of the public space in the United States is a negative force for the democratic process.
There are questions that are raised by the article, and many of them might be addressed in the further text of the book. However, one of the most important questions that must be addressed when discussing the difference between public and private space is how the author would suggest that balance be achieved between individual autonomy and freedom of speech. The idea that an individual can own one’s own space— the ability to own property— is important and not something that should be discounted when considering the democratic process and the health of the democratic process.
Without considering the rest of the document, there are some seriously important considerations to be had regarding the conflict between space and speech as Kohn (2004) has presented in the text. One of the biggest problems of the document seems to be that Kohn (2004) is suggesting that the freedom of speech is more important to the structure of democracy than the freedom from unwanted speech. Legitimacy, public space, and private space are all important pieces of the discussion; however, there should be balance struck between these different pieces of the puzzle, rather than valuing one piece of the process over another (Kohn, 2004, pp. 10-11.
The piece of the text is extremely effective in communicating the essential structure of the problem of speech in the United States today, and the conflict between public and private property is an important part of the discussion for the United States as a whole. Although there are questions raised about the academic constructs used by the author, many of these concerns might be addressed later in the text— as there are hints the author might address them later.
Kohn, M. (2004). Brave new neighborhoods. New York, NY: Routledge.