Hannah Arendt: the dissolution of the public forum and the transformation of social life in America
Haberl, Collin James
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Hannah Arendt's meditations on the changing landscape of political life and private life in the 20th century still speak to us today. Her work anticipates the extent to which feelings of alienation stemming from post-World War II economic expansion and the subsequent suburban exodus resulted in a retreat from political and public life in America. Modern man took up shelter in his home, ideologically turning away from public and political life, and mass society's alienation of man only seemed to reinforce his conviction. Urban planners substituted neutral spaces for public social spaces in their designs, making these areas inhospitable to public gatherings. Thus, as man retreated into the shelter of the household and into familial intimacy, the outside world dissociated from the public until the public forum had all but disappeared. Reclaiming some sense of what was lost in the dissolution of the public realm is the antidote to the alienation we face as modern social beings. Mass society gathers us up into a huddled mass and yet fails to relate us to one another, and our own attempt to reach out to others and connect in a meaningful way through online social networks has set us adrift in a sea of passing acquaintances. Electronic social networking, still in its infancy, has the potential to help us connect with one another across great distances, and so the challenge is redesigning it to make it more conducive to the development of closer, more personal relationships. New designs for urban development must be implemented such that spaces previously designed to keep communities segregated and prevent people from gathering together are remade to create more open, yet carefully articulated space, as well as specialized areas that exist solely as public social spaces. In redefining our new social medium and reconfiguring our public spaces, we may yet address the problem of alienation and find the means to fulfillment as social beings.
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