Abstract: Publics have traditionally been conceived as sites of social integration. While discord, controversy, and contestation may be acknowledged, theorising publics and especially public spheres are characteristically geared toward the production of consensus and/or the conditions of the possibility of unified decision-making. On this view, publics beyond the nation-state are reduced to conceptual extensions of the nation-state—The move to a higher level of aggregation, imagined as global or international, seems to make no conceptual difference. Against this, I propose to conceptualize publics as sites of the constitution of social struggles. To this end, I introduce Nancy Fraser’s concept of “subaltern counterpublics,” previously applied exclusively to national contexts, to the study of global politics. With a view to future empirical application, I discuss three promising sites for the further study of subaltern counterpublics in global politics: colonial public spheres, transnational social activism, and the circulation of extreme right-wing conspiracy tropes. Taken together, I conclude, these three sites of inquiry provide an important corrective to a statist concept of the public in which the place, purpose, and direction of publics are always already taken for granted.
Keywords: counterpublics; global governance; global publics; legitimacy; political authority; public sphere