The Visualization of the Politics of Engagement

Critical, Curatorial + Conceptual Practices in Architecture, Thesis

Helene Nguyen

Mark Wasiuta, advisor

In response to the advent of the Internet, social media and the formation of a “digitalized democratic public sphere”, PR has recently shifted its rhetoric from Public Relations to Public Engagement. This novel world of public engagement is operated by a new horizontality and populated with influencers, aggregators, and action metrics. A prominent PR CEO argues that PE is the way forward because “the new reality is that people are more actively engaged and can be activists at the touch of a button.” The idea of activism through “public engagement” as imagined by PR is particularly problematic in light of Occupy Wall Street’s bizarre status of success by mainstream PR (as evidenced by the bestowment of three prominent PR awards on OWS within the last year.)

What does it mean if, within a political protest movement, we can also find the blueprint for the perfect PR campaign? What set of complex cross-pollinations and trans-migrations have occurred? And to where can the recognition of these exchanges lead us? This uneasy juxtaposition of these decidedly distinct formations is not meant to conflate one with the other, but to instead understand the complex distinctions that operate between the two, and attempt to find somewhere in that space between, the construction and reconstruction of the political public. I would argue that within the media formations of Occupy Wall Street, and its attempted co-option by PR, exists an important paradigm of political action.