I just came across this description of Robert Moses, by the American Sociologist and former Secretary of Labour Frances Perkins, concerning his attitude towards the public. It was quoted in an essay by Jackson Lears in vol 38 number 6 of the London Review of Books:
He loves the public, but not as people. The public is just the public. It’s a great amorphous mass to him; it needs to be bathed, it needs to be aired, it needs recreation, but not for personal reasons – just to make it a better public.
And some would say it needs to be engaged. We should be very careful about how we construct ‘the public’ in discourses of public engagement. Treating it as axiomatic that public engagement is a good thing can sometimes hide some rather problematic attitudes about who this ‘public’ is.
For those unfamiliar with her, it’s worth finding out more about Frances Perkins. She’s a hugely impressive and important figure. This Democracy Now interview covers a lot of ground: