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Tested by scandal. Figures of singularity and regimes of visibility within the public sphere.

Lay summary

Tested by scandal. Figures of singularity and regimes of visibility within the public sphere.

 In an age of new visibility, public attention resolutely focuses on singular figures, whether they are «big» and famous personalities (DSK) or «small» and ordinary people (Nafissatou Diallo). The craze for hyper-mediatized singular figures who increasingly populate the contemporary public sphere is often said to compromise the very vitality of public life: far from contributing to the rational well-argued debate driven by the general interest, proper to deliberative democracy, those figures seem to respond exclusively to the peculiar logic of reputation, esteem or discredit. And yet, in the case of affairs and scandals, those very same figures, since they have perpetuated a transgression made public, are powerfully revealing: they put the collectivity to the test, both forcing and allowing society to experience the resistance of its moral boundaries, to renew or to confirm them. Affairs and scandals can thus be seen as moral and political indicators. They put into question the formation and transformations of public life.

Our research precisely aims at investigating the deep effects of media hyper-visibility by focusing on affairs and scandals as specific forms of public controversy. Interestingly, the analysis of affairs and scandals does not only shed light on the cultural expectancies and moral appraisals proper to a given community at a given time. It also illuminates the political and theoretical models of the public sphere. Indeed, the key role played by singularity and reputation in affairs and scandals calls into question the disembodied model of rational argumentation that still prevails in social sciences. Emotions such as indignation that are central in those public controversies can then be considered as promising topics for sociological investigation.