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Democracy and Debate

Cafe Culture and the Public Square

This video features a conversation between Democracy & Debate host Angela Dillard and Dr. Shachar Pinsker, Professor of Judaic Studies and Middle East Studies and author of A Rich Brew: How Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture (NYU Press, 2018), which focuses on the notion that democracy was made as much “on the saucers” as it was “in the streets.” The conversation explores the extent to which “cafe culture” was an important feature of the bourgeois public sphere and, therefore, an essential component of modern democracy. The discussion also touches on the importance of conversation in cafes and elsewhere as a way to bring citizens together as equals -- a goal that has more often been realized in principle than fully in practice -- and whether the experience of “conviviality” is in danger of being lost amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Pinsker’s work on cafe culture also considers the degree to which these “penny universities” impacted the making of modern Jewish culture in urban areas from Odessa to Warsaw, Vienna, Berlin, New York, and Tel Aviv. Dr. Pinsker offers a unique disciplinary perspective on the interconnections of space, culture, identity, creativity, urbanism and democracy.

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