This project, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council's Connected Communities programme, ran between February and September 2012. The AHRC Connected Communities Discussion Paper can be downloaded here.
The idea behind the project was twofold. Firstly, we wanted to draw upon the insights of performance studies and post-structuralist political theory to (re)articulate and interrogate practices of participatory democracy, including:
Dialogic processes of 'co-production', 'engagement', 'participation' and 'involvement;
Community universities/emancipatory education;
Peer support and mutual-aid, and
We hoped to develop insight into how participatory practices succeed and fail in 'authorising' knowledges based on the experiences of disempowered groups. We were interested in rethinking the relationship between such practices (often aimed at 'giving voice' and expression to dominated groups of people) and 'objectivity'. Rather than accepting the idea that empowering 'subjective lay-knowledges' means opposing 'objective expert-knowledges', we focused on exploring and articulating ways in which 'lay-knowledges' can themselves be understood as objective, or can succeed in performing objectivity. We were also interested in the role of embodiment and aesthetics in these processes.
Secondly, we wanted to contribute to contemporary debates in political philosophy concerning the nature of the 'common' (common resources, common sense, public discourse, authority) and the question of how to hold 'the commons' open to the influence of diverse and disempowered people in the face of the powerful contemporary totalising forces of privatisation, securitisation and commodification. Again we were interested in the role of objectivity and aesthetics here, asking how objects and knowledge practices (education; knowledge production; performance and publicity of knowledge) can create and empower counter-publics, counter-authority, or counter-commons.
We held a week long writing retreat in Teesdale, England, where a group of 11 participants from the fields of performance and drama, sociology, human geography and community participation gathered. Together, we had vibrant and extended conversations on themes such as 'performance and embodiment' and 'objectivity', using theoretical texts, case studies and stories, in the distinctive style of the ARN retreat format.
The retreat resulted in the co-production of a book entitled, 'Problems of Participation: Reflections on Democracy, Authority and the Struggle for Common Life'. This collection of essays offers diverse illustrations and analyses of participatory democracy, exploring the need to participate in all spheres of contemporary social and political life. Click on the front cover opposite to download a free copy, or contact us to order a print copy for £3.50 including p&p. A selection of the essays appear on open democracy.
We have also written two academic articles drawing on the project - which are available to download for free: