It’s time to re-visit, revise and update the framing of the Creating Publics project, in light of recent conversations, background work and reading and also in recognition of the realisation that the Creating Publics project will formally be launching soon.
Overall, the aim of the Creating Publics project is to find out how (and indeed if) it may be possible to both free up and more clearly understand what, in specific and diverse contexts of practice, it means for contemporary social science research to publicly engage. The project is investing in a process of investigation, collaborative experimentation and collective conversation.
The Creating Publics project is still in its early stages. However, four concerns have already come into the foreground in the contexts in which it has been operating. In the hope of developing some further discussion of these, they will be framed here as an agenda, around the idea of enfranchising public engagement. Enfranchising public engagement means:
- Actively engaging with how resources (including people, finance, technologies, expertise, knowledge) are made available and distributed in a given research context;
- Vigorously engaging with how research is sited and performed. This means attending to the different ways that research and public roles are framed, taken up and negotiated in the context of specific social science research projects; how key research themes and key concepts are developed; and, attending to the registers and modes of communication and action that are used at different points in the research process.
- Energetically engaging with and negotiating tensions arising in contexts of engagement practice between autonomy and interdependency; creativity and obligation; individual and collective action; and, originality and relationality.
- Enthusiastically engaging with and testing out forms of/formats for public creativity. Public creativity is being used here as an idea that expresses what is at stake in a set of practices, including those associated with the work of:
- Performing within, across and beyond the established social science disciplines as well as various domains of public life;
- Opening up and opening out social science research processes while also retaining forms of overall responsibility, control and legitimacy in the University;
- Re-skilling to negotiate the specificities of particular engagement projects and the process of analysing how working, in what are perhaps new public domains of practice, can itself work to discipline social science research in new ways;
- Bringing widely understood public values to life – including those of representativeness, equality, co-operation, impartiality, collectivity, openness (cf. Barnett, 2011) – in diverse and specific contexts of public engagement practice and reflecting on the multiplicity of the effects of such practices (whether these are more or less positive).
The ambition to enfranchise public engagement is not therefore a utopian one. Neither does this idea have anything to do with giving ‘the public’ the vote on what should and should not be done by social researchers. In the context of the Creating Publics project, this idea of enfranchising public engagement is instead offered as a way of connecting this project to a whole range of other historical and contemporary processes and projects through which social science researchers, public universities and publics have for many years developed and collectively discussed ways of investing in public engagement.
Enfranchising public engagement therefore means continuing to work on what it means to be critical, creative and contextually engaged; continuing to pursue forms of publicly engaged social science research that are responsive to heterogeneous theoretical and empirical approaches and diverse and specific contexts of practice; and, remaining alive to the value, potential and need to collectively attend to what it means to develop publicly engaged social science research within and across the diversity of public universities. All of this at a time when, in different contexts, the very meaning of publicness continues to shift and change and therefore be very much at stake.
The idea behind beginning to frame and formulate this agenda and publicly documenting and registering some of the on-going and incomplete workings of the Creating Publics project is to open out further possibilities for the discussion, questioning or further refinement of this work. Your feedback and/or comments will therefore be very welcome.