The Creating Publics project sets out to investigate and innovate how certain forms of social research might play a greater public role in processes of public formation and public change. As touched on in the previous post, the project is looking, slightly more specifically, at how particular practices of social research might support the ongoing development of justice agendas of various kinds. The question of what modes of interaction and what forms of co-dependency between social research processes and practices of public formation might afford the kind of relationships that are being aspired to here is therefore one that is becoming more and more central to the Creating Publics project.
Currently, prevailing divisions of labour and the ways that the resources tend to be distributed amongst researchers and publics underwrites certain forms of freedom and creativity as normal and natural while leaving many of the constituents involved in processes of ‘funded’ research rather less propped up by the infrastructure, apparatus and resources that can help support forms of knowledge production, public formation, social innovation and change.
This is the reason that the the Creating Publics project is beginning to attempt to open out for further and more collective discussion a set of issues about how forms of public power and public representation; public equality and public expertise; public openness and public legitimacy; public equality and public justice are summoned up, negotiated and enacted in contexts of social research practice. The issue of how social science is supported (finance, infrastructure, professionally, emotionally, administratively, spatially, temporally, technologically, publicly) and the issue of how the creation of publics might be supported are densely interconnected.
In the last year or so some of these same kinds of issues have been debated in the context of the REF (for a concise and incisive summary of some of these debates see ‘working between the lines of the REF’, posted earlier today on the LSE’s Impact blog by Simon Smith). They are also being increasingly discussed in relation to the current UK HE reform agenda (see, for example, Stefan Collini’s recent book ‘What are Universities For?’).
By focusing on the contexts in which formations and ideas of publicness are themselves shifting and being critically and creatively re-made, the Creating Publics project is trying to come at these issues and questions slightly differently.
The Creating Publics project is also working to support a slightly different kind of debate than that which has so far been had, by and large, in relation to (mostly UK) Public Engagement (PE) agenda. As a discourse, PE generally brackets out many of these issues – in part by (intentionally or unintentionally) presuming that public engagement should not necessarily mean calling into question prevailing divisions of labour and forms of resource distribution.
Enacting a shift from public engagement to something like ‘public creation’ therefore works as a way of translating and building on recent research on public formation that has brought to the fore the emergent, contingent, shifting and unsettled qualities of publics and forms of publicness; it is also a way of connecting debates about the publics of public engagement to everyday contexts of practice in which HE and ‘official’ research funding agendas and frameworks are also currently in motion and unsettled, including here many of the pre-existing and prevailing boundaries and distinctions between research work and public work and researchers and publics.
It seems that there is a need for social scientists to try to find ways of getting ahead of some of these debates, drawing on the collective ‘evidence-base’. A process of collective and publicly engaged research and development that explores and innovates ‘new’ approaches to ‘public creation’ in practice could potentially provide one possible way of doing this. Far from being only romantic or simply theoretical, the Creating Publics agenda, should therefore be taken up as one that is perhaps a politically, institutionally and methodologically timely one. This agenda will only develop, however, if it can find – or perhaps test-out – ways of summoning forms of collective, administrative, critical, creative, technological, emotional and public support. Support and criticality, creativity and collaboration therefore need to go together here – supporting and making this happen in particular contexts of practice seems to be one important part of what Creating Publics is all about. [Some of the vocabulary, particularly when invoking notions of ‘support’, has been borrowed here from Shannon Jackson’s brilliant 2011 book ‘Social Works: performing art, supporting publics’].