What might happen to the Creating Publics project if it is imagined as a kind of laboratory? What problems and creative challenges would this lab prioritise and how would it work?
Based on a preliminary analysis of early, still emergent and contextually specific results of the Creating Publics so far, this lab would need to chip away at at least four problems:
1. The problem of how to create the infrastructure to support processes of public creation in settings of ‘live’ research practice, in contexts that are not currently set up for these activities;
2. The problem of how to create conversations, collaborations and moments of public unity, in contexts of multiplicity and difference;
3. The problem of how to take on the inevitability of friction, stickiness, difficulty, failure and even pain and feelings of loss, in contexts of higher education where heroic and disciplined individualism; efficient productivity and governance; ideas of technological determinism; and, capillary models of communication are still often valued over ideas of solidarity and the capacity to be sensitive to the vagaries and demands of interpersonal, transdisciplinary and public interaction, conversation and collaboration;
4. The problem of how to enact public values – such as those of equality and cooperation – in settings inscribed with long-standing and often highly durable relations of power, inequality, hierarchy and domination.
As the Creating Publics project attempts to enact critical and creative interventions in contemporary debates about public engagement, these are some of the problem-spaces that this project is increasingly occupying. Currently, Creating Publics has not sought to model itself as a lab.; but rather as an ‘initiative’ or a ‘project’. A project that is drawing on contemporary conceptual work on ‘publics’ to problematize and think creatively about ‘the publics’ of public engagement; and, one that’s undertaking two public creation ‘pilots’ in ‘live’ research settings to test-out and collaboratively innovate new approaches to practice.
An overarching problem is beginning to come into focus through this work. This is that of how – if at all – an initiative or project like this could, in some way or other, be institutionalised? Working from ‘the outside’ (as a researcher/developer) back in (to pre-existing institutional contexts and already set-up ‘live’ research projects) can be a tactic that can seem to work up to a point. However, perhaps ‘new insides’ – or, in other words, new (micro)institutional entities – may be needed after a certain point, to sustain this work over any length of time?
Not certain if a lab is the kind of institution that is necessary (a ‘studio’ model might be an alternative to this)? However, the idea of this post is to begin to play around with thoughts about the kind of institutional entity that may be most appropriate. The role of such an entity would be to embody some of those critical and creative tensions between theory and practice that are becoming so central to this project. This ‘insitution’ would also need to work to embody and enact possibilities for negotiating these tensions and the creative and critical challenges that flow from them; always, that is, through working collaboratively with researchers and publics in different and highly differentiated settings of live public research practice.