The Creating Publics project has a rather lofty and sometimes rather embarrassingly abstract-sounding aim. This is to contribute to a already widely distributed process that is beginning to radically open out, innovate and help resource progressive and contextually responsive ideas and practices of public engagement (with social science research).
If this on-going contemporary process of re-animating the public engagement agenda is to have any chance of success, there are two rather perilous traps it will be vital to try to avoid.
First, it’s all too easy to get trapped in the rather treacherous idea that public engagement is entirely reducible to practice.
It’s just as easy to get ensnared in a second equally treacherous idea. This is that what is really needed to re-animate the contemporary public engagement agenda is an entirely new and more compelling way of theorizing it.
For those working to avoid these two traps, some of the challenges that will need to be addressed include:
– That of recognising the specificities and peculiarities of often wildly different histories, politics and contexts of research; as well as the multiplicity of actors and versions of publicness which are associated with or inhabiting them;
– The challenge of mediating and holding in tension relations between versions of public engagement in theory and public engagement in practice (opening out possibilities for modes of enactment that are reflexive and responsive to change);
– That of prototyping, testing and subjecting emerging and emergent practices of public engagement to forms of evaluation (expert and more public);
– The challenge of remaining alive to indeterminacy of all forms of public research, which are always inescapably a product of the myriad of interactions, interdependencies and forms of public and less public translation work.
As Larry Grossberg showed in the first Creating Publics keynote lecture (a recording of this can be viewed here) and as Rachel Pain will demonstrate, in a different way, in her own keynote at the Open University on 16 May (it will be possible to access and participate in this event live online here), the work of re-animating the public engagement agenda is both urgently needed and highly demanding. It’s work that is nevertheless viable. Indeed, in different ways and in different places, it’s work that is already well underway.