If we have to let go of the idea that it might be possible to directly access or communicate with authentic publics, what resources and forms of support will researchers need to play a role in the mediation of publics and the formation of public research? And what research roles might publics play in this context?
I’m currently trying to work through how the idea of reflexivity might help with the process of thinking about the mediation of ‘the publics’ of public engagement. The idea is to see if this can enable me to better understand the consequences of being active in this field at a time when researchers are being pushed and pulled in different directions and are positioning themselves and being positioned publicly in an increasing array of ways.
Not only are there now multiple and seemingly ever-increasing ‘real world’ demands for engagement, there also seem to be at least three competing bodies of literature which now each stake a claim to knowing what these entities – ‘publics’ – are. I’m thinking here of, firstly, the demographic literature, which offers techniques for accessing and by extension ‘targeting’ publics; secondly, the normative public sphere scholarship that stakes a moral and political claim on knowing what ‘the public’ should be; and, then, thirdly, there’s also a more recent body of work on the public, that – in an interestingly diverse set of ways – investigates and conceptualises contextually specific public mediation and formation processes.
How, I’m wondering, might it be possible for engagers to work reflexively with the combination of different contextual and more theoretical versions of the public that are now in circulation in order to cultivate their own research commitments and commitments to public research?
So, I’m investigating the methodological literature on reflexivity and, in particular, how this term has been used in work on publics and social science research methods to try and work some of this through.