Managed to attend part of the public launch yesterday of a superb new ESRC funded Open University research project called Enduring Love, which will be investigating how couple relationships are sustained in the 21st Century. Enduring Love will also be one of the two ‘live’ CCIG-based research projects I’ll be collaborating with in the months ahead to in order to generate Creating Publics ‘pilots’. The pilots will support the pre-existing public engagement plans and activities of these projects but will also be the platforms upon which some of the ideas that drive the Creating Publics project can be tested-out, debated and developed.
Attending the launch today provoked me to reflect upon how this event went about constituting and launching the Enduring Love project as a public entity. There is an established repertoire that these events tend to follow: the choice of venue (in this case it was The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Conference Rooms, in the old County Hall, opposite Parliament); the guest list (representatives from relevant Third Sector Organisation’s, office’s of Government and academics from other universities); the specially prepared folders and handouts; and, the free refreshments. On this occasion, the programme of formal presentations began with contributions from the team of researchers’ leading this project; a senior official from the Department for Education then followed with a talk about out how the current government is going about supporting couple relationships through its emerging policy agenda; the journalist and author Kate Figes then, concisely and sometimes movingly, recounted some of the key insights from a book she’s recently written on 21st Century British couples; and, concluding this formal part of the programme, were two presentations by university Professors who work on topics relevant to this research.
Each of the speakers enrolled into this launch event could be viewed as being a particular kind of public intermediary. By endorsing this new project these intermediaries connected this research endeavor to different forms of public office or recognized public role and even opened out the possibility of linking this new research activity to the publics that they putatively work to represent. Subtly different modes of public address, vocabulary and public register were on show in the different presentations, with each serving to modulate and translate the project in curious ways. One of the assumptions in play here seems to be that intermediaries of this kind will continue this kind of translation and publicity work in other ways and in other places as a project like this progresses.
In parallel to this event, Enduring Love was also launched online yesterday with a set of project-related podcasts. It even got a mention in The Sun newspaper’s ‘Dear Deidre’ advice column. These forms of mediation serve to publicise this project in slightly less targeted but also, potentially, wider reaching ways. The Enduring Love team are also using these forms of mainstream media and web publicity as a means of recruiting research subjects – with each piece of media being linked to the project questionnaire – one of the tools being used to collect data for this project.
These are a few of the ways that this project is beginning to constitute itself as a public entity. How making use of all these different channels of publicity and communication might help this project create a public or publics is nevertheless not yet clear. But it is early days and I will continue to post about this particular public creation process as I get more involved.
However, since one idea driving this research is that a more informed public debate is needed about our intimate lives, amongst other things, I’m looking forward to contributing to the process of designing how a public debate might be convened around a topic like this. One dimension of this challenge, it seems, will be dealing with how issues of intimacy, anonymity, privacy and publicness can be negotiated, in a combination of on and offline settings.