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To get in touch, please use: nick.mahony@gmail.com (nick.mahony@open.ac.uk no longer live from 1 May 2017)

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Renovating democracy: combining conventions with festivals to assemble the public

[Re-post of piece originally published by openDemocracy by Nick Mahony and Derek Tatton, Adminstrator of the Raymond Williams Foundation]

Democratic and political changes could be fomented from a well-designed constitutional convention, but this would be more likely if such a convention was twinned with an exciting national programme of rolling public events and festivals oriented around the pluralisation of democracy and the democratization of everyday life.

We already live in a world where people are actively experimenting with many new ways of democratizing all different spheres of our everyday life, from workplaces, to technological platforms, the fields of arts and culture, the media, energy systems, food production and distribution, the economy and money, design, innovation and more. There are already many experts and organisations involved, as well as public groups and established campaigners.

These projects face many obstacles and difficulties, but the task is now to engage the wider public in these developments, as well as involve them in discussions about how more established democratic processes need to be reformed. To do this something rather more unconventional than a constitutional convention will be required.

It is for this reason that the Raymond Williams Foundation has teamed up with Gladstone’s Library and the Democratic Society to support the development of a new festival of democracy called DemFest, which will take place 13-14 May 2016, in the beautiful surroundings of Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, near Chester – (programme, speaker, ticketing and contact details all available on the DemFest.org website).

The aim of this new event is to encourage differently situated participants, with a shared interest in democratic change, to convene in a single site for a short period of intensive and convivial interaction, exchange and cooperation. We think the festival may provide an event template that could be of real value in the complicated social context in which we all now live.

DemFest is just one small and rather experimental event that’s taking place against this broader backdrop of emerging possibilities for democratization. This event is all about getting together to reflect on our current democracy and to consider new ways of renovating democracy that could help address some of the larger-scale and increasingly urgent problems that we now collectively face.

Raymond Williams is famous for calling for a ‘long revolution’ that has the aim of bringing about a more educated and participatory democracy. The contemporary starting point for such a revolution needs to be people’s everyday concerns and aspirations for a fairer, more open and egalitarian life and greater engagement with some of the myriad of initiatives and contemporary experiments that are already being worked on to democratise various spheres of our everyday life.

Festivals aren’t always progressive and the festival format doesn’t have a simple history, but at their best festivals can offer spaces where people can feel exhilarated by new ideas and experiences, with this opening out possibilities for imaginative and mutually supportive forms of collective action.

We welcome you to join us at DemFest and we will be pleased to receive comments and suggestions, anytime, on ideas you have for future DemFest events.

DemFest, the new festival of democracy, will take place 13-14 May at Gladstone’s Library, in Hawarden, near Chester. For programme details and information about the line-up of speakers go to: demfest.org

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public engagement – renovating the public

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Dr. Nick Mahony is an independent researcher, currently leading the development of a new festival of democracy called DemFest 2016, with the Raymond Williams Foundation. Alongside working on other public engagement related projects, Nick is also lead tutor on a new PhD methods training module that looks at the problems and possibilities of participation in research. Until last year, Nick was Research Fellow at the Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance at the Open University, where between 2012-15 he led the Creating Publics project and Co-directed the Publics Research Programme.

A new role

A few years after being awarded my PhD, I won a Research Fellowship grant. This was my second academic job and my task was to design a new set of resources to assist researchers looking to approach their engagement activities from the perspective of the public.

There were two aims: the new…

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New online advanced image elicitation module on ‘participation’

I will be running the second of The Open University’s online modules on advanced image elicitation methods between 20 April and 1 May. The module problematises the imperative to ‘participate’ that extends from a lot of contemporary politics into research practice, on which some uses of image elicitation methods depend. It’s open to all academics everywhere and is free. Pre-registration closes on 20 March. You can find out all about it here.

Smart publics? Mediation and public engagement with science and technology

The 2nd Seminar in the 2013-14 ‘Publics then now and beyond network‘ travelling seminar series will be held on Thursday 5 December, 11:00 until 15:00 at Silverstone Lecture Theatre 309, University of Sussex

Hosted by Centre for Material Digital CultureAttenborough Centre for the Arts and Public Culture Hub, University of Sussex. 

This research event focuses on the publics and public issues relating to emerging technologies, such as smart energy grids, wearable devices and the Cloud, and co-design for sustainable energy. Bringing together the work of three different research teams EPINET (Sussex), CAST (Goldsmiths) and ECDC (Goldsmiths), the talks explore the imaginaries and mediation of emerging technologies; public engagement with behavioural tracking and the Human Cloud; and speculative design with energy communities respectively. In their own distinct way, the papers seek to address a range of questions: the different modes of making publics, the different kinds of knowledge and expertise, and the public issues that emerge in this field.

This second Travelling Seminar of the Publics then, now and beyond network is positioned within wider research questions posed by the stream Making/Doing/Being Publics. This research stream of the network focuses on the practices, infrastructures and forms of mediation through which publics are brought into being and through which things are made public.

The event is co-organised by two members of the Publics then, now and beyond network, Aristea Fotopoulou (Sussex) and Tobie Kerridge (Goldsmiths).

Programme

11.00 – 11.30 IntroductionsNick Mahony about the Publics then, now and beyond network, Hilde Stephansen & Aristea Fotopoulou on the Making/doing/being publics stream, David Hendy about the Public Culture Hub

11.30 – 1.30 Talks. Chair: Sally-Jane Norman Discussant: Kate Lacey 

  • Aristea Fotopoulou (University of Sussex) “Imaginaries of Smart Grids: Public Issues, Contradiction and Controversy
  • Jenn Barth (Goldsmiths, University of London) “Digital Devices, Research and Social Experience”
  • Tobie Kerridge (Goldsmiths, University of London) “Energy Babble: Prototyping with energy demand reduction communities”

1.30-2.30 Lunch & Networking

All welcome. To register, please email A.Fotopoulou@sussex.ac.uk

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