Clive Barnett, Geography and CCIG, Faculty of Social Sciences
Janet Newman, Social Policy and CCIG, Faculty of Social Sciences
Nick Mahony, CCIG, Faculty of Social Sciences
This two-year Research Seminar Series, running from the start of 2008 to end 2009, challenges assumptions about the decline of the public sphere in the face of 'neo-liberal' challenges to public institutions, processes of individualization and transformations of collective solidarities. It reorients analysis towards understanding the development of new practices, sites and definitions of publicness.
The Seminar Series is one activity of the Publics Research Programme in the Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance (CCIG) at the OU. One output of the Series, coordinated by the Public Research Programme, is an edited collection, Rethinking the Public. You can read the end of project report on this Series.
The value of publicness has come to the fore because of a number of processes:
These new practical and institutional developments have outstripped the conceptual, empirical and normative resources for explaining and evaluating innovative new modes of public action. Evaluations of new publics remain caught between pessimistic discourses of decline and optimistic discourses of originality. The pessimistic perspective discerns consumerism, individualism, marketization, and privatization as leading inevitably to disengagement and withering of public life. The optimistic perspective sees new technologies as panaceas for past injustices and exclusions.
The framing of debate about publics and publicness within these two discourses has produced an impasse that blocks conceptual, empirical and normative analysis. To overcome this impasse, this Research Seminar Series will focus attention on the emergent qualities of publics and new criteria of publicness.
There are three distinct but overlapping dimensions to these processes of emergence:
The Research Seminar Series addressed these issues by combining conceptual, empirical and normative inquiry. It brings together researchers from diverse disciplinary backgrounds, including public policy, human geography and urban studies, political theory, and cultural studies. And it brings academic researchers together with participants from a range of non-academic sectors, including central and local government, journalism, charities, and social movements.
The Series will consist of 4 two-day Seminars. Below is a short summary of the details of each Seminar:
October 2009, London. This Seminar included reflections on the progress made in the previous seminars. It also focussed on the task of articulating research on emergent publics with various audiences, including policy arenas, media, and NGOs.
February 2009, Milton Keynes. This Seminar focussed on exploring the multiple registers through which participation in public action is mobilised, and explored the reconfiguration of identifications based on solidarity, care, and faith.
October 2008, Milton Keynes. This Seminar focussed on the different objects and events that provoke public concern, and explored the different ways in which communities of affected interest are mobilised around these concerns.
March 2008, Milton Keynes. This Seminar focussed on framing the key theoretical issues arising from current transformations of publicness and public action.