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Emergent Publics

March 2008 - May 2010

This two-year Research Seminar Series, running from the start of 2008 to the end of 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 value of publicness has come to the fore because of a number of processes:

  • The modernisation of welfare states and changing forms of governance
  • The development of new forms of transnational public action provoked by environmental, human rights, and trade justice movements
  • New forms of public action enabled by new communication and information technologies
  • New problematizations of risk and security

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 focuses attention on the emergent qualities of publics and new criteria of publicness, across three distinct but overlapping dimensions to these processes of emergence: (1) new objects of public action; (2) new subjects of public action; and (3) new mediums of public action.

The Research Seminar Series addresses 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.

Principal Investigator: Dr Clive Barnett
Co-Investigators: Prof Janet Newman and Dr Nick Mahony

Learn more about the research programme: Publics