Whose participation? On framing Publics and the Public Sphere.

In science studies we often speak about publics and public engagement. Just this year, the journal Public Understanding of Science celebrates its 20 year anniversary. The according research field (PUS) has since then changed and today there is also a lot more emphasis on Public Engagement in Science and Technology (PEST). This reflects critiques of a deficit model of public knowledge about science and technology. So, in STS, we find many studies on how publics engage with science and on how the sciences engage in these new entanglements with diverse publics. When we look specifically to the computer science and ICT sector, there is the field of Participatory Design (PD), were also a lot of research is going on regarding participation of publics. Only these publics are most often framed as users or stakeholders. The focus in this research field lies on the integration of those groups at concrete levels of design and implementation of technology.

Just at the time of writing, I am spending my last evening in Roskilde (Denmark), where I attended the PDC 2012, the Participatory Design Conference. Because the wireless connection at the hostel where I am staying is not the best and rather expensive, I did not manage to post my last entry until now – also because the conference did take in all my attention and I did not find time at Roskilde University to work on this. But now here it comes. Last week I finished my chapter on Publics and Public Spheres, which I want to present here. This then also should serve as a frame with which we can look onto participatory processes in PD and elsewhere. So here I will give you a brief intro what this chapter is about. If you find it interesting take a look at it, it is attached below. Comments and critique are very welcome and might lead to my adaptive reworking of this chapter or successive parts in the thesis. Next week then I will also provide a report on what was going on at the PDC 2012. There we can already apply this framing of publics and public spheres and look what (and who) is at stake in PD research.

Well, now, the chapter that is attached below tries to wander through different conceptions of the public as they where brought forth from the beginning of the 20th century until recently. It starts with the prominent ‘Lippmann-Dewey debate’ (which was not really a debate). From that it goes on through Hannah Arendt’s thoughts to Jürgen Habmeras’s concept of the public sphere, which was very influential in diverse contexts and debates of democratization and participatory approaches in politics as well as in the technosciences. But the main focus then lies on critiques of Habermas’s concept, especially those brought forth by Nancy Fraser and Chantal Mouffe. The main aim of the chapter then is to work out some key aspects to focus on when we investigate specific participatory endeavors. The whole point in it will be to sensitize our analyses to the issues of power and struggle that are inherent in all participatory encounters.

Now, here is the chapter on Publics and the Public Sphere.

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