Spectacular political experiments: the constitution, mediation and performance of large-scale public participation execises.
The Open University.
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Foremost in contemporary debates about democratic renewal and the re-engagement of citizens in the polity are concerns about publicness and the modes of politics that may be suited to this task. In this thesis case studies of three large-scale public participation exercises are presented: a local governmental exercise; a national popular media initiative and a transnational/translocal social movement event. Engaging with these cases the research explores three, ostensibly different, approaches to and settings of engagement. The study utilises a mix of discourse analysis and participant observation to engage with different features of each case. The outcome of this analysis is an exposition of the forms of publicness and the modes of politics that are summoned up, articulated, negotiated and enacted through the performance of these exercises. Comparing the three cases the thesis then develops two interrelated lines of argument. First, because of a set of tensions inscribed into the ideas of the public summoned up in each setting, the publics of these exercises are characterised as paradoxical publics. And, secondly, the mode of politics privileged across the three settings is characterised as spectacular and experimental. The findings of this research problematise the idea that large scale public participation exercises might somehow enact forms of politics that are more direct. The study also challenges the assumption that such practices might enable publics to act more authentically. Through a consideration of the relationships between a diverse, if limited, sample of contemporary large-scale public participation exercises this study instead contributes to the emerging politics of public mediation.
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