Social science research and the creation of publics

Mahony, Nick (2012). Social science research and the creation of publics. TOPIA(28)



With public institutions continuing to be the focus of fierce processes of contestation and change, the task of better understanding how critical social science research might be used as a medium for the creation of publics, forms of public creativity and public change becomes an urgent and important one. The idea that social science research could be used to help create publics may initially seem odd or even counterintuitive, partly because social science has been deeply implicated for many years in the generation and reproduction of many commonplace ways of thinking about publics, rather than supporting their creation. The contention here is that in the context of intensifying “top-down” and “bottom-up” demands for public engagement, there is a need to push beyond familiar ways of conceptualizing the publics of public engagement, and to rethink many of the orthodox and often passive ways of conceptualizing relationships between publics, processes of social science research and forms of public participation and change.

The aim of this offering is to outline how Creating Publics—a new research and development project I am leading until 2014 at the Open University in the U.K.— is working to accomplish this very task. By briefly outlining some of the background of this project and how it is approaching the challenge of thinking and testing more active ways of performing public engagement, knowledge mobilization and research dissemination, the hope is that this short offering can also contribute to the broader discussion about the present state of higher education and the “university to come.”

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