The Invention of Material Publics: Returns to American Pragmatism
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To ask about the role of things in political participation is to disrupt a long-held assumption of political theory: the idea that material environments and technological mediators present no more than ‘preconditions’ for public participation. It is to go against the notion that ‘things’ have to be in place for public engagement to become possible, but that they do not have to be taken into consideration if we want to understand what participation is really about. Once we undo the bracketing of the material dimension of democracy, however, a whole string of further questions is opened up: the reduction of materiality to a mere precondition, it turns out, made possible all sorts of other assumptions about public participation, for instance, the idea that public engagement should be ‘unbiased’, and ideally should not bear the marks of ‘the influence of the setting’.1 Now, given this studied inattention to the material dimension of participation in prevalent theories of the public, some authors have suggested that a ‘material turn’ is currently taking place in political theory, which must be distinguished from previous phases, such as the linguistic turn (Coole and Frost, 2010). Here, however, I want to explore an opposite intuition: the idea that a turn to objects in the study of public participation may be a lot less easy to distinguish from other political theories than we might be inclined to assume, given the above history of their bracketing.
KeywordsPolitical Theory Public Participation Political Community Public Engagement Issue Formation
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