Calls for increased participation are becoming ubiquitous throughout social life, from politics to community engagement, and from the arts to education. These demands raise important problems and trouble many dominant assumptions about the nature of democratic practice in the twenty-first century. One assumption, however, remains largely unquestioned: that authentic democratic participation is solely a problem of transferring power to marginalized groups.
This project involves a series of interventions based on the essay collection Problems of Participation, produced by Leila Dawney and colleagues in the Authority Research Network in 2013. The researchers, activists and practitioners who contributed to this provocative book, in contrast to the above assumption, make the case for a parallel project: the democratization of authority. They argue that the craft of democracy – the struggle for common life – requires inventing new ways of creating authority and objectivity amongst silenced voices, truths and experiences.
This book gathers together a collection of essays organised around three ‘problems’ of participatory democracy. These problems raise questions, conundrums and challenges for participatory practice and thinking. They point towards both difficulties and opportunities. We are not identifying ‘problems’ in order to simply criticize or reject participation. Problems are an enduring part of all worthwhile practice, driving creativity, understanding and skills. Our aim is to vitalize participatory thought and practice by raising and reflecting upon these problems.
Through a series of intervention workshops with community projects in the USA and Latin America, Problems of Participation explores issues of authority, trust and an ethos of participation, as explored in the essay collection, in order to critically reflect on 'on the ground' practices of participatory democracy and in the context of advocacy projects. Project partners include
- Morris Justice project in partnership with the Public Science Project, New York,
- “Climate change is about… Women” in partnership with the Democracy Center, Cochabamba, Bolivia
- The “Soil, Seeds and Social Change” project that links permaculture practitioners in Bristol, UK and Torola and Suchitoto, in El Salvador.
These workshops will move the theoretical agendas proposed in the essay collection, which was produced by a collection of academics and activists at a 'theory retreat' in North Yorkshire in 2013, into spaces of practice, where their ethos, critical approach and reflections can be brought to bear on real-world problems of engagement, empowerment and authority production in community settings.