Social Science and the Politics of Public Engagement

Social Science and the Politics of Public Engagement 
Tuesday, January 28, 2014 from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM 
Open University Camden Centre, 1 – 11 Hawley Crescent, Camden Town, London

In recent years new technology has begun to facilitate ever more novel forms of research practice across the social sciences. New opportunities for collaboration exist in an information environment that is being radically and rapidly restructured by digital communications. An increasingly digitalised culture increasingly produces ‘by-product data’ as an unintended secretion of everyday social practices while also dramatically reshaping the circulation of academic research within the wider world. Universities themselves are undergoing profound changes, some by deliberate design and others as unintended consequences of broader social changes originating elsewhere. Given such changes, it seems untenable to conceive of or enact ‘public engagement’ in a way which fails to account of the shifting grounds upon which those seeking to support particular versions of the public find themselves standing. The constitution of contemporary publics cannot be taken for granted nor can the stability of the context within which ‘engagers’ seek to act.

This event seeks to explore this unstable landscape through exploring a number of innovative projects which pursued novel forms of research practice while also being orientated towards those beyond the academy. Through a discussion of these projects, their methodological innovations and the publics that formed around them, the seminar will seek to shed light on emerging questions about the future(s) of social science, its contested politics and of its relations to emerging ideas and practices of public engagement. The event will address, amongst others, the following questions:

–       In a post REF 2014 environment, what could and should a social science informed public engagement agenda be?
–       How, specifically, might the social sciences intervene in and help shape the PE agenda in the next couple of years?
–       How could social scientists collaborate, both with each other and with those innovating forms of PE in other domains, to re-make what PE means?
–       How can a critique of institutionalized approaches to PE and impact be articulated with commitments to public activism, social justice, relevance and responsibility?


Keri Facer, Professor of Educational & Social Futures and AHRC Leadership Fellow for the Connected Communities Programme, based at the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol.

Tim NewburnProfessor of Criminology and Social Policy at the London School of Economics.

Shamser Sinha, Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Youth Studies at University Campus Suffolk.

More speakers TBC


Nick Mahony is Research Fellow and Co-Director Publics Research Programme, Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance, Faculty of Social Sciences, The Open University. Nickleads the Creating Publics project which aims to ‘re-conceptualise public engagement with social science research in an age of emergent publics’. He is co-investigator on the RCUK-funded ‘Catalyst’ project and the ESRC-funded project ‘Making publics across time and space’. With Dr. Hilde Stephansen, he is also currently building a new OpenLearn website called ‘Participation Now’. At the heart of Participation Now is an evolving archive of contemporary participatory public engagement initiatives. The aim of this project is to support practitioners, researchers, students and citizens interested in new – participatory public engagement related – thinking, practice and innovation.

Mark Carrigan is a sociologist and academic technologist based at the University of Warwick. He edits the Sociological Imagination and co-convenes the BSA Digital Sociology and BSA Realism and Social Research groups. He is a research associate at the LSE’s Public Policy Group and was formerly managing editor of the LSE’s British Politics and Policy Blog. His research interests include sociological theory, methodology, biographical methods, longitudinal qualitative research, asexuality, sexual culture and digital sociology.

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