Author:Paul Manson (Portland State University)
Paper short abstract:
Public engagement has been explored in STS research to understand public values and science. This paper examines the role of public engagement as a 'science of the public' and its role in the production of state authority. A marine spatial planning process provides a case study in these dynamics.
Paper long abstract:
Public engagement is a commonplace expectation in environmental governance. STS research has explored and problematized the normative, substantive and instrumental claims around public engagement. This paper expands these models to explore the knowledge claims made about the public and its interest through public engagement. This paper incorporates theorization of state rationality and boundary objects to argue public engagement is a technologically mediated tool for producing knowledge about the public interest - a science of the public. This knowledge in turn provides the basis for legitimacy claims. The state's task is to provide the dominant claim on what the public is and what it needs. Further, the proliferation of public engagement technologies creates new boundary objects that seek to build consensus on defining the public and its interest. This paper explores a contemporary marine spatial planning effort in the Western United States based on participant observation of a public engagement process. The case documents efforts to expand state authority over the ocean where new actors sought to deploy ocean renewable energy devices. Use of a public participatory geographical information system (PPGIS) structured the political discourse around assigning ocean areas to conservation and development. This provides an example of a series of boundary objects that failed to achieve closure. PPGIS data allowed for a proliferation of meaning and representations which unsettled claims to know the public. This reveals the tentative nature of claiming to know the public and thus challenging state authority over new territory at sea.
Social Studies of Politics: Making Collectives By All Possible Means