Accepted Paper:

Doing participatory urbanism: traps and tropes for technical democratization  


Ignacio Farias (Humboldt University of Berlin)

Paper short abstract:

Working with a city on the co-design of smart infrastructures, we ended up trying to intervene in the administration's understanding of participation. We followed two strategies: one rhetorical based on the mobilization of tropes and one situational aimed at setting traps.

Paper long abstract:

STS is coming of age and with that new responsibilities are allocated to it by governments, universities and civic society. Isn't this what we have all long hoped for? The opportunity to eventually unfold our commitment to technical democracy, to the symmetrization of knowing and valuing practices, to the invisible work and care that hold our worlds together? Perhaps. But these powerful interpellations often invoke a particular ontology of the social, one in which STS scholars are expected to intervene in the name of publics, users and communities.

This is the situation we found ourselves in, when working with a city on the co-design of smart infrastructures while working in an STS center of a German technical university. Suddenly we became experts in citizen participation, in public understanding of smart infrastructures, expected to act, give advice, organize participation. The problem became then recursive: how to intervene in the expected mode of intervention?

In this presentation, I will reflect on the double strategy we developed to intervene in the public administrations we were collaborating with. The first strategy was rhetorical. Moving from a deficit in the public understanding of science to a deficit in the expert understanding of publics, we mobilize existing tropes to try to 'educate' our partners into an STS inspired version of participation. The second strategy was situational. It imagined intervention as the setting of traps for our partners, in which their knowledges and agendas might be made public and contested, while risking of course becoming entrapped ourselves.

Panel C14
Smugglers, idiots and loyal cheats: situated intervention as method out of control