(E09)
Experiments in democracy
Location Elizabeth Livingston Lecture Theatre (Bowland North)
Date and Start Time 26 Jul, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 3

Convenors

  • Jason Chilvers (University of East Anglia) email
  • Helen Pallett (University of East Anglia) email

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Short abstract

STS scholarship has recently turned to consider democracy as an object of study and experimentation in itself. This panel brings together studies of democratic experiments in the making and interventionist work that takes a deliberately experimental approach to creating new forms of democracy.

Long abstract

In recent years STS scholarship has turned to consider democracy as an object of study - and as a domain of scientific and technological innovation - in itself. This has brought forward an interest in treating forms of democratic and participatory practice as socio-material experiments in the making (e.g. Marres, 2012; Chilvers & Kearnes, 2016; Lezaun et al. 2017). Rather than being pre-given external categories, the subjects, objects and models of democracy are seen to be co-produced and emerge through the performance of collective practices. One way of approaching this is through situated studies of experiments in democracy in situ as they emerge, as they become technologized and standardised, as they are translated and embedded in particular institutional contexts, or as they intermingle in particular systems, constitutions and issue spaces (e.g. Pallett, 2015; Soneryd, 2016; Laurent, 2017). This can also be approached through forms of intervention in democracy where STS scholars attempt to deliberately create new socio-material configurations in ways that respond to ongoing emergence, exclusions, uncertainties and effects of democratic practices (e.g. Horst & Michael, 2011; Waterton & Tsouvalis, 2016; Voss, 2016). This panel provides an opportunity to bring together emerging work from both of these approaches.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Doing "deliberative mini-publics": tracing translocal networks of experimentation with democratic innovations - does politics become technologized?

Authors: Jan-Peter Voß (Berlin University of Technology) email
Volkan Sayman (Technical University of Berlin) email
Sina Birkholz (Technical University of Berlin) email
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Short abstract

We argue that the network of sites in which the model of deliberative mini-publics is developed and deployed constitutes a new space of democratic culture cutting across and interfering with various regionally established cultures of politics.

Long abstract

Since around 1970, "deliberative mini-publics" have spread across the globe. Part of a larger movement to innovate democracy, this model is based on moderated processes of deliberation among a group of representatively sampled citizens, seeking to realize Habermas' theory of communicative action. Our research project takes this model of organizing citizen participation as a case study for addressing larger questions: What is the relevance of 'knowledge spaces' for late modern politics? How do expert-led articulations of policy models actually shape political reality? How do certain models that describe what politics is and how it is to be done circulate? How are citizen-selves and imaginaries of politics (re)produced by these models and their enactment?

We argue that the network of sites in which the model of deliberative mini-publics is developed and deployed constitutes a new space of democratic culture cutting across and interfering with various regionally established cultures of politics. This new space comprises sites where the model is applied as well as sites where the model is scientifically develooped, where it is negotiated as a professional standard, or marketed as a tool for policy makers. For studying the emerging translocal knowledge spaces of politics we depart from studies of laboratory practices and epistemic cultures as well as from policy mobilities, translations and assemblages. We follow the model as it moves and transforms through different contexts, and we analyse how practices of doing deliberative mini-publics are linked across sites materially and discursively, and how these translocal connections shape local practices.

Converging in dialogue? Nanotechnology as multi- and transnational field of democratic experimentation

Author: Franz Seifert email
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Short abstract

The presentation outlines the analytic premises and preliminary results of an on-going research project focussing on dialogical experimentation regarding nanotechnology in France, Germany and the UK, drawing on concepts of political culture, policy diffusion and advocacy coalitions.

Long abstract

Nanotech advocates and critics typically converge in a call for ethical expertise and public dialogue, deliberation, participation on nanotech. This convergence among disparate actors and national discourses is not a trivial matter. Specifically, it cannot be attributed to some 'anti-nanotech' mood in the public/media as nanotech has hardly ever been controversial in the media, and only in single cases targeted by activists. So, why has this 'deliberative', 'participatory' or 'dialogical turn' in this technology field come to pass? More specifically, how did it unfold over time and across countries? The presentation gives an overview over the analytic premises and preliminary results of an on-going research project focussing on deliberative experimentation in three countries—France, Germany and the UK—over an observation period of 15 years. It combines three aspects—a domestic perspective, transnational diffusion, and policy-oriented learning. Domestic contextual conditions account for the fact that dialogical experimentation in various countries manifest themselves in characteristic ways (e.g., 'civic epistemologies' Jasanoff). At the same time, the deliberative turn is a transnational phenomenon since deliberative experimentation has gained currency in a number of countries at about the same time. This, in turn, can be explained through transnational diffusion—the transfer of policy models between states (e.g., Voß, Amelung, Soneryd). The concept of policy-oriented learning describes the deliberative/participatory/dialogical turn as a learning process from past collective experiences such as public controversies. The study crucially draws on the 'Advocacy Coalition' approach (Sabatier/Jenkins).

Politicising or depoliticising public participation: civil society lobbying and e-petitions in pro-vaccination public support

Author: Samantha Vanderslott (University of Oxford) email
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Short abstract

This paper explores public participation in the introduction of a new vaccine by interrogating the politicising and depoliticising elements for influencing policymaking. It argues the democratic involvement of publics can be better understood by determining what is meant by politicisation and why.

Long abstract

Opposition to vaccination is well documented. Support for vaccination, how this materialises in what forms and by whom is more often overlooked, by academics, the media, and policymakers. What can the cases and instances of public support for vaccination tell us about how and why pro-vaccination views and behaviours are produced?

The UK was the first country worldwide to introduce the MenB vaccine to protect against meningococcal disease, (which results in meningitis or blood poisoning) into its routine vaccination schedule. This introduction preceded a campaign of advocacy support and followed by e-petitions to further the reach of the vaccine. This paper focuses on the introduction of the MenB vaccine in 2015 by exploring the public participation components through civil society lobbying and public e-petitions.

The public mobilisation and response to the MenB was overwhelming positive with further public calls to extend the provision of the vaccine. However, while traditional civil society lobbying worked well as a successful strategy of public participation in policymaking influence, e-petitions did not. Drawing on work by Waterton and Tsouvalis (2016) and others taking approaches from Science and Technology Studies (STS), this paper interrogates the politicising and depoliticising elements of each strategy. It argues that we can better understand the current conceptualisation, intended roles, and strategy effectiveness of public participation by determining what is meant by politicisation and why.

Social media governance, controversies and democratic possibilities

Author: Chiara Poletti (Cardiff University) email
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Short abstract

Drawing on Science and Technology and Actor-Network Theory perspective, this study proposes to investigate the democratic potential and limitations within the governance system emerging from the controversy around Social Media platforms regulation and freedom of speech.

Long abstract

The usage and structure of Social Media (SM) platforms have become a controversial global policy issue. In the last years, newspapers and political institutions have associated SM platforms to hateful and abusive speech, fake news, extremism, and terrorism. Contents published on platforms have been increasingly subject to regulation, with deep implications for free expression and other human rights. In the lack of an established governance system clarifying roles and responsibilities, the order arising will translate the vision of those actors successfully assembling and engaging the others in their interpretation of reality. Such openness represents a very interesting opportunity for new and emerging form of democracy. Governance can be seen as the emerging co-production of the associations of different heterogeneous elements like governments and private companies, but also Internet users and civil society, mobilised globally around a common matter of concern. At the same time, the actors involved in the issue have different agendas and perform different interpretations of threats and freedoms on Social Media platforms. It is thus of crucial importance to understand whose voices are reproduced in this system, and whose voices are silenced, contributing to reinforce inequalities. In particular, this paper underlines the role of code, algorithms, regulations, in imposing a certain interpretation of democracy and human rights.

Cities as test fields. Urban innovation projects as democratic experiments

Authors: Roman Solé-Pomies (MINES ParisTech) email
Brice Laurent (Mines ParisTech) email
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Short abstract

This paper analyzes a state-sponsored program of urban innovation. It introduces an understanding of cities as "test fields", to account for the practical conduct of the program. We discuss the controversial "democracy of test fields" that emerges from urban experiments.

Long abstract

In 2010, the French state launched a 668M€ investment program called "Ville du futur" ("future city"), which subsidizes hundreds of energy, transport or risk management projects in 31 French cities, often involving public and private stakeholders. Drawing on an empirical study of some of these projects, we show that the program encompasses not only technical, but also political experiments, which re-problematize the principles of democratic ordering.

We first comment on the description of the program in the official documentation. Here, the experimental objective is explicit. The industrial prototype is used as an analogy, cities being expected to be laboratories isolated from democratic life, where these prototypes can be field tested. We then turn to the practical conduct of these projects. Drawing on a field study focusing on a dozen of projects in two cities, we show that the prototype analogy fails to account for the diversity of actors involved, the variety of their expectations, and, eventually, the many experiments they are involved in, including about what cities themselves are. Cities are then better described as hybrid "test fields" where the practices of local government are re-defined, than protected laboratories for field tests isolated from democratic life. We conclude the paper with a reflection on the "democracy of test fields" that emerges from the projects of the "Ville du futur" program. We discuss the changing role of the state as it is expected to act as an assessor-experimenter, new political roles of economic actors, and alternative imaginations of democratic ordering.

Experimenting the parliament as a platform. Design cultures at the french National Assembly

Author: Loup Cellard (University of Warwick) email
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Short abstract

Based on a fieldwork at a civic tech lab in the french National Assembly, this talk will show how design expertises and methods are used to experiment the creation of a "parliament as a platform" and will ask whether citizens points of view are avoided or integrated in this experimental crafting.

Long abstract

Situated at the crossroads of the social studies of demonstration (Barry, 1999) and an emerging design sociology (Lupton, 2017), this talk will give an account of an ethnographic inquiry conducted at a civic technology lab: the "Bureau Ouvert" of the french National Assembly. The heterogeneous members of the "Bureau Ouvert" are co-producing law tracking devices attempting to make possible the collaboration between citizens and deputies. The focus of this talk will be on showing the role of these socio-material experiments in performing the project of a "parliament as a platform".

The basic principle of this expression is to transform the texts produced during law making into an open data infrastructure where third-parties extract information and contribute to law orientations. But the fuzziness of the "platformization" metaphor makes the true objectives of this project unclear. Nevertheless, the experimentations conducted are a way of technically testing and politically demonstrating this organizational wish.

While STS scholarship has shown how science and technology cultures of experimentations strongly fed liberal-democratic practices (Ezrahi, 1990), very few contributions have been focused on how design expertises create artefacts testing and publicizing democratic experimentations. This shift to design is crucial for studying how the horizon of a "parliament as a platform" is performed by various collectives through the configuration of design artefacts (i.e. mockups, prototypes of digital interfaces). During this talk my key concern will be to situate the citizens positions in co-producing this utopia of a "parliament as a platform" designed through intense iterative testings and demonstrations.

An "open" and/or "centralized" public service ? Digital-common "Openfisca" case study

Author: Sebastien Shulz (IFRIS, Université Paris-Est) email
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Short abstract

This paper, through the Openfisca case study, will analyse the tensions emerging when an online public service is converted to become a «digital-common» (Fuster Morell, M. 2010) in a democratic experiment perspective, and the way actors try to solve those tensions.

Long abstract

Openfisca is an open micro-simulator of tax-benefit system providing a public service. It is used both by administrations as a prospective tool to simulate impacts of reforms and by citizens to calculate their numerous taxes and social benefits. It was developed in 2011 as a free software by two public official economists and is now supported by Etalab, a French administration in charge of "open government" policy. Since 2016, Openfisca is declared as a «digital-common» by officials. However, members of the community develop a critical discourse: they consider its governance neither «open» nor «democratic» enough to be called so.

Openfisca is one of the first examples of a state-developed "digital-common". Thus, it can be regarded as a novel democratic experimentation led by the public sector. Yet, it has been empirically studied to date to a limited extent. This study, which is part of a Ph. D. thesis on public/digital commons partnerships, aims to fill that lack. It focuses on the tension between the open and democratic dimensions of Openfisca and the fact that it is supported by a centralized administration. How actors deal with that tension in their discourses, collaborative practices and technological choices?

The empirical data is based on semi-directive interviews with members of Openfisca, observations of work meetings and digital traces of online activity of the community. The methodological framework is a combination of ethnography of free software communities (Coleman E. 2005) and a political sociology of this socio-technical system in a Deweyen (1927) democratic experiment perspective.

Threats to democracy: balancing democratic ideals and security concerns

Author: Sam Weiss Evans (Tufts University) email
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Short abstract

The construction and reenactment of a state is inextricably linked to the things that the state considers a threat to its existence. Areas of science and technology routinely fall into these categories of threats to states. How should states balance democratic ideals and imperatives fo security?

Long abstract

The construction and reenactment of a nation state is inextricably linked to the things that the state considers a threat to its existence. Areas of science and technology routinely fall into these categories of threats to states. For democracies, there is often an uneasy process of line drawing for areas of S&T whose status as a 'threat' is ambiguous, often referred to as 'dual-use'. One way to analyze this uneasiness is as a balance between democratic ideals and a desire for objectivity on what counts as a security concern. In this talk, I outline how states have tried to balance democratic values with security governance over several area of science and technology and several governance mechanisms. I show how the management of the ways that dual-use S&T are defined and governed is also a process of reenacting the democratic ideals of the state.

Why practices and atmospheres of participation matter: insights from a democratic experiment in distributed deliberative mapping

Authors: Jason Chilvers (University of East Anglia) email
Helen Pallett (University of East Anglia) email
Rob Bellamy (University of Oxford) email
Tom Hargreaves email
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Short abstract

This paper advances STS approaches to experiments in democracy through making the normativities and atmospheres of participation a focus of experimental intervention. We reflect on a novel experiment in distributed deliberative mapping, where diverse collectives appraised sustainable energy futures.

Long abstract

In response to claims that normativities of democracy have too often been taken for granted in STS, the construction, performance, technologisation and effects of 'democracy' itself is increasingly becoming an object of STS scholarship and intervention. While revealing the constructed nature of participation and the publics of science, these interpretive accounts have often failed to explore what this means for remaking the democratisation of science in practice. In this paper we address this imbalance, and advance reflexive and experimental STS approaches to participation, through making the normativities and atmospheres of democracy themselves a focus of experimental intervention and reflexive engagement. We reflect on a project where we have taken an established STS technology of participation called Deliberative Mapping - a multi-criteria options appraisal tool that adheres to a deliberative democratic model of democracy involving representative lay publics and professional experts - and experimented with performing the tool in alternative 'atmospheres of participation' established in already existing groups of activists, consumers and grassroots community innovators. Our analysis of the Distributed Deliberative Mapping (DDM) process, which involved these diverse groups in appraising sustainable energy futures in the UK, demonstrates how the normativities of democracy and actual material practices of participation matter in shaping outcomes of participatory experiments pertaining to technoscientific developments. Our reflective analysis of the DDM process also offers insights into how more reflexive and experimental approaches to participation and democracy might be taken forward in STS and beyond.

'Re-wilding' participatory modelling for democratic environmental management

Author: Catharina Landstrom (Chalmers University of Technology) email
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Short abstract

Participatory modelling aims to incorporate 'local knowledge' in the evidence-base supporting environmental management, so far with marginal impact. Inspired by the notion of science in the 'wild' we can re-think the role of science in participatory modelling to increase its democratic efficacy.

Long abstract

Participatory Modelling is widely used among environmental scientists who want to incorporate 'local knowledge' in environmental management. However, recurrent failure of participatory modelling projects to impact on decision making calls for critical STS analysis and intervention.

A closer look at participatory modelling shows that projects often strive to develop new computational approaches that can also represent 'social dimensions'. Drawing on STS perspectives this can be understood as attempting to turn the socio-environmental reality into a digital laboratory. Thus, the failure to impact can be explained, not as another example of the well-documented lack of science-policy communication, but as the consequence of misunderstanding the nature of public participation in environmental governance. Environmental managers and decision makers do not need scientific knowledge claims in which local publics are represented, they need on-going involvement of local communities in the governance process.

Environmental governance occurs in the 'wild', management and decision making are parts of complex processes of place-making. For science to respond adequately to appeals for local public involvement requires a 're-wilding' of participatory modelling. Recent transdisciplinary work has demonstrated that it is possible to use scientific computer models in ways that enhance the capacity of local publics to engage with the governance of environmental matters of concern to them. This paper considers such examples in relation to STS discussions of participatory experiments in democracy.

Climate strategies as experiments in democracy: evidence from a mixed-method study of national politicians

Author: Rebecca Willis (Lancaster University) email
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Short abstract

Radical reductions in emissions are required to meet internationally agreed climate targets, yet there is little public support for action. This paper presents data from a study of UK politicians to discuss experiments in democracy which may reconcile democratic government with action on climate.

Long abstract

This paper frames action on climate change as an urgent and necessary 'experiment in democracy'. It presents data from a mixed-method study of members of the UK parliament, including corpus analysis of political speech and narrative interviews with over 20 MPs, investigating how politicians understand and respond to climate change. The study demonstrates a clear gap between the commitments made in the 2015 Paris Agreement, and expressed public or voter support for action. Whilst many politicians understand the need for radical action on climate, they report no mandate from the electorate. Given this gap, politicians can be seen to experiment with ways of making a case for action on climate change, developing strategies that, they judge, will resonate with publics, build engagement and extend political support. This paper presents such strategies as 'experiments in democracy'. It draws on an interdisciplinary literature from political theory, STS and sociology to discuss ways in which politicians, activists and others may build a democratic case for action on climate change, moving from absent or passive support, to engagement in a low-carbon transition. Such strategies might include institutional reform, deliberative democratic processes, and building alliances with wider interests. The paper will critically assess existing strategies, and propose new approaches, with implications both for academic debate and for practitioners working in the field of policy and politics.

Evaluating the participation in epistemo-political practices

Author: Josefine Raasch (Ruhr University Bochum) email
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Short abstract

This paper reflects on methods for and challenges of evaluating a participation in epistemo-political practices of a German umbrella organisation. It engaged skilfully into a variety of epistemic cultures, differing from each other in their daily practices of how they know and do democracy.

Long abstract

This paper reflects on methods for evaluating the participation of epistemo-political practices of a German umbrella organisation for migrant special interest organisations at an opening event of this organisation in 2017. By speaking skilfully into a variety of epistemic cultures, differing from each other in their daily practices of how they know and do democracy, multiple participations happened. These participations are theoretically framed as specific for the situation and relational. However, this form of participation in epistemo-political practices, which is typical for this organisation, cannot sufficiently be addressed in standard project evaluation tools. Now, in collaboration with the umbrella organisation, an evaluation tool has been designed that includes an assessment of how to engage in different knowings and doings of democracy. This paper elaborates on the epistemo-political practices and addresses challenges in designing an evaluation tool that includes this form of participation.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.