Conference: Space, Place and the Performance of Democracy



Contested Exchanges: Space, Place and the Performance of Democracy

Fri 27 – Sun 29 March 2015

VENUE: Artaud Centre, Brunel University London

HOST: College of Business, Arts and Social Sciences, Brunel University London

John Parkinson (Professor of Policy and Democracy, University of Warwick)
Davina Cooper (Professor of Law and Political Theory, University of Kent)

“Participation is an issue that has everything to do with the physical city and its design. For example, in the ancient polis, the Athenians put the semi-circular theatre to political use; this architectural form provided good acoustics and a clear view and of speakers in debates; moreover, it made the perception of other people’s responses during debates possible. In modern times, we have no similar model of democratic space – certainly no clear imagination of an urban democratic space.” (Richard Sennett, The Open City, URBAN AGE / BERLIN / NOVEMBER 2006 p.4)

The Arab Spring, Occupy Movement, England Riots, and the Ukrainian Revolution are events that show how dissent is at its most powerful when it spills over into public space and becomes a visible event for the world to see. Of course, these events also demonstrate the potency of digital media to circulate these voices of dissent to a wider global public sphere. They therefore add value to the argument that suggests every sort of public debate and ‘politics’ can increasingly be ‘democratised’ through online platforms and virtual presences. At the same time, politicians have been encouraging ordinary people to work together with voluntary, public and private bodies in order to revitalise local communities.

However, these developments have created tensions in cities and towns. On the one hand, a ‘deliberative’ approach to citizenship has arisen that attempts to listen to local grievances and seeks to ‘empower’ people in communities through the creative opportunities that public and private investment provides. On the other hand, cities and towns have increasingly privatised their public space through the likes of new shopping centres, redevelopment schemes, and private housing schemes. Alongside these networks of gentrification, many authorities, planners, and security forces have also installed new modes of surveillance in public space that code people’s behaviour in different ways, while different governments across the world have equipped their police and security forces with increased legislative powers to regulate cities and towns.

Taken all together, these processes have created assemblages of power, fissures and fluidities in public space. Deliberative opportunities have opened up for a whole network of ordinary voices to be heard in the public sphere, while new modes of control and governance would seem to confine these voices within configurations of control. Tensions between both of these mean that novel spaces for alternative assemblages and performances of activism, citizenship and democracy have the potential to arise.

But why might performance/s in such public spaces be considered fundamental to the democratic process? Where the performance of democracy is not considered a metaphor for action or intent but as something fundamental to the process itself, how have these performances grown or have been stifled within processes already described? In an age of digital media, what is in fact the value of physical space and physical bodies for democracy? What is the role of space and place in the performance of democracy as well as in notions of ‘public’ spaces that are increasingly difficult to define as ‘of the people’ /popular/ public?

In 2015, the biannual Artaud Forum would like to meet days before UK’s Parliament dissolves on the 30 March, itself the final dissolution before the UK General Election on 7 May, to consider these important issues. Indeed, at this critical moment of suspension, the Forum would like to interrogate the function and significance of place and space for (or against) the ‘performance’ of democracy, from a range of disciplinary perspectives that might include, but is not limited to, geography, history, politics, sociology, psychology, theatre, and architecture.

We therefore invite participants to submit abstracts / proposals on these themes.

Submissions might consider:

– * What spaces/places are needed and are used for the ‘performance’ of democracy? [How are these spaces being preserved or eroded?]
– * What is the impact of such disparate things as gated communities, tower blocks, shopping malls, city walls, etc., on the democratic process?
– * What is the impact of digital technology and/or social media on public spaces?
– * Are we to contest Habermas’s contention that the public has lost its critical/rational function and that far from being a space of discussion and debate, public space is merely a site for mass cultural consumption dominated by corporations and elites who validate particular viewpoints?
– * How do architectural and spatial arrangements impact on political behaviour?
– * What ‘public space’ can be/ is activated to enhance/ promote democratic processes?
– * What is the relationship between access and use of ‘public space’ in performances, and the public perceptions of the processes of democracy?
– * What is the role of the public space/sphere in challenging/establishing the individual citizen’s idea of ‘truth’?
– * How might new assemblages of democracy be created through networks of human and non-human material objects and practices?
– * How have our affects and senses of public spaces changed in recent years, and to what extent is this related to democratic performances?
– * To what extent have new modes of control, surveillance and socio-legal regulation shaped innovative performative spaces of democracy in society?

Topics (preliminary list):

– * The state’s contribution to transformative democratic politics and performance
– * Assemblages of affectual and emotional dissent in public space.
– * Performative articulations of democracy in public space
– * Theatricality, and the democratic process.
– * The changing nature of the public sphere.
– * Blurred boundaries between the public sphere and counterpublics.
– * Is it is the case that citizenship is now constituted through performative assemblages and networks?
– * Can we now identify different and often contested notions and theories of deliberative democracy at play in society?
– * What is the relationship between social media and to activism in public space?
– * How might we analyse changing identities in performative spaces of democracy and citizenship?
– * To what extent do mobile and fluid relationships in urban space impact on democracy?
– * Are class-based politics still relevant in new spaces of dissent?
– * What is the impact of the state and socio-legal regulation in cities and towns?
– * How do databases code distinct populations in society, which then effect democratic performances?
– * What are the ongoing consequences and effects of gentrification on the democratic process?
– * How might we think about the rise of innovative transgressive and utopic spaces of dissent?
– * Do new networks of social capital really exist in local communities? Or do these networks merely serve the interests of public-private partnerships?
– * Have community publics and forums been strengthened or weakened in the last few decades?
– * The importance of new configurations of materiality and material networks in cities and towns that challenge conventional notions of citizenship.

Please send abstracts (300 words plus biog) or proposals for installations, provocations, film or performance by 1st December 2014 to:

CONVENORS: Grant Peterson, Mary Richards and John Michael Roberts

Conference Fees:
Weekend: £45 / concession £35
Saturday or Sunday: £25/ concession £20
Friday night launch: FREE


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