RGS-IBG CFP Decolonising geographies of democracy and participation

I currently have a call for papers out for a panel at the Royal Geographical Society’s Annual International Conference this summer on the topic of ‘Decolonising geographies of democracy and participation’. This is my response to the events of 2016 – including Brexit and Trump – focussing on what this means for how we think about democracy and participation. I was troubled by some of the assumptions which were being made about democracy, participation and the public through these events and the response to these events, so I have created a space to think about and debate this more deeply. I’m also using this as an opportunity to pursue my growing interest in post-colonial and feminist perspectives on citizens and subjects.

Please do share this with anyone who you think might be interested, and I’m also very interested to hear your thoughts and collect suggested readings around this topic.



London protest against the Brexit campaign, image from BBC newsbeat

Call for Papers: RGS-IBG Annual International Conference, London, Tuesday 29th August – Friday 1st September 2017

Session: Decolonising geographies of democracy and participation

Convener: Dr Helen Pallett (University of East Anglia)

Sponsored by the Participatory Geographies Research group (PyGyRg) of the RGS-IBG

The events of 2016, from Brexit to Trump’s victory in the US election, have led many to claim that democracy is in crisis (e.g. Levitsky & Ziblatt, 2016). In particular, the project of multiculturalism has been held up by Western commentators and theorists of democracy, such as Jürgen Habermas (discussed in Bhambra, 2016), as a potential threat to genuine democratic participation and as fuel for right wing populism (cf. Lentin, 2016; Wilson, 2016). Post-colonial perspectives counter that these arguments fail to recognise the long histories of global interconnectedness through the European imperial project, which laid the foundations of liberal democratic institutions and practices (Bhambra, 2015; Jazeel, 2011).

These ‘democracy in crisis’ arguments are often based upon universalising and fixed models of democracy and assumptions about the public. For example, deliberative democratic theories are widely evoked, envisaging a harmonious deliberative public sphere enabled by a relatively homogenous and well-informed populous. Though, agonistic theories of democracy are also evoked and equally make normative assumptions about democracy and the public, emphasising discord and debate. By perpetuating fixed assumptions about democracy, participation and the public, these kinds of approaches fail to recognise the relational and interconnected way in which democratic practices and ideals are produced – discursively, spatially, materially and institutionally – and the global diversity of existing ways of understanding and practicing democratic participation. Furthermore, these fixed assumptions shape the way in which we study and intervene in democratic practices, potentially excluding certain knowledges and bodies (Spivak, 1988) and foreclosing what can be said or done within such processes (Chilvers & Kearnes, 2016).

To begin this project of decolonising geographies of democracy and participation, contributions to this panel could:

  • explore what is excluded and marginalised by these dominant and universalising perspectives on democracy;
  • seek to challenge them by exploring the global diversity of ideas about and practices of democratic participation, and drawing on insights from post-colonial and feminist theories;
  • follow the connections, flows and interdependencies of particular ideas about and practices of democratic participation;
  • or propose methodological innovations which can help geographers to do participation and democracy in a decolonial way.

Please email proposed titles and abstracts (250 words) or any questions you have to Helen Pallett (h.pallett[at]uea.ac.uk) by 10th February. The format of the session(s) will be the presentation of 4-5 selected papers each lasting 15 minutes.


Bhambra, G.K., 2016. Whither Europe? Interventions, 18(2), pp.187–202.

Bhambra, G.K., 2015. Citizens and Others: The Constitution of Citizenship through Exclusion. Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, 40(2), pp.102–114.

Chilvers, J. & Kearnes, M., 2016. ‘Participation in the Making: Rethinking public engagement in co-productionist terms’ pp 31-63 in Remaking Participation: Science, Environment and Emergent Publics Chilvers and Kearnes (eds) London: Routledge-Earthscan.

Jazeel, T. 2011. Spatializing Difference Beyond Cosmopolitanism: rethinking planetary futures. Theory Culture & Society, 28(5), 75-97.

Lentin, A. 2016. The ‘Crisis of Multiculturalism’ and the Global Politics of Trumpism. Sociological Review blog site. 4th December 2016. Available at: https://www.thesociologicalreview.com/blog/the-crisis-of-multiculturalism-and-the-global-politics-of-trumpism.html

Levitsky, S. & Ziblatt, D. 2016. Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy? New York Times. December 16th 2016. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/16/opinion/sunday/is-donald-trump-a-threat-to-democracy.html

Spivak, G.C., 1988. Can the Subaltern Speak? Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, pp.271–312.

Wilson, H. F. 2016. Brexit: on the rise of ‘(in)tolerance’. Society and Space blog site. 21st October 2016. Available at: http://societyandspace.org/2016/11/21/brexit-on-the-rise-of-intolerance/


Summer conference panels on relational and systemic participation — 3S (Science, Society and Sustainability) Research Group

Reposting news of the conference panels that Jason Chilvers and I have organised on relational and systemic participation, coming out of our UK Energy Research Centre-funded project.

Members of the 3S group have organised panel sessions at three different European conferences over the summer of 2016 on the topic of relational and systemic approaches to public participation in science, innovation and sustainability transitions. These panels all draw on conceptual, methodological and empirical innovations in the 3S group from the recent Remaking Participation book and […]

via 3S summer conference panels on relational and systemic participation — 3S (Science, Society and Sustainability) Research Group

Beyond experiments in climate governance workshop

There are some very interesting reflections here from Paula Kivimaa, Bruno Turnheim and Frans Berkhout on the ‘Beyond experiments: understanding how climate governance innovations become embedded’ INOGOV workshop which I attended at Sussex University at the end of April.

INOGOV_logo_orange_bars_boxed_white-e1433317708607The workshop was particularly enjoyable because of the excellent group of people that Paula, Bruno and Frans had assembled to contribute to the book, and it was great to get to know several people whose work has been quite influential for me, as well as being introduced to the work of others who I hadn’t been aware of. I discussed my contribution to the workshop here, which I’m now going to refine and improve based on our discussions at the workshop, and the feedback I received from the other participants. Final chapter drafts are due at the end of August, which will hopefully lead to a reasonably quick turnaround at the publisher’s end. I think there is going to be much of interest in this collection, including some contributions with the potential to greatly impact thinking on climate governance and transitions.

Book Review: Publics and Their Health Systems: Rethinking Participation by Ellen Stewart

Publics and their health systemsMy review of Ellen Stewart’s excellent new book ‘Publics and their health systems: rethinking participation’ was published on the LSE Review of Books on 11th May 2016. In the review I reflect on the broader move towards systemic accounts of public participation in the participation literature. I’m looking forward to some productive conversations on this topic with Ellen and others in future as we are trying to do a similar thing in our UK Energy Research Centre project on public participation in and around UK energy transitions.

The review can be accessed via the link below.

Book Review: Publics and Their Health Systems: Rethinking Participation by Ellen Stewart

5 things I learned from my first post-doc

As I prepare to take up a lectureship at the start of April, I’ve been reflecting on what I have learned in the 15 months since I finished my PhD. No doubt there are many new challenges which await me as a new member of faculty, but it occurred to me that there are elements of my experience as a post-doc and insights I’ve had – many of which surprised me – which might be useful to others who are about to take up their first post-doc posts. DSC_0174

This post tries to summarise some of the key lessons and will hopefully be useful to some in preparing for what lies ahead. Continue reading

First year Geography BA teaching

We had a meeting last week to decide on the final outline for our Human Geographies of a Changing World module – the core module for first year students on our brand new Geography BA programme at UEA. I’ve found it both exciting and daunting to be involved in this process of creating introductory material for new students from scratch. On the one hand, it’s a privilege to be able to play a part in shaping UEA Geography’s emerging identity, and explore the different ways we can thread our particular concern with the environment through the full spectrum of approaches in academic Geography. On the other hand, its quite a responsibility to be charged with introducing new students to the discipline, and I’m constantly thinking about things we might have missed or that I might misrepresent in my teaching. Though, I’m assured by others that there will inevitably be a process of re-organising and re-writing  after our first year of running this module.

polar bear

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Two Cfps on systemic and relational participation

environmental justice

My colleague Jason Chilvers and I have two calls for papers open building on our work on systemic and relational approaches to participation in our UK Energy Research Centre-funded project.

The first call is for the 4S/EASST conference in Barcelona, August 31st – September 3rd 2016, on ‘Ecologies of participation: Thinking systemically about science and technology by other means’. The second call is for the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers’ Annual Conference, August 30th – September 2nd 2016, on ‘Relational Geographies of participation‘.

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