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/