Participation Problematises: Together in Violence
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Schrag, A. (2021) Participation Problematises: Together in Violence. In: Cartiere, C. & Tan, L. (eds.) The Routledge Companion to Art in the Public Realm. Abingdon, Oxford: Routledge.
Over the past decades, there has been a deepening relationship between participatory art practices and matters of social justice: this innovative approach to public engagement has resulted in many projects that aim to ameliorate complicated relationships, seek consensus and eradicate conflict. The social realm, however, is constructed of complicated relationships, conflict and dissensus: as Deutsche (1996) suggests - “Conflict, division, and instability, then, do not ruin the democratic public sphere; they are conditions of its existence.” How, then, should participatory practitioners respond to the question of ‘social justice’ when such works are often predicated on eradicating the innate plurality within public, democratic societies? This paper presents new ethical and political understandings of the liberatory possibilities of participation, and gives the practitioners voice a much-needed platform in a field dominated by academic, policy and managerial frameworks. It highlights a lack of universal understanding of what it means (and how) to ‘work with people’ and argues for more — not less — conflict within participatory practices in order to counteract the ‘social engineering’ tendencies of governmental policies, cultural institutions and activist-led practitioners who would instrumentalise the practice in the name of an ill-defined and problematic concept of ‘social justice’.