Participation and the New Governance of Life

Kathrin Braun, Susanne Schultz, Herbert Gottweis, Yrjö Haila, Maarten Hajer, Anne Loeber, Ingrid Metzler, Larry Reynolds, Bronislaw Szerszynski

In the article we report on the findings of an EU-funded research project, Paganini (Participatory Governance and Institutional Innovation), that investigated the question of whether ‘politics of life’ themes have led to the emergence of new forms of governance in Europe. The focus of our research was on human embryonic stem cell research, genetic testing, GM crops, and BSE in the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and on the EU level—hotly contested topics at the intersection of society, politics, nature and the human body. We argue that, in the domain of life-political issues, the notions of participation and governance have become intermingled to an unusual extent. Our case studies demonstrate that the concept of participation needs to be rethought. While ‘spontaneous’ public participation certainly still is a political fact, increasingly participation has turned into a ‘technology’ that is based on the construction of publics. Different participatory technologies are linked to a changing landscape of political subjects considered relevant to the debate. As the case studies have shown, the design of any formal participatory arrangement involves a considerable amount of ‘engineering’, including arrangements seeking to invite a ‘representative’, disinterested, ‘pure’ public. There is no such thing as ‘the public’ waiting for pure representation. Formal participatory arrangements are inevitably based on a process of active construction, involving goal setting, selection, decision making and prioritization, including the decision to prioritize the pure public at the expense of engaged publics. What seems to be occurring today is that ‘old’ definitions of social order no longer hold and various groups try to impose new (partial) definitions of a new order on others. A new, postmodernist logic seems to be spinning new relations among citizens/consumers and scientists and administrators. Thus, there is no single New Way of governing Europe.

Department of Political Science
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Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
Comparative politics, Social studies of science, Policy analysis
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