RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2016

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115 Relational geographies of participation (2)
Convenor(s) Jason Chilvers (University of East Anglia, UK)
Helen Pallett (University of East Anglia, UK)
Chair(s) Helen Pallett (University of East Anglia, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 31 August 2016, Session 4 (16:50 - 18:30)
Session abstract For geographers the growth of interest in participation and participatory geographies would seem to go hand in hand with nexus thinking, with both approaches actively attending to interdependencies and interconnections across environmental issue domains, places, scales, and cultures. However, thinking relationally poses significant challenges for ‘participation’ as traditionally conceived within the discipline. Two aspects are particularly important. The first is a relative methodological emphasis on ‘doing’ participatory geographies, which invokes a dominant imaginary of participation as discrete collectives or ‘events’ occurring in particular times and places. Coupled with this is the predominance of relatively fixed and pre-given meanings and normativities of participation in geographical thought – as deliberative, discursive, agonistic, and so on. Work at the interface between geography, science and technology studies, and democratic theory is bringing forward new ways of thinking about and doing participation, taking a more relational approach. This not only has significant potential for addressing nexus challenges, but also helps to advance the agenda from a relative focus on doing ‘participatory geographies’ to one of also studying ‘geographies of participation’ (which can in turn serve to reconfigure participatory practices). This opens up a number of paths for the study of relational spaces of participation, including: Spaces of participation as experiments and socio-material practices ‘in the making’ – this draws attention to the processes of their construction and opens up to diversities of participation (beyond the public, discursive, and deliberative to also encompass the material, mundane, private, affective, and so on); Spaces where technologies of participation and democratic innovations become standardized and circulate across space and time – this includes the transnational circulation of models of participation (e.g. citizens panels, participatory action research, transition towns) across cultures, places and issue domains (e.g. of energy, climate change, health, water, food); ‘Ecologies of participation’ that are entangled in spaces of negotiation and controversies – this focuses on ‘political situations’ that overflow traditional jurisdictions (e.g. diverse forms of participation in fracking controversies cut across the energy, food, water, environmental justice nexus); The ways in which diverse spaces of participation form part of wider relational spaces, whether that be systems (‘deliberative systems’, ‘systems of practice’, socio-technical systems), constitutions, states, institutions, political cultures, landscapes, and so on.
Linked Sessions Relational geographies of participation (1)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2016@rgs.org
Conceptualising relational geographies of energy participation
Jason Chilvers (University of East Anglia, UK)
Helen Pallett (University of East Anglia, UK)
Tom Hargreaves (University of East Anglia, UK)
This paper develops a framework for understanding energy participation not only as relational and co-produced, but also at a systemic level. In contrast to more realist approaches to energy participation which take for granted the nature of the public and of public participation itself, our framework accounts for the emergence of energy publics, participatory collectives, their diversity, and the complex 'ecologies of participation' which shape and are shaped by them. Responding to the systemic turn across several different domains of work around public participation, from deliberative democracy to social practice theory, we develop our own systemic framework which is compatible with our relational and co-productionist approach. In contrast to the very situated focus of most relational accounts, we draw on constitutional co-productionist work in science and technology studies (STS) to theorise the energy system as constitution and understand its co-productive relationship with collective practices of public and societal engagement with energy. The implications of our approach for studying and governing socio-technical transitions are highlighted.
Mapping relational geographies of energy participation in the UK 2010-2015
Helen Pallett (University of East Anglia, UK)
Jason Chilvers (University of East Anglia, UK)
Tom Hargreaves (University of East Anglia, UK)
This paper will report on findings from a systematic review of diverse collectives of public participation in UK energy transitions 2010-2015. The mapping reveals interesting patterns as to the who (publics), how (procedural formats), what (energy technologies & issues) and where (parts of the energy system) of energy participation in the UK, which go far beyond the conventionally assumed forms and sites of public participation around energy. Furthermore, this mapping also illustrates broader relational geographies of participation, which connect different participatory collectives and shape the broader energy system. These relational geographies include particular practices or technologies of engagement performed in research and governance, and different prominent spaces of controversy and negotiation. The paper describes these relational geographies of energy participation and explores what they can add to understandings of the dynamics of energy transitions. Moreover it will identify key features of the UK energy system as a relational space or constitution of energy participation.
Participation as engagement between practices at the urban nexus
Saurabh Arora (University of Sussex, UK)
Ralitsa Hiteva (University of Sussex, UK)
We view participation as engagement between divergent practices for provisioning food, water and energy in the city. By conceptualizing the food-water-energy-environment nexus as ecology of practices (Stengers 2005; 2008), we aim to open up the geographies of participation at the nexus to the study of relations between a wide range of practices. This allows us to rethink the material, social, and political relationships within the urban nexus, as being constitutive of practices. We focus on practices of usual suspects such as 'experts' and policymakers, alongside those of households and other consumers, distributors and sellers of food, water and energy. These practices include not only human practitioners, but also their associated materials in community gardens, warehouses, retail outlets, and as food, water and energy services. Participation as engagement between practitioners then becomes a question of socio-material encounters, rather than an exchange between people with different cultural or professional identities (although these might still play a role through one's identity as a specific practitioner). This perspective also emphasizes that in order to develop alternate, more equal and democratic, forms of engagement, what must be transformed are practices rather than individual human actors. The notion ecology highlights diverse ways of engagement between practices, providing a novel approach to examining how practices relate to each other, allowing us to ask 'what is happening' on the ground in events of participation. Emancipating participation then aims to transform existing power structures, into which novel practices can be brought in, and new terms of engagement between practices can be identified and nurtured to provide the basis for (re)building flourishing ecologies of practices at the urban nexus.
Urban energy provision, the Tranformation Agenda and the challenges of achieving low carbon energy transitions in South Africa
Kim Coetzee (University of Cape Town, South Africa)
Jiska de Groot (University of Cape Town, South Africa)
Energy is a critical enabler of development and in a rapidly urbanising world, modern cities are highly dependent on energy. Energy transitions, involving changes to energy configurations are processes fundamental to the development of human societies and are driven by a range of social, economic, technical and political factors. Historical specificities and energy geographies influence the characters of such transitions. In South Africa, at local level many municipalities rely on the income generated by selling electricity to balance their budgets and run the municipality.
This paper will explore how the diverse challenges of energy provision in South Africa's cities are interrelated with broader transformations to inclusive, participatory, secure and sustainable urban energy systems. Energy systems are affected by interconnected patterns of social practices, which are constituted by and embedded in material contexts. One such, pattern, and crucial for the South African context is the redress-focused Transformation Agenda, which sets out to eliminate income poverty, ensure energy access for poor households, and reducing carbon intensity of energy supply. Within this context, we will focus on the interactions and tensions between formal provision of electricity by municipalities, the imperatives of social upliftment through energy access and the strictures imposed by the needs of low carbon development. In so doing this analysis will necessarily engage with the niches, regimes and landscapes of low carbon transitions in addition to engaging with the socio-political-economic configurations within which the South African transformation agenda could take place.