Participatory politics as publics: beyond the norms of progressivism and state reform in education

Year: 2021

Author: Gerrard, Jessica, Proctor, Helen

Type of paper: Symposium

In this largely conceptual paper, we reflect on the notion of ‘participatory politics’ in relation to education reform.  In doing so, we seek to trouble redemptive narratives of the return of social democratic policy and more buoyant narratives of marked-based policy innovation post-COVID 19 in equal measure. The paper emerges from our current ARC project on the history of participatory activism and education policy.  ‘Participatory politics’, an idea that rose to prominence and influence in the 1970s, has particular significance for education policy activism and reform. It is an idea that contains within it a presumption of democratic citizenship, and a taken-for-granted progressive impulse. In this paper, we aim to complicate this common conceptualisation, by drawing on theories of ‘publics’ to consider the history of education and social movements of the 1970s and 1980s in Australia, and the implications of these for understanding participation and contemporary policy reform. Drawing on our emerging historical research, we argue that the existence of ‘participatory’ conservative politics that does not have a democratic aim, and forms of participatory politics that do not influence, are not visible to, or have politics that exceed the state complicate the conceptualisation and policy mobilisation of the notion of ‘participation’. We conclude by suggesting what kind of openings a conceptualisation of participatory politics as publics offers the field of educational research.