Political participation always takes place in a material location, but it could be said that some sites of engagement are more material than others. Certain settings of public involvement seem designed to make things recede into the background, as in the case of the auditorium, of which the shape and acoustics conspire to let the sound of voices take centre stage, allowing the audience to temporarily leave behind the material mess of everyday living. But of other settings of participation the opposite seems true. Of this there is no lack of examples today: a broad range of recent initiatives of citizen engagement have proposed that material practices like washing, cycling and gardening may usefully facilitate participation in social and public life. These projects and campaigns suggest that everyday material environments—like kitchens and allotment gardens—have distinctive capacities to engage people, and some even propose that such settings may render wider social problems—such as public health and environmental issues—available for intervention by everyday people.1 This proposition of ‘material participation’, as I will call it, raises all sorts of questions about the legitimacy, efficacy and comparative worth of explicitly material forms of engagement: is it really possible to contribute to, become involved or intervene in public affairs by means of everyday material activities? We can also wonder about the distinctiveness of material modes of participation. Is there something special or specific about efforts to practice engagement with objects, devices and environments: do they enable forms of involvement that are distinct from other forms?
KeywordsEnvironmental Home Political Theory Public Participation Public Action Public Engagement
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