The Invention of Material Publics: Returns to American Pragmatism

  • Noortje Marres


To ask about the role of things in political participation is not only to ask an empirical question, one that requires us to go out into the world and examine how participation is done in practice. It equally opens up issues in political theory, as it disrupts a well-established assumption of theories of public engagement: the idea that materials settings ideally present no more than a ‘precondition’ for public participation. Many political theories have sought to limit and contain the role of objects and material environments in participation, proposing that certain things like a well-structured setting should be in place for public engagement to become possible, but that these material arrangements should not attract attention to themselves, and ideally should not feature in our account of what participation is really about. One could say that the material dimension of democracy has often been bracketed in political theory. This is becoming more obvious today, not least because a variety of authors in political theory and related fields have begun to undo this bracketing and develop much more affirmative accounts of the role of things in democracy (Latour, 2005; Marres, 2005; Coole and Frost, 2010; Bennett, 2011). However, as soon as we undo the bracketing of the material dimension of democracy, a whole string of further questions is opened up.


Political Theory Public Participation Political Community Public Engagement Issue Formation 
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Copyright information

© Noortje Marres 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Noortje Marres
    • 1
  1. 1.Goldsmiths, University of LondonUK

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