top of page
< Back

Beyond residual realisms: Four paths for remaking participation with science and democracy

Matthew Kearnes, University of New South Wales

Tue 12 December 2017

11:00am - 12:00pm

The Dryzek Room, Building 22, University of Canberra


In light of the contestation of the purposes and objectives of contemporary techno-political decision-making, and the emergence of a more questioning and ambivalent response to assertions of authoritative expertise, attempts to generate socially resilient political settlements across an array of policy domains have increasingly called upon the logics of ‘democratic participation’. In this context, contemporary scientific and environmental policy is increasingly characterised by institutional commitments to fostering public engagement and participation with science, together with greater transparency in the deployment of scientific expertise in decision-making. However, despite notable successes, such developments have often struggled to enhance public trust and build more socially responsive and responsible science and technology. In this paper, we argue a central reason for this is that mainstream approaches to public engagement harbour ‘residual realist’ assumptions about participation and the public. Recent studies in ‘science and technology studies’ (STS) offer an alternative way of seeing participation as co-produced, relational and emergent. In this paper, we build on these approaches by setting out a framework comprising of four interrelating paths and associated criteria for remaking public participation with science and democracy in more experimental, reflexive, anticipatory, and responsible ways. This comprises moves to: forge reflexive participatory practices that attend to their framing, emergence, uncertainties, and effects; ecologise participation through attending to the interrelations between diverse public engagements; catalyse practices of anticipatory reflection to bring about responsible democratic innovations; and reconstitute participation as constitutive of (not separate from) systems of science and democracy. We close by offering some reflections on the ways in which these approaches might be taken up in both analytically and normatively inspired work and scholarship.

About the speaker

Matthew Kearnes is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow and member of the of Environmental Humanities Group at the School of Humanities and Languages, University of New South Wales. Before arriving at UNSW he held post-doctoral positions at the Department of Geography at the Open University and the Centre for the Study of Environmental Change/Department of Sociology at Lancaster University. Most recently he held a Research Councils UK Fellowship at the Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience/Department of Geography, Durham University.

Matthew's research is situated between the fields of Science and Technology Studies (STS), human geography and contemporary social theory. His current work is focused on the social and political dimensions of technological and environmental change, including ongoing work on the development of negative emission strategies and soil carbon sequestration. He has published widely on the ways in which the development of novel and emerging technologies is entangled with profound social, ethical and normative questions. Matthew serves on the editorial board Science, Technology and Society (Sage) and on the advisory panel for Science as Culture (Taylor & Francis).

For more information about Matthew’s research please visit and at @mbkearnes

bottom of page