This month, we were excited to host Dr Sonia Bussu from The Institute of Local Government Studies (INLOGOV), University of Birmingham as a visiting scholar between 17 September to 30 September 2023. Dr Bussu works in the areas of participatory democracy and public policy. Her research aims to bridge divides between different literatures concerned with citizen engagement, social justice, and intersectional inclusion. She studies how participatory deliberative democracy, social movements, the commons, coproduction, community activism, participatory research can all enrich one another.
During her visit, Dr Bussu presented a (work in progress) paper co-authored with Katy Rubin titled ‘Participation as Assemblage’ at a public seminar on Tuesday, 19 September 2023. This paper tests the analytical power and limitations of an assemblage frame by presenting an evaluation of a project she is leading called ‘Mindset Revolution.’ Her presentation explored the capacity of assemblage theory in helping us study democratic innovations and participatory governance. The following day, Dr Bussu presented her work at a workshop titled ‘Deliberative systems and deliberative assemblages: Exploring the intersection and future of research agenda’, alongside Distinguished Professor John Dryzek, Visiting PhD Candidate Lucas Veloso and Dr Hans Asenbaum. This workshop, convened by the Centre’s PhD student Wendy Conway-Lamb, offered an opportunity to discuss and reflect on different analytical lenses used to make sense of democratic innovation, comparing deliberative systems, deliberative ecologies and democratic assemblages. Dr Bussu’s contribution explored participatory governance through an assemblage lens.
A crucial aspect of Dr Bussu’s work, as captured by projects she is leading like the Mindset Revolution, is that she starts from people’s lived experiences. She opens spaces for them to build a collective voice to challenge hierarchies of power and expertise embedded in existing medical and policy discourses. Dr Bussu sees her work on assemblage as a useful frame to better understand change and contingency, as it sees democracy as in a constant state of becoming, inviting us to acknowledge distributed agency and socio-material relations that also recognise the role of non-human elements, from technology to physical spaces and material resources.
Asked what she enjoyed the most about her research collaboration with the Centre, Dr Bussu explains “I am going back to the UK inspired by the constructive feedback and all the wonderful work being developed by this exciting group of well-established scholars and early career researchers pushing the boundaries of the study and practice of deliberative democracy. I feel even more energised by new collaborations on work focusing on intersectional inclusion and centering and amplifying lived experience.”
We are grateful for all the engaging conversations we have had with Dr Bussu during her visit, and we look forward to furthering our collaborations with her in future.