The European Consortium for Political Research, ECPR General Conference in 2022

Arranged by Cecilie Sachs Olsen (OsloMet) and Eva Wolf (Tilburg University), CONTRA-project

The ECPR General Conference gather around 2000 political scientists every year, and is an important arena for presenting papers with findings from on-going research. The conference was located in Innsbruck in 2022.

The CONTRA-project arranged the panel “The drama of conflicts: what the creative arts can bring to understanding, handling, and transforming policy conflicts” to enable a wider discussion about the role of drama and arts in policy-making and policy conflicts.  

There is no shortage of drama in most conflicts. Policy makers often try to control conflict drama by staging settings that privilege rational discussion over hot engagement. But attempts to expel the drama in policy conflicts may result in the alienation of citizens that are emotionally engaged in a topic. A more inclusive approach might be to embrace the drama of conflicts for its democratic and creative potential, for example in terms of generating a desire for change. The creative arts, known for the capacity to embrace, (re)imagine, and perform drama and for transforming the way in which we understand public issues and each other in their wake, may play a vital role in harnessing the generative potential that conflicts bring.

For the section on policy conflict as default, this roundtable will discuss the role of creative arts for understanding, handling and transforming policy conflicts. Together with scholars, theatre makers and performers who have worked with the creative arts on contentious public issues and in conflictual settings, we reflect on the role that the arts (theatre, performance, public art; visual arts; urban interventions) might play in governance processes. This roundtable asks: what might it mean to give the arts a more prominent place in democratic governance processes dealing with complex and contentious topics? what is at stake and what new opportunities are opened when we bring the practices of creative arts into engaging with and studying policy conflicts?

The first roundtable discussion was based on “Places of Hope: how a heterotopic intervention made the future present” where Maarten Hajer (University of Utrecht) reflects on the evaluations the authors received and seeks to theorize the role of such exhibitions and speculate on its future potential.

Prof. dr. Maarten Hajer  Maarten is distinguished professor Urban Futures and Director of the Urban Futures Studio of Utrecht University. He will reflect upon the paper “Places of Hope: how a heterotopic intervention made the future present” that Wytske Versteeg, Jesse Hoffman and himself wrote together. High modernist policy making seems unable to respond adequately to the mounting climate disruption, which has led to calls for a reimagination of democratic institutions (Dryzek & Pickering 2019; Mert 2019; Tremmel 2019; cf Hajer & Versteeg 2019). The paper discusses a practical example of reimagining, with which all three authors were closely involved: the Dutch transdisciplinary intervention Places of Hope. Places of Hope was an exhibition focused on the spatial future of the Netherlands, commissioned by the Dutch government. In an address the Minister for the Interior stated: By giving the commission for this exhibition (…) the national government leaves its traditional role and consciously searches for other actors with which to share knowledge and solutions. Places of Hope consisted of a parade, an exhibition, a series of events and collaborative sessions for stakeholders in a depoliticized setting, intended to explore ways to give citizens a renewed ‘appetite for the future’. It was open from April until November 2018 and attracted 12.646 officially registered visitors. Post hoc evaluations show that the manifestation had a lasting positive impact on the majority of its visitors, who ranged from vulnerable citizens to high-level policymakers.

The paper reflects on the evaluations the authors received and seeks to theorize the role of exhibitions like Places of Hope and speculate on its future potential. According to Raymond Williams (1989: 4), ‘[t]he making of a society is a finding of common meanings and directions, and its growth is an active debate and amendment under the pressures of experience, contact and discovery, writing themselves into the land.’ A society leaning too much on what is already known runs the risk of losing its ability to adapt to new challenges, whereas a failure to connect new meanings with already existing structures might critically damage the ability to perceive, let alone work towards, a common good.

The authors argue that the imaginative and relational quality of transdisciplinary interventions such as Places of Hope can play a crucial role in this regard. Ideally, they act as heterotopias (Foucault 1967), existing in close connection to policy circles yet providing a sheltered space within which relations that are typically taken for granted can be suspended and reinvented. This allows for temporary changes in social roles and for a postponement of usually entrenched binaries such as ideal/real, future/past, nature/culture, public/private and body/mind, as we will show building on visitors’ reactions to Places of Hope. Interventions such as PoH thus allow space for political experimentation and engagement with a joint future which cannot be found in routine forms of citizen participation or in the often cognitively oriented practices of the conventional science-policy interface of environmental politics.

The next round table discussion was based on the contribution “Socially Engaged Art and the Neoliberal City”, by Cecilie Sachs Olsen (OsloMet). Her work is practice-based and revolves around developing creative methods for urban research and exploring how artistic practice can be used as a framework to analyse and re-imagine urban development, space and politics. Cecilie was the chief curator of Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019, which used fiction, art and performance to explore ‘the architecture of degrowth’ and how alternative social and spatial structures may question the supremacy of economic growth as the basis of contemporary societies. She is also the co-founder of the urban performance collective, zURBS and the artist duo SACHS/WESTERDAHL. Cecilie has led a series of urban research and art projects around Europe and recently published a monograph about her work titled ‘Socially Engaged Art and the Neoliberal City’ (Routledge, 2019).

The last round table discussion was based upon the contribution of Sara vertongen from Antwerpen University, about Making Socially Engaged Theatre. Sara Vertongen is a Belgian artist , part of the artistic crew of Het Nieuwstedelijk city company of Genk, Hasselt and Leuven where she also teaches Drama at LUCA school of arts. As a theatre maker she has a fascination for working in public space and in the coming years she will be collaborating with researchers from UAntwerp in the JPI Urban Europe project on Conflict in Transfromations : CONTRA

Hence, ECPR-panels are valuable for presenting project-papers and discuss them with other researchers having an external view of our work. In this way, we got to discuss our findings in wider perspectives.



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