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Title: Agonistic tendencies : the role of conflict within institutionally supported participatory practices
Authors: Schrag, Anthony Gordon
Issue Date: 2016
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: In the UK, over the past two decades, participatory art practices – particularly those funded by Government/Local Authorities – have been employed to address issues such as community cohesion, social inclusion, or to assist groups perceived as marginalised. This has created an over-arching impetus for this kind of work to be ameliorative, seek consensus and eradicate conflict. The public sphere, however, is an inherently conflictual zone, constructed of debate, discourse and difference, and this creates a disjuncture between the intention of commissioning participatory practices and what these practices can feasibly achieve. This research examines the place of conflict in institutionally commissioned participatory art projects. Defining ‘conflict’ as the iterations of power that challenge the certainty of our hegemonies and/or our place within the world, it aims to address the instrumentalisation of the practice and asks: how can conflict be productive in participatory art practices? Through practice-led research enacted through a series of carefully considered residencies in institutions which influence or enact participative arts practices (for example, a local authority, museum, and educational establishment), the research introduces the notion of conflict to problematise the discourse around institutionallyenacted participative projects and, in particular, the intent of the institutions and/or its underlying policy. Moreover, the adopted methodology of physicality operates as a material “that does not intimidate” (Thomas Hirschhorn, 2000) and one which can act as both a mechanism of engagement to reach a wide cross-section of the public(s), but also a form through which to ground discourse in the very embodied nature of participatory work. The research is significant as the vast majority of participatory artworks now occur within institutionally-supported contexts via funding from arts-council and trusts, or through educational/outreach remits. It draws on Chantal Mouffe’s notion of agonistic pluralism to inquire into the relationship between institution, artist and public. It reveals that conflictual participatory artworks are able to not only uncover, but also challenge, the (often hidden) instrumentalised approaches of institutions. This agonistic conflict is productive in ensuring the agency of all participants (including those within the institution), but also in exploring the critical, ethical and political potentials of this way of working. The unique contribution to the field lies in the development of productive relationships with institutions, and this approach stands apart from the traditional activist and/or political works that seek an ‘exodus’ from pre-existing systems. Additionally, it unravels the critical discourse on the practice currently dominated by the almost binary opposition from critics Grant Kester and Claire Bishop and presents a novel synthesis of their thinking in the form of a ‘conflictually dialogic’ approach. The aim of the research is to provide new ethical and political understandings of the emancipatory possibilities of participatory practices. Standing in contrast to ameliorative approaches, this work reveals conflict to be an inerasable yet productive element of the social realm, and advocates practitioners, publics and institutions embrace its productive aspects. These include fostering multiple – and egalitarian – perspectives, an ability to resist an “oppressive consensus” (Rancière, 2004) of inclusion, proposing new productive relationships with institutions and publics, as well as developing critical art. It demonstrates how conflict can provide the ‘potential for transformation’ that does not defer to specific formulations of politics, but rather reveals new subjectivities and makes visible the smooth functioning of dominant hegemonies. Finally, it presents physical methodologies as an integral aspect of participatory practices. These findings are significant in contributing to a professional, critical and academic re-conceptualisation of participatory practices.
Description: Phd Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of Arts and Cultures

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