Bite Size Theory: Goldilocks’ Dilemma

“Can we find units of government that are “just right” – small enough to facilitate participation and yet large enough to exercise authority so significant as to make participation worthwhile?”

Robert Dahl, 1970, After the Revolution, Yale University Press.

Social science and participation: open access teaching resources

dd206_1_unitimageMy penultimate contribution to OU teaching is now online, at the OU’s OpenLearn site – Social Science and Participation is the open-access unit drawn from The Uses of Social Science module that was launched last year (it’s open, and it’s online, but it’s not really a course as such, since the assessment elements are not included, and it may or may not turn out to massive – so, it’s not a MOOC, obviously, more like a MOO, or an OO?). The unit tells some stories about how social science investigates people’s participation in various activities; how people actually participate in social science; and how ideas about participation have been important for how social scientists have contributed to public debates about poverty, including a film on this topic.

This unit has some overlaps with another OpenLearn resource, curated by Nick Mahony and Hilde Stephanson, Participation Now – which seeks to trace all sorts of new forms of public action.

Workshop on the Politics of Participation

Crisis of Participation; Participating in Crisis – 12 April 2011

The Open University, Walton Hall, Michael Young, Rooms 1-3, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA

One-day workshop organised by the Publics Research Programme (Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance, The Open University) in collaboration with Jenny Pearce (Professor of Latin American Politics and Director of the International Centre for Participation Studies, University of Bradford).

Workshop rationale
Just as publics are increasingly solicited to participate in solving the economic, social and political problems of various contemporary crises, so many existing forms of public participation seem to be straining under the tensions and antagonisms they are expected to contain. Crisis of Participation; Participating in Crisis is a one-day workshop intended to inaugurate conversations about the contemporary places, problematic roles and possible futures of public participation.

The idea is to come at the overarching theme from three perspectives: (i) contemporary art practice, critical social theory and popular culture/politics; (ii) critical social policy and governance; iii) development studies. These are three ways of cutting into debates about contemporary public participation in politics that have so far not sufficiently been brought into relation. The aim of this workshop is therefore to generate some new ways of viewing, engaging with and intervening in what’s going on.


10:15 -10:45          Welcome and coffee

10:45 -11:00          Introductions (Dr. Nick Mahony, Prof. Jenny Pearce and Prof. John Clarke)

11:00 -13:00          Panel 1:  ‘Participating in crisis: public creativity’

Dr. Jeremy Gilbert (University of East London),
‘The desire for participation’;

                              Cecilia Wee & Sonya Dyer (Curators/organisers, ‘If Not, Then What?’ Chelsea Programme/Chelsea College of Art & Design)
‘Participatory creative practice in a climate of dissent’

Dr. Deena Dajani (The Open University)
‘Crisis of Representation: Gender and Participation in the 2007 Jordanian Parliamentary Elections’

13:00 -14.00          Lunch

14:00 -15:45          Panel 2:  ‘Crisis of Participation: the contemporary politics of public action’

Prof. Jenny Pearce (University of Bradford)
‘The Twist in the Participatory Turn’

Prof. Marilyn Taylor (University of West of England)
‘Community Organising and the Big Society: is Alinsky turning in his grave?’

Prof. Helen Sullivan (University of Birmingham)
‘Does a ‘big society’ demand a limited localism?’

15:45 -16:00          Tea

16:00 -16.30          Reflections, identification of key themes and next steps

16:30                     Depart

RSVP: If you would like to attend please e-mail: (Sarah Batt, Research Secretary, CCIG,, Tel: 01908 654704).  For further information please contact Nick Mahony, ( / CCIG website:

Sarah Batt
Research Secretary, ICCCR and CCIG
The Open University
Faculty of Social Sciences
Research Office
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes

Tel:  +44(0)1908 654704
Fax: +44(0)1908 654488