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11.00  Us, Here and Now (But Not Only Us, Not Only Here and Not Only Now): Or, Scaling Affiliations of Co-Production

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Co-production has a very specific political genealogy. Gaining ground in the mid-2000s the term “co-production” was used to explore how the state and its agencies might develop different kinds of relationships with its publics, often with a focus on how a public service—health, social care or welfare—might no longer be generic but personalized, distributing both agency, rights, and responsibility. 

As such, co-production represents a moment when the left-of-centre was seeking to retain the logics and achievements of a redistributive state and public sector professionalism without its vertical political and epistemic logics of management of people “as population.” Or to put it at the same point in the other direction, the left-of-centre was seeking to learn from the relational politics of horizontal and social networks while also seeking to retain the idea of transparency and accountabilities beyond the interpersonal. 

Museums and heritage offer particular challenges for co-production because in addition to ideas of public transparency and accountability, the logic of heritage creates affiliations which exceed the here and now, “for everyone, for ever.” These scaled up ambitions have certainly been noted as key conceptual barriers to serious and sustained participatory practice in the sector (Heritage Decisions 2015), yet the real political challenge articulated so effectively by the co-production moment is how to calibrate the different achievements of publicness and the relational. 

This paper will draw out the specific political conceptualizations offered by the “co-production” moment in health and social care through returning to key policy publications and debates that unfolded (via Compass and Renewal) and use the both-and thinking to illuminate possibilities for museum and heritage practice at the intersection of publicness and participation; vertical and horizontal structuring; institution and network. 

I will do this through recognizing the mirroring of this political debate in the production of knowledge by playing with epistemic scaling and moving between descriptive accounts of moments from my work, seeking to do participative heritage. and the perspectival shift to critical abstractions. Through this, I am interested in the political practice of building meaningful, reciprocal collaborative relationships which take very seriously the forms of knowing that can be shared only through the interpersonal and of openly drawing in the ways of knowing generated by forms of abstraction and aggregation. In this I seek to enliven and give form to Bruno Latour’s evocation of critical proximity or, I might suggest, proximity critically. 

What a return to the co-production moment in 2000s might offer is facing up to the political tensions inevitably generated by an institution that seeks to be for everyone and preserve for posterity, attempting participatory work with specific people. The tensions cannot be resolved but can be calibrated more or less productively. This happens, I will argue, through being together and through a commitment to the people who you are within the here and now, meanwhile knowing, feeling, and openly discussing that there is not only “us,” or only here, and/or only now.

Dr Helen Graham


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