Past events

Past events organised by the Publics then, now and beyond network

Seminar 1: Public memories, public knowledge? Movements, media and shifting formations of publicness

Thursday 7th November, 12.30-14.00
Room NAB 1.14, New Academic Building, London School of Economics

Hosted by Media@LSE in collaboration with The Open University. Part of the Media@LSE Research Dialogues and the Publics then, now and beyond network’s travelling seminar series.


Pollyanna Ruiz (LSE) – ‘Memories, secrets and digital archives’

Hilde C. Stephansen (Open University) – ‘Global communication activism and shifting formations of publicness’

Discussant: Nick Couldry (LSE)

About the seminar
This seminar will explore key questions about the making of publics and publicness through the use of media and communications technologies by social movement activists. Focusing on the practices, infrastructures and forms of mediation through which publics are brought into being, it will examine the shifting formations and imaginaries that result from such processes. Moving beyond the more immediate effects of activists’ communication practices on the mobilisation and organisation of protest action, we will consider the potential of such practices to support publics that can facilitate longer-term processes of identity construction, memory formation and knowledge production, at different scales. Papers will explore the uneven and often contradictory dynamics surrounding activists’ communication practices, raising questions about the relationship between ‘mainstream’ and ‘counter’-publics, openness and secrecy, and politics of knowledge.

Memories, Secrets and Digital Archives
Pollyanna Ruiz

This paper will reflect upon these contradictory dynamics surrounding the use of digital archives and in doing so explore the relationship between the past and the present, the activist and the non-activist, the alternative and the mainstream. The digital archive appears to span the ruptures, continuities and discontinuities of contemporary protest by creating a mechanism through which the past is accumulated in the present in order to shape our experiences of the future. According to this view, open archives constitute a space in which contemporary protest movements can draw upon the experience of previous activists and equip themselves with the necessary skills to engage with the mainstream. However digital archives can also be understood as potentially problematic. Archives remove protest discourses from the secure realm of ‘dusty back numbers’, ‘forgotten publications’ and ‘oral interviews with aged political veterans’ (Downing, 2003, p.252) and places protest discourses within a transparent, open and centrally organised system. Consequently digital archives fix, frame and expose alternative ways of thinking which are fragile, untried and still evolving. Digital archives can therefore also be understood as compromising the very existence of counter publics free from the ‘supervision of dominant groups’ (Fraser, 1990, p. 66).

‘Global communication activism and shifting formations of publicness’
Hilde C. Stephansen

This paper explores shifting formations of publicness and globality in the context of the World Forum of Free Media (WFFM) – a process, connected to the World Social Forum (WSF), which aims to support the formation of a global grassroots movement of communication activists. Through a combination of prefigurative politics, organising and campaigning, activists involved in the WFFM are working to achieve the conditions for more democratic public spheres – at local, national and transnational scales. The paper proposes that an emergent version of a decentred ‘global public’ – constituted through a myriad intersecting publics at different scales – is discernible in the WFFM’s efforts to bring together a diversity of actors and media forms under the umbrella term ‘free media’. Such a version of a ‘global public’ contrasts with more liberal – and increasingly institutionalised – notions of publicness implicit in conceptions of the WSF as ‘open space’ or ‘global civil society’. The paper concludes by proposing an understanding of ‘free media’ as central actors in a broader project concerned with ‘cognitive justice’ (Santos) and as informed by an emergent logic of epistemic plurality.


Seminar 2: Smart publics? Mediation and public engagement with science and technology

Thursday 5 December, 11:00 until 15:00
Silverstone Lecture Theatre 309, University of Sussex

Hosted by Centre for Material Digital Culture, Attenborough Centre for the Arts and Public Culture Hub, University of Sussex. Part of the Publics then, now and beyond network’s travelling seminar series.

Speakers: Jenn Barth, Aristea Fotopoulou, Tobie Kerridge

This research event focuses on the publics and public issues relating to emerging technologies, such as smart energy grids, wearable devices and the Cloud, and co-design for sustainable energy. Bringing together the work of three different research teams EPINET (Sussex), CAST (Goldsmiths) and ECDC (Goldsmiths), the talks explore the imaginaries and mediation of emerging technologies; public engagement with behavioural tracking and the Human Cloud; and speculative design with energy communities respectively. In their own distinct way, the papers seek to address a range of questions: the different modes of making publics, the different kinds of knowledge and expertise, and the public issues that emerge in this field.

This second Travelling Seminar of the Publics then, now and beyond network is positioned within wider research questions posed by the stream Making/Doing/Being Publics. This research stream of the network focuses on the practices, infrastructures and forms of mediation through which publics are brought into being and through which things are made public.

The event is co-organised by two members of the Publics then, now and beyond network, Aristea Fotopoulou (Sussex) and Tobie Kerridge (Goldsmiths).


11.00 – 11.30 Introductions: Nick Mahony about the Publics then, now and beyond network, Hilde Stephansen & Aristea Fotopoulou on the Making/doing/being publics stream, David Hendy about the Public Culture Hub.

11.30 – 1.30 Talks. Chair: Sally-Jane Norman Discussant: Kate Lacey 

  • Aristea Fotopoulou (University of Sussex) “Imaginaries of Smart Grids: Public Issues, Contradiction and Controversy
  • Jenn Barth (Goldsmiths, University of London) “Digital Devices, Research and Social Experience”
  • Tobie Kerridge (Goldsmiths, University of London) “Energy Babble: Prototyping with energy demand reduction communities”

1.30-2.30 Lunch & Networking

All welcome. To register, please email


Aristea Fotopoulou ‘Imaginaries of Smart Grids: Public Issues, Contradiction and Controversy’

Smart grids are communicated in the public sphere in stories about the coming together of utilities and communications (gas, electricity/monitoring of data) into a network that can be managed for optimum use of resources. Imaginaries of smart grids address certain public issues, such as efficiency in responding to energy demand; environmental concerns, by integrating renewable forms of energy; and the empowerment of consumers. However, these imaginaries also point to possible controversies in the role of the public. The user is either largely invisible in large-scale images of the grid, or rendered very central within domestic settings. So where exactly is the public, as user or consumer, in these contradictory narratives of smart grids which circulate in the media? This paper traces the range of publicity and media images of smart grids and identifies the dominant and alternative visions and contradictions within these images. It draws from contemporary stories being told by diverse actors, across multiple media forms: energy policy research, distribution power operators, power companies, businesses and government, and shows how the public is constructed, and often absent, in visions of the future. The controversies and resistance of the smart grid are indicative of the levels of public engagement.


Aristea Fotopoulou (Sussex) is a postoc researching technological assessment of new emerging technologies, with a focus on media and digital culture. She currently also examines practices of data sharing and algorithmic living (Project Tracking biodata: sharing and ownership, RCUK Digital Economy NEMODE). Her work is at the intersections of media & cultural studies with science & technologies studies, and has written about digital networks and feminism, and recently, on information politics, knowledge production, and digital engagement. The research leading to this talk has received funding from the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013) under the grant EPINET (See: ).

Jenn Barth ‘Digital Devices, Research and Social Experience’

The flow of technology is fast and furious – the realm of the ‘digital’ and various digital devices change quickly and individuals experience the change sometimes without comment or without a chance to reflect. We asked individuals to become experimental subjects in The Human Cloud, that is, to wear and use behavioural tracking devices and always on wearable technologies and to blog about their experiences. This offers the research participants an opportunity to demonstrate their experience and to have a voice on the subject.  Through these enterprising activities, they are shaping their environments, organisations and their everyday lives in terms of how they want to interact with what’s on offer.  Drawing on this example as well previous research projects this talk details how we can harness human potential through research and work to shape our lives through knowledge and incremental change.


Jennifer Barth is a Lecturer in the Department of Computing and the Centre for Creative and Social Technologies (CAST) at Goldsmiths, University of London.  After completing her DPhil at the University of Oxford in 2010 on coffee markets, she has been teaching and researching in the areas of digital research methods and digital sociology and how we might become hybrid social researchers moving across the physical and digital world.

Tobie Kerridge ‘Energy Babble: Prototyping with energy demand reduction communities’

The Energy Babble was designed as a tool to support research with energy demand reduction communities, where a batch of 30 technology prototypes are being deployed to practitioner groups across the UK. The prototypes are part of a system where software algorithms collect and process a variety of content including voicemail messages, SMS and tweets from practitioners, along with information published by a range of organizations including policy announcements from DECC and energy demand news form NGOs. This information is transformed into synthesized spoken audio files, which are pushed over a network to each device where the audio is played over a speaker. I offer an overview of the design and an initial account of the deployment, and discuss the forms of publicity that emerge there.


Tobie Kerridge is based at the Interaction Research Studio, Goldsmiths. This practice based research group led by William Gaver provides a product and interaction design lens for HCI. His PhD thesis explores the mixing of speculative design and public engagement with science and technology in two public engagement projects; Biojewellery and Material Beliefs. Kerridge has helped develop an innovative mixed method approach to design research, with a recent focus on community and energy reduction. Energy and Co-Designing Communities (ECDC), is a three-year RCUK project based in the Interaction Research Studio at Goldsmiths, University of London. The RCUK Energy Communities call was a response to government support for groups undertaking energy demand reduction measures. ECDC comprises of Matthew Plummer-Fernandez, Jennifer Gabrys, Bill Gaver,Tobie Kerridge, Noortje Marres, Mike Michael, Liliana Ovalle and Alex Wilkie.


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  1. Pingback: Launch of 2013-14 travelling seminar series | publics then, now & beyond

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