Politics as a practice of meeting

This paper belongs to of the Gothenburg Meeting Science Symposium

Richard Freeman, University of Edinburgh (School of Social and Political Science)

When we do politics, what are we doing? The purpose of this paper is to produce an account of politics based in practice, that is in human action and interaction. It places the meeting at the centre of those actions and interactions.

I begin with Arendt’s idea that politics begins in plurality, that is in the human encounter; from interactionist sociology, I take the sense that the encounter is performed. I outline what recent work in practice theory and an associated array of ethnographic studies of politics might add to this understanding.

I explore politics in practice as consisting in forms of interaction and inscription. Interactions take place as encounters, gatherings and meetings and the kinds of talk they entail. I point to the materiality of meeting: to the fact that it takes place between human bodies, in specific physical (or virtual) environments and supported by specific things or artefacts. I focus on inscriptions or documents as the essential artefacts of meeting and the ways they occasion and structure political interaction. I discuss the impact of new technologies on both interaction and inscription, that is on ways of doing politics. I conclude by discussing some of the ontological implications of thinking of politics in this way, including the status of networks of interaction and inscription and the relationship of action to structure and power.

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