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2021 Conference of the ECPR Standing Group on Politics and Gender

Reforging Research and Innovation into Res Publica: Responsibility in and for ‘Representative Thinking’

Civil Society
Anne Loeber
University of Amsterdam
Anne Loeber
University of Amsterdam

The quintessence of political life is, arguably, the faculty of political judgement in combination with the capacity of organizing accountability. Political judgement entails the judging-together as a community about what to do next in view of upcoming developments and emerging issues. Public accountability refers to the way in which actors are made answerable to the community in regard to the judgements that implicate that community, and their acting upon these. Both capacities have crystallized over the 19th and 20th century into formal legal and political frameworks. While these may function well in various respects, this paper argues that they fall short of accommodating judgement and accountability in relation to issues that arise from emerging scientific and technological developments. First, there is the indeterminacy of science as a social practice that is both public (through publications, partly via funding, and via its consequences) and private (particularly from a formal, legal perspective). Second, there is the consequentialist reading in the formal ways of organizing accountability that sits uneasily with research and innovation that are per definition future-oriented (Owen et al., 2012). With its emphasising of the idea of ‘responsibility’, the recently coined notion of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in science governance seems to offer prospects to help reforge research and innovation into public affairs, that is, into Res Publica. In order to fulfil that promise, this paper argues, the idea of 'responsibility' needs to be elaborated from the perspectives of political judgement and public accountability. To that end, the paper will draw on Hannah Arendt¹s notion of ‘representative thinking’, problematizing the idea of representation as well as the notion of responsibility. A key question is whose responsibility it is to ensure the publicness of the artefacts and images produced in research and innovation, and how what these represent relates to representations in the public sphere.
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