The politics of public engagement – Reclaiming community?

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Sharon Clancy



   This article examines the tension between the rhetoric and reality of public engagement, seen through the eyes of a practitioner who has worked in both the arenas of community activism and as a public engagement broker within a UK Russell Group university over the course of the last 15 years. This has coincided with the rise to prominence of public engagement as a means of re-energising the debate about the University as an ‘ethical beacon’ and as an agent of civic and social life. This renewed engagement with ‘the public’ has created many powerful research programmes, conferences, debates, resources and toolkits, has fostered organisations and influenced policy. But has it maintained a focus on ‘community’ as a means of understanding and listening to real people, on the ground, and the issues and concerns that animate and concern them? And how far has ‘community’ been squeezed out because it is no longer part of the prevailing political discourse, supplanted by the more broadly interpreted - and possibly more palatable - concept of ‘public’?

Suggestions are offered to counter possible ambivalence on the behalf of universities with regard to engaging in ‘deep’ community engagement through both historical and new articulations of adult education and democracy.

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Author Biography

Sharon Clancy, Doctoral Researcher, University of Nottingham

Sharon Clancy is currently a PhD researcher in the second year of a PhD on short-term residential adult education at the University of Nottingham, in collaboration with the National Trust. Her MA was in Higher Education and her degrees in English Literature and, later, Psychology. She was previously Head of Community Engagement at the University of Nottingham and, prior to that, CEO of Mansfield Council for Voluntary Services in North Nottinghamshire. She has worked and taught in a number of universities, including Derby, Sheffield Hallam and Nottingham and her areas of specialism are public and community engagement, community based research, civil society, social impact and social policy. She has also worked across a range of voluntary sector organisations, a number in the area of learning disability. She continues to freelance and train within the voluntary and public sectors, within the demands of her PhD!