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Assemblage Thinking and Participatory Development: Potentiality, Ethics, Biopolitics

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Jonathan Pugh



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).


The politics and ethics of participatory development have been a topic of vibrant debatesince the 1990s. While proponents assert that participation emancipates and empowersmarginalized peoples, critics assert that it enacts new forms of control and regulation. This paperreads these debates through the analytical lens offered by assemblage thinking. Assemblageallows us to foreground affective relations between people and things, and the diagrams of power,or ideal sets of force relations, that attempt to direct these affective relations. On this basis, wecharacterize different participatory approaches in terms of their relation to the constitutive powerof affective relations: modernist participation enacts a will to truth that attempts to objectify andcontrol constitutive power through categories such as social capital and vulnerability;performative participation recognizes that participatory activities, while still entangled in powerrelations, may develop in ways that might challenge existing power relations, and the designs ofthe project organizer. This characterization helps us identify a politics of life enacted throughparticipatory activities: on one hand, a negative biopolitics that problematizes constitutive power;on the other, an affirmative biopolitics that creates new possibilities for individual and collectivelife. Assemblage thinking can thus reconfigure participation around an affirmative biopoliticsthat positions the researcher as one resource among others marginalized people might use in theirstruggles against insecurity and suffering.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Grove K, Pugh J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Geography Compass

Year: 2015

Volume: 9

Issue: 1

Pages: 1-13

Print publication date: 28/01/2015

Online publication date: 28/01/2015

Acceptance date: 27/11/2014

ISSN (electronic): 1749-8198

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell


DOI: 10.1111/gec3.12191


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