My doctoral research with the New Political Communication Unit is an ethnographic study of a public engagement process facilitated by an autonomous vehicle development project in the United Kingdom. Building on over two years of research, I combine concepts and research focuses from the fields of Political Communication and Science and Technology Studies (STS) to examine fundamental concerns about democratic participation and power-relations. The research contributes to a debate which has so far overlooked the involvement of citizens in this issue and establishes common empirical ground between political communication and STS.
The thesis argues that the political function of the development project’s public engagement process was to construct a public that could inform and facilitate a government-led strategy for autonomous vehicle development. The argument is demonstrated through empirical accounts of specific practices within the project which generated and articulated knowledge and ideas about the public in relation to the issue of autonomous vehicles. Ultimately, I argue that despite the involvement of citizens in these processes the opportunities for democratic participation were limited and that the construction of this public was largely performed by experts – although in principle there are many opportunities to improve this process.
I was awarded the Crossland Scholarship by Royal Holloway, University of London in order to support this research. The project was co-supervised by Professor Andrew Chadwick and Professor Ben O’Loughlin.