Making Public Deliberation Fun: The Role of Playful Protests in Democracy

Dr. Selen A. Ercan

Deliberation and protest have usually been understood as two mutually exclusive ways of practicing democracy. It has been assumed that protests, due to their adversarial nature, and orientation towards conflict would hinder, rather than enhance, the prospects for deliberation. This paper challenges this assumption through an in-depth study of playful protests and their contribution to public deliberation. Empirically, the paper examines the protest activities of Knitting Nannas Against Gas (KNAG), which is a group of mainly elderly women protesting against coal seam gas in Australia. The paper draws on the interviews conducted members of this group and the direct observations of their ‘knit-ins’. This analysis suggests that the performative acts of gathering and knitting together in public spaces contributes to public deliberation in six important ways: by 1) expanding the means of contestation, 2) enlarging the sites of contestation, 3) enlarging the affected, 4) facilitating communication and contestation, 5) inducing reflection, and 6) keeping the topic on public agenda.