Depoliticization, participation and social art practice: On the function of social art practice for politicization

Mel Jordan, Andrew Hewitt

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The purpose of this article is to explore how the process of depoliticization occurs in neoliberal governance, with the aim of identifying approaches to counter its control over the way we live together. Depoliticization is a process of neoliberal political and social organization that undermines democracy. An instance of how depoliticization happens is through a lack of accountability in the way that government devolves responsibility through non-governmental agencies or quangos. Arts Council England is a quango with an increasingly instrumental policy agenda. Arts-based participation is being fostered through policy agendas; art projects that are funded in this arrangement are expected to promote social inclusion or audience engagement. While this is superficially laudable, a reduced gap between state policy objectives and commissioned artistic outcomes sees artworks utilized as interpretive publicity for policy objectives. In this way, the funding of the arts can be considered as part of the wider process of depoliticization. Yet, we argue, contra much of the depoliticization literature with its formalist understandings of power, that politics is not limited to the actions and non-actions of the state alone and can be radically understood as an everyday process. In this conception of politics, we conclude that certain forms of art practice, those that employ social praxis and critical citizenship through critical pedagogical and participatory methods, can perform a politicizing function and thus potentially reshape democracy in more emancipatory ways.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-36
Number of pages18
JournalArt & the Public Sphere
Issue number1
Early online date7 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2023

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This document is the author’s post-print version, incorporating any revisions agreed during the peer-review process. Some differences between the published version and this version may remain and you are advised to consult the published version if you wish to cite from it.


We would like to thank peer reviewers Charlie Dannreuther and Matt Davies for their insightful comments, which enabled us to develop a more complete final submission of this text. Also, thanks to Ian Bruff who supported us in our understanding of depoliticization, which for us meant engaging with new literature from a different field. The main part of the research for this text was completed while we were on a secondment at Sirius Arts Centre, Cobh, County Cork, Ireland. The secondment was part of the Spatial Practices in Art and ArChitecture for Empathetic EXchange (SPACEX) project. SPACEX is an ongoing project funded by the European Union’s HORIZON 2020 Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (RISE) project number 872561 (

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Intellect Ltd Article. English language.


  • Freee art collective
  • arts policy
  • governance
  • neoliberalism
  • participation
  • political efficacy
  • politicization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Cultural Studies


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