Redefining Failure

The Value of Refusal in Participatory Arts in the Paris Banlieue


  • Sarah J. Harper



Community, Home, Non-participation, Participation, Place-making, Relational art, Socially engaged urban art, Regeneration


The expectation for participatory arts to effectively engage targeted communities might lead to the conclusion that non-participation is failure. But is it necessarily failure? For artists navigating “entangled territories” (Halvorsen, 2017) and “competing narratives” (Thompson, 2009) in the multi-cultural Paris banlieue, non-participation or refusal is an inevitability that needs to be embraced. Drawing on theories of participation from the fields of socially engaged performance, sociology, geography and cultural studies, this article explores the value and nuances of invisible, minimal, peripheral or conditional participation encountered in the narrow spaces for manoeuvre between stakeholders’ conflicting agendas. It argues that refusals do not necessarily negate the work, and that attending to, and redefining, these moments may be key to understanding not ‘how to get people to participate better’, but how to perceive non-participation as an eloquent affirmation of agency and a significant participation in something else.




How to Cite

Harper, S. J. (2020). Redefining Failure: The Value of Refusal in Participatory Arts in the Paris Banlieue. Conjunctions. Transdisciplinary Journal of Cultural Participation, 7(2).



Peer Reviewed Research Articles: Theme Section