In what has been defined as an “era of participation,” design practices have become very central to the process of making publics and in bringing to life the dream of developing new ways of political engagement. By reflecting on my professional practice, I highlight the overly optimistic attitude that—most of the time—over-simplifies the role of design, especially when applied in public and community organizations. I illustrate participation as a paradox in itself, by problematizing the role and meaning of participatory encounters, and revealing some complex dynamics of exclusion and self-exclusion that are at play in the public realm.

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