Celebrating Social Science

Next week, from the 2nd to the 9th November, is the ESRC Festival of Social Science, an annual celebration of the social science research across the UK. As part of the festival Newcastle social scientists have put on a series of workshops, talks and events across the North East showcasing the breadth and depth of their projects and ideas. All events are free to attend with more details below. Please see the North-East pages on the ESRC webpage for other events happening across the region too.

The Unblinking Eye: 55 Years of Space Operations at RAF Fylingdales

This exhibition at Whitby Museum by artist and Newcastle PhD graduand Michael Mulvihill will run from August, with the last day scheduled for Sunday 3rd November. The exhibition showcases work produced in response to the activities of RAF Fylingdales, a Royal Air Force Station situated in the North York Moors.

The station serves as a nuclear ballistic missile early warning station; and a space monitoring station responsible for tracking over 1,300 operation satellites, the International Space Station, and c.47,000 pieces of space junk circling above the earth.The artworks explore ideas around science, technology, the political economics of space exploration and technologies for nuclear deterrence.

Location: Whitby Museum, on until 3rd November. For further information contact: rachel.woodward@ncl.ac.uk

Dairy Dilemmas

Livestock diseases are a burden on agricultural systems both in the UK and worldwide. Sick animals contribute more greenhouse gas emissions, require the use of more antibiotics, and have poorer welfare than their healthy counterparts, all of which impacts upon the on-going sustainability of agriculture. Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) is a commonly occurring endemic disease of beef and dairy cattle. At this event, we will use an innovative tablet-based game developed by the research team to engage with farmers and learn from their experiences to gain a better understanding of how these individuals manage BVD and what influences their management choices. 

We will be heading to two auction marts to talk to farmers, and other visitors, about Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD), a commonly occurring endemic disease of beef and dairy cattle. We will have with us a tablet-based game developed by the research team which looks to explore how farmers make decisions surrounding disease.

Through the game, will learn how farmers experiences shape their responses to disease management to gain a better understanding of how BVD is managed, Including which factors are important for shaping different practices. Game players will have the opportunity to talk through wider considerations of disease management including the mechanisms of support they would find most useful.

The event is part of the larger FIELD project – a four-year interdisciplinary project funded by the Wellcome Trust (2018-2022). It brings a team of social scientists, historians, economists and epidemiologists together to research how livestock disease is influenced by nature and culture, science and society, and the actions of humans and livestock. The team works closely with industry representatives and policy makers to make sure the research responds to real-world needs.

We are looking specifically at endemic diseases, defined as those which are continually present in particular regions or populations. We focus on two common examples in Britain: Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) in cows, and lameness in sheep and cattle. These conditions cannot be caught by humans, but they do have an impact on animal health and production. We will consider their past, present and likely future impacts, asking if they could be managed better, and if so, how?

For more information about the project visit www.field-wt.co.uk. Location: Hexham Auction Mart – Monday 4th November (9am – 1pm) Location: York Auction Mart – Tuesday 5th November (9am – 1pm)

Intercultural communication – for all, for good

This seminar and discussion event will showcase recent work by Newcastle university academics in the field of intercultural communication. The Applied Linguistics and Communication Section in the School of Education, Communication and Language sciences have an international reputation for excellence in this emerging field of interest in the social sciences, and we want to share it with a wider public. Our work addresses questions that are at the forefront of current concerns about who we are and how we can get along with each other in a changing world. We ask things like:

  • What is culture, and cultural difference? How can these important but complex ideas be approached, understood and researched?
  • How does culture affect how people talk to each other in different contexts – like work, study, or health care?
  • What is intercultural communication? How can it be made better? How does understanding and improving it relate to questions about who we are and where we belong?

This event will inform you about what we’ve been up to and how it is making a difference. We’ll showcase a wide range of our activities, many of which have been supported by the Economic and Social Research Council and other top national and international funders. We hope you’ll come along with your own questions and ideas to get conversations going! Please register here

Thursday, November 7th 2019, 17.00 – 19.00
Location: Armstrong Building, Room 3.38, Newcastle University

Forces/Fields: Three works on conflict, militarism and their legacies

Wakeful, Anne Robinson, 2018

The Struggle Part II: Opening Up, Rachel Garfield, 2015

Thursday War, Margareta Kern, 2019

The event will comprise a screening of these three works, followed by a discussion with Rachel Garfield, Margareta Kern and Anne Robinson in conversation with Professor Rachel Woodward (Newcastle University) about the three films and their common and divergent themes.

Examining the persistent and pervasive presence of war in all of our lives, each artist engages with the complexities of militarism and conflict: Robinson ‘listening to the past’ through fragmented intergenerational memory, Garfield asking questions about 20th century certainties through subjective experiences in military outposts and Kern interrogating the presence of ships and war games too close to home.

Location: Star & Shadow Cinema, Warwick St, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 1BB
Date: 7 November 2019
Time: 19.30 – 21.30 – Book via Eventbrite

The menopause at work: whose embarrassment is it anyway?

The menopause is typically considered through the lens of ‘hard’ science with talk of oestrogen, follicles and vasomotors. When the social aspects of the menopause are discussed it is often in terms of deterioration, loss and embarrassment. As part of the Festival of Social Science, this session will take a sideways glance at such talk. Please come along and join in! Book via Eventbrite

The session is FREE and open to all. 

Location: Newcastle upon Tyne
Date: 7 November 2019
Time: 17:30 – 19:30

Working Together for Educational Change

Change in education is very hard; research, history and our own experience often confirms this but a general rule of thumb is that involving stakeholders in planning and enacting any change is likely to increase the chances of success. This event will offer social scientists and the wider public the opportunity to develop research and practice relationships relating to education and change in the widest sense.  Specifically, we will enable teachers, students, school leaders, educational practitioners, academics and policy makers a chance to present and discuss recent research activities and outcomes. Presentations and workshops by members of the Centre for Learning and Teaching (CfLaT) and their partners will be complemented by opportunities for networking. At the centre of the evening there will be a debate considering how we can work together most effectively for educational change. Contacts: Lucy Tiplady and Pam Woolner

Location: Newcastle University, King George VI Building, Newcastle upon Tyne Date: 7 November 2019
Time: 15:30 – 19:30

Picturing Gertrude Bell

How do you translate images and stories to open them up to new audiences without losing their meaning? Early Career Researchers Lydia Wysocki and Sana Al-Naimi talk with Dr Eve Forrest about their recent work on an ESRC IAA project translating the archive-based comics ‘Gertrude Bell: Archaeologist, Writer, Explorer’

EF: Can you tell me a bit more about the original research project?

LW: The research began as an educational project aimed to support younger historians access the digitised Gertrude Bell archive (recognised by UNESCO as of global significance, and with a strong contemporary resonance). This new approach to archives, education and webcomics was achieved by our interdisciplinary team including cartoonist John Miers, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology Mark Jackson, and web designer Brittany Coxon, who worked with us and the Young Archaeologists’ Club (YAC) to develop a series of seven online comics that tell episodes in the life of Gertrude Bell. The images and words in the comics were developed from primary source material in Special Collections.

Excerpt from Gertrude Bell comic online (all © John Miers and the Gertrude Bell comics project)

EF: How did the impact project begin?

LW: After we had done the first part of the research project and published the comics online, we saw that YAC members found the website intuitive to use and clicked through to digitised archive photographs, but tended not to click on links to transcribed text. When the archive was digitised 20 years ago it was aimed at academic researchers, so it’s not surprising that it’s less appealing to general interest readers.  Looking at web analytics we also saw that quite a bit of web traffic to the site was coming from Turkey and from Arabic speaking countries.  We realised that we had a great base with the comics but could do more to enable more young people in the UK and internationally to become interested in history and primary archival material through the comics, particularly given the complex issues that these comics begin to address.

SA-N: I joined the project at this stage of translating from English to Arabic, working with Saziye Tasdemir who was translating from English to Turkish. It was great to read the comics as accessible snapshots of complex material that I was already familiar with from working with the Bell archive for my PhD thesis about Gertrude Bell’s influence on architecture and urbanism in twentieth century Iraq. I knew it was a rich source of visual and verbal primary sources with potential to be more widely used, but also knew that there would be particular cultural sensitivities to address as part of this translation process. As an archaeologist and academic lead for the Bell archive Mark had already highlighted sources that are real treasures of the archive, and I was able to add to this with a focus on the architecture and culture of Iraq.

Gertrude Bell webpage (all © John Miers and the Gertrude Bell comics project)

EF: Certain things can often be ‘lost in translation’ did you find the same thing with the comics?

SA-N: Translating will always be a challenge, particularly around areas of cultural sensitivity. Gertrude Bell was an extraordinary but also contentious figure. She was unusual as a woman of power in the Middle East, she was fluent in Arabic and worked for the preservation of antiquities, however this was still within the framework of colonialism and the British Empire. When we were translating the comics for this new audience we had to keep that in mind.  There was also more practical changes to make. For example each comic had to be flipped to read right to left in Arabic rather than left to right in English:  but as an architect, I knew it was essential that iconic buildings were still drawn accurately not as mirror images.

LW: Working with the original cartoonist John Miers and with Sara Qaed as the Arabic-speaking cartoonist relettering the comics has been a positive process. These comics are complex texts in their own right with speech bubbles, thought bubbles, diary extracts, letters, and narrative voiceovers – so working with John and Sara as experienced comics creators to ensure that the reading order within the comics still makes sense is just as important as the innovation of using hyperlinks to show the original archive content in context.

Excerpts from the Gertrude Bell comics with the popup/hyperlinked archive content (all © John Miers and the Gertrude Bell comics project)

EF: The project was only for a year, what are the other areas you would like to develop in the future?

SA-N: There are more stories to tell, particularly around Bell’s role in the founding of Iraq as a country and her influential 1920 White Paper ‘Review of the Civil Administration of Mesopotamia’. There’s potential to make this visually really interesting, which is great for our interdisciplinary team. Mark Jackson and I were discussing links between the Lowthian Bell family’s patronage of Arts and Crafts artists in the UK, and Bell’s interest in the the geometric and symbolic styles of art and architecture in the Middle East at that time. It’s great to work with John as an artist who picks up on these visual references, and we’re all excited to see how this imagery comes through in the new comics we’re working on.

LW: This project is still ongoing really and is complex in terms of time and resources, as well as the translation in itself. There were a number of useful things we learned in the process that we could map to other archives, particularly when thinking of new users accessing archives as well as the translation of resources too.  For example there is huge potential in this work being developed as part of the curriculum and into richer educational resources, and we’re working with student intern Brad Lloyd to develop resources for A-level students undertaking independent study so there is a great potential new audience there. Brad joined the project as an A level student applying to study Archaeology here at Newcastle University: he is now starting his Archaeology degree here, so it’s a benefit to our project to work with someone at that transition stage, and hopefully a benefit to Brad too in building his CV. Comics are also a unique and innovative way to explore archives and artefacts, particularly here in using web comics with hyperlinked online archives. Overall we’ve had encouraging feedback from readers so far and want to continue making resources that help a range of readers around the world access the Bell archive and explore the significance of this history.

All the Gertrude Bell comics can be found here  

Finding out about Girl Kind

Dr Sarah Winkler-Reid’s Girl-Kind project at Newcastle University was featured by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) last week, as a brilliant example of how an impact project can develop over time. This is a reblog of the original article found here. For more on the Girl-Kind project and for updates see their website here

Young people in the North today are proud of where they from and proud to be Northern, shows research from the Children’s Commissioner for England. At the same time, many are growing up in communities of entrenched disadvantage. In relation to girls, the 2016 report The State of Girls’ Rights in the UK by Plan International UK found that ‘a girl’s location is critical’ across many different aspects of her life, including opportunities and access to resources.

The Girl-Kind North East project was launched in response to these findings, which identified North East England as the ‘worst place to be a girl’ – based on indicators such as child poverty, female life expectancy, teenage pregnancy, GCSE grades and whether girls were in education, employment or training. The project creates a space for girls themselves to explore these contradictions, without imposing assumptions about what these statistics tell us about their own experiences.

The project is led by Dr Sarah Winkler-Reid, a Lecturer in Social Anthropology at Newcastle University, and Dr Sarah Ralph, a Senior Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at Northumbria University. Both conduct research on girls’ lives and growing up in Britain, and have drawn on this work to develop Girl-Kind. Sarah Winkler-Reid’s ethnographic research in a London school explores young people’s everyday lives and relationships in school, while Sarah Ralph explores how media is used in everyday social interactions. Despite stereotypical media representations of girls as passive and unthinking, both these studies encountered girls as active, skilled and critical individuals.

A pessimistic and moralist tone pervades media representations of contemporary girls. However, the girls we have encountered through our previous research and through Girl-Kind are thoughtful, critical and reflective about both their own lives and how news and fictional media represents them (Sarah Winkler-Reid)

Working with groups of girls aged 11-16 from schools across the North East, the Girl-Kind project creates a space for girls to explore their own selves, relationships and contemporary representations of girlhood, with workshops leading up to UN’s International Day of the Girl Child in October. An initial workshop focuses on the challenges and opportunities of growing up as a girl in the North East. The participants choose a particular focus theme and produce creative outputs and performances that are showcased on the International Day to family members, friends, invited dignitaries, and members of the public.

With funding from an ESRC-funded Impact Acceleration Account (IAA), the pilot project in 2017 was carried out with Year 10 students at two schools in Newcastle and South Shields. The project expanded through follow-on ESRC IAA funding in 2018 with five further schools, in North Tyneside, County Durham and Teesside. It will run for the third time in 2019 in ten schools across the North East.

“We are constantly in awe of way girls are able to articulate their experiences and their righteous sense of injustice. They have devised so many fantastic, creative and distinctive ways to express these,” adds Dr Winkler-Reid. “The International Day of the Girl offers a dedicated day for them to revel in the brilliance of being a girl from the North East. Our event is a celebration for the girls, as well as opportunity for the audience to learn about what it means to be growing up as a girl today.”

Impact from critical research: what might it look like and what support is required?

Ahead of REF 2021, Ruth Machen considers what impact from critical research could look like and how assessment frameworks could support, rather than squeeze out, space for critical research. Four modes of critical research impact are outlined: challenging policy; empowering resistances; platforming voices; and nurturing new critical publics. Note that this was originally published on the LSE Impact Blog

Critical research is often impassioned by a desire for social change. Yet as research that challenges the status quo – by unpacking the socio-historical contingency of meanings and exposing the reproduction of structural inequalities of power – critical research often faces a more challenging pathway to impact. As demands for demonstrating impact are increasingly woven throughout the funding and institutional architectures of higher education, Smith and Stewart are not alone in raising concerns that the impact agenda could adversely affect critical and blue-skies research, favouring instead research that lends itself more easily to societal uptake.

With the draft guidelines for REF2021 open for consultation, now, perhaps more than ever, is a good moment to think about what impact from critical research could look like. And how assessment frameworks could support, rather than squeeze out, space for critical research. To this end, this post outlines four modes of critical research impact: challenging policy; empowering resistances; platforming voices; and nurturing new critical publics.

Research impact: to engage or not?

Anxiety around the impact agenda arises from the increasing instrumentalisation of knowledge, the corporatisation of UK higher education, and the relationship between assessment metrics and neoliberalism (Pain et al. 2011, Pain 2014, Gregson et al. 2012, Olssen 2015). As well as fears that impact will prioritise certain kinds of knowledge, there are also concerns it rewards particular types of researcher; academic elites with established reputations and influential networks rather than early-career or international researchers (Smith and Stewart 2016). These are vitally important concerns. Yet some scholars also identify opportunities for “doing impact differently”. Participatory Action Research (PAR) had delivered social benefits through collaboration with non-academic partners long before research impact became instrumentalised within academic assessments (Pain et al. 2011). Pain in particular seeks to reclaim impact as “walking together”, rather than “striking a blow” (2014; see also Evans 2016). Likewise, Reed and Chubb suggest that impact is a provocation to reconsider our intrinsic motivations for research and epistemic responsibilities. Re-engaging with these, they argue, incentivises impact without research becoming driven by external incentives (Reed and Chubb 2018). Perhaps there is merit in heeding Back’s argument that, as soon as someone suggests “this would make a good impact case study”, we should be alert to how our attention is being directed. However, does pursuing impact necessarily put us, as Back (2015) suggests, “on the side of the powerful”?

Exempting Laing et al’s recent work in education (2018), there is a strange silence around what impact in critical research might look like beyond PAR. Suggestions that not all research, and not all researchers, need to realise impact open space for critical research only through exception, negation, or omission. Instead, building from Pain et al.’s emphasis on the “political imperative to restate the kind of academy in which we want to work” (2011:187), I focus on how impact might be pursued in ways that support and enrich critical agendas.

What might critical research impact look like?

A review of the REF2014 impact case studies yields the following simple typology, which might provide a useful starting point:

 Figure 1: four possible modes of critical research impact

Mode 1: Challenging policy

The UK Government Magenta Book – the UK Government’s guidance for policy evaluation – in principle endorses the need for critical approaches that unpack assumptions underlying policy and analyses. Confronting mainstream policy head-on could involve policy amendments by highlighting the implications of existing policies on particular underrepresented groups, geographies, or concerns. More transformative policy change is likely to involve election manifesto writers and/or targeted social pressure rather than consultations within existing policy cycles.

Mode 2: Empowering resistance

Greater traction around critical research findings is sometimes found amongst activist organisations with a degree of policy standing. For these organisations, research, or the connections it articulates, may help to strengthen their discursive position or alternative vision.

Mode 3: Platforming voices

This mode is typified by PAR, where working with marginalised communities often co-produces research questions around non-academic challenges, foregrounds and empowers underrepresented voices, and sometimes challenges participant narratives through deliberation (see Roberts and Escobar’s work on citizen juries).

Mode 4: Nurturing new critical publics

Critical research can inspire new critically engaged citizens. Gregson et al. (2012) argue that engaging with schools can “reclaim critical praxis and constitute new critical subjects”. With rapidly developing digital technologies and the growing role of social media in generating critical publics, there are opportunities to think about new forms of media through which critical publics become fashioned, politically engaged, and/or mobilised.

Recommendations for supporting critical research impact

To support and encourage critical forms of research in the pursuit of societal change, assessments of research impact should bear in mind the following:

  1. Direct policy citation of critical research is rare. Change is more likely through political ownership of ideas, and what Pain et al. have called a “more diverse and porous series of smaller transformative actions that arise through changed understanding among all of those involved” (2011: 187). Retaining a strong focus on narratives in impact assessment and recognising the role played by relationships are both important.
  2. Changing the terms of debate is difficult and slow, with quick wins unlikely. Critical research impact may require longer timeframes to develop, materialising outside or cross-cutting assessment periods.
  3. Marginal/alternative organisations may be smaller and/or more local in reach. Assessing significance and reach together helps to prevent reach from dominating.

The typology presented here is basic, provisional, and by no means exhaustive. Its goal is to prompt debate and expand possibilities for thinking about critical research impact. With similar conversations reportedly held at Open (2013), Bristol (2013), and Glasgow (2015) universities, it would be great to hear more about these discussion findings – especially in thinking through forms of impact beyond policy

Ruth Machen is a Research Fellow at Newcastle University. Her research on science-policy interaction focuses on environmental knowledge where her recent work takes a critical look at science-policy translation – Towards a Critical Politics of Translation