Introducing the Power, Culture and Identities Research Group

Northumbria Sociology’s new research group will promote social research at Northumbria University

The Power, Culture and Identities research group aims to bring together social researchers working in the Department of Social Sciences and beyond, providing a focal point for debate and collaboration. Below we introduce the idea behind the group and give information about our forthcoming launch event:

The Power, Culture and Identities Research Group seeks to extend social scientific understandings of power, culture, and identity through critical, theoretically informed research, interdisciplinary modes of collaboration, and by embedding public engagement in our work. The diverse research agendas of the Group’s members attends to the historical and contemporary production of social divisions and inequalities via an explicit reference to cultural processes and relations of power. We are interested in understanding how various cultural practices are manifested within the contemporary social world, and how those may be explored through developing methods that reshape ways of thinking about and doing social research.

Based in the Department of Social Sciences at Northumbria University, and with a commitment to critical understandings of class, gender, race and ethnicity, sexuality, and disability, the Group is interdisciplinary and international in the scope, ambition and focus of its research. The Group is committed to offering a platform for early career as well as established academics and to advancing social research that is bold, innovative, and outward looking.

Contact: Edmund (edmund.coleman-fountain@northumbria.ac.uk) or Emma (emma.h.casey@northumbria.ac.uk) for information

Twitter: @SociologyNU

 

Launch Event

We will be hosting a launch event on the 21st of March, 3:30 to 5:30 in Squires Building, Room 107, all are welcome to attend.

We are pleased to have Dr Stephen Crossley presenting. The abstract for his talk is below:

The (Re)culturalization of Poverty Policy
We are approaching the 60th anniversary of Oscar Lewis’s first writings about a ‘culture of poverty’, which were extensively challenged and critiqued at the time of writing. Despite the largely evidence-free arguments in favour of cultural theories of poverty, they have remained influential, in various guises, over the last 60 years. In recent times, and in line with narratives surrounding other ‘social problems’, UK political rhetoric and government initiatives aimed at tackling poverty and disadvantage have increasingly focused, more or less explicitly, on cultural explanations, in a new iteration of what Mamdani has termed ‘Culture Talk’. This seminar will highlight some of the discursive shifts over the last 60 years and discuss the utility of cultural explanations of poverty at the current time.

Stephen Crossley is a Senior Lecturer in Social Policy in the Department for Social Work, Education and Community Wellbeing at Northumbria University. His PhD was on the UK government’s Troubled Families Programme. His first book, In Their Place: The Imagined Geographies of Poverty, is out now with Pluto Press and his second book, Troublemakers: The Construction of ‘Troubled Families’ as a social problem, is out in April with Policy Press.

Twitter: @akindoftrouble

Listening to the voices of Volunteers in Conflicts and Emergencies

Professor Matt Baillie Smith writes about his recent visit to Stockholm to share findings from the ViCE Initiative.

When I packed my bags for our project conference in Stockholm on Volunteers in Conflicts and Emergencies (ViCE), I was mostly focused on the incredible stories volunteers have been telling us about living and volunteering in a conflict zone. I probably should have focused more on the weather forecasts and flight delays. Because 37 hours after I left Newcastle, I finally landed in Stockholm, travelling via London, then Stavanger and Oslo in Norway, without my luggage, and with a strong sense that I should have stayed at home.

Most research on volunteering and development focuses on international volunteering and the ‘gap year’. But our research focuses on the experiences of volunteers who live and volunteer in conflict and emergency settings – Afghanistan, Honduras, Myanmar, Sudan, South Sudan and Ukraine.

But from the first day of the event, held at the Swedish Red Cross offices, our partner on the project, I was reminded of why the event and research were worth some discomfort. The workshop brought together people from different parts of the Red Cross Red Crescent movement, as well as from NGOs and other humanitarian and development actors, to explore what we have been doing on the ViCE Initiative. Most research on volunteering and development focuses on international volunteering and the ‘gap year’. But our research focuses on the experiences of volunteers who live and volunteer in conflict and emergency settings – Afghanistan, Honduras, Myanmar, Sudan, South Sudan and Ukraine.

Picture credit: © IFRC, Victor Lacken

The workshop was the first opportunity to discuss some of our findings, and how they could help develop policies and practices to support the wellbeing and effectiveness of these volunteers. But what also stands out is their personal stories on the frontline of conflicts and emergencies, often when the international aid community has left, or cannot gain access.

For example, volunteers talk about the stigma that results from being involved in dead body recovery and burial teams, about how their families feel about what they do, and about how they themselves are often attacked and get caught between the warring sides. They also talk about how they survive and improvise in order to both survive and deliver aid and support to communities.

Their experiences don’t fit established research and thinking on volunteering … But they are critically important to humanitarian and development efforts, and have much to teach us about what volunteering means in different places and moments.

So when someone next talks about volunteering and development, perhaps try and think of these volunteers too. Their experiences don’t fit established research and thinking on volunteering, and they don’t always make the headlines. But they are critically important to humanitarian and development efforts, and have much to teach us about what volunteering means in different places and moments.

To find out more about the project, visit: www.rcrcvice.org

Matt Baillie Smith is Professor of International Development in the Department of Social Sciences, Northumbria University.

Twitter: @mbailliesmith

From Northumbria Sociology to Changing Lives

Charlotte Nisbet, who graduated with a first class degree in Sociology in summer 2017, reflects on how her studies have helped her excel in her first job post-graduation.

In summer 2017 I graduated from studying Sociology at Northumbria University. Over the course of my three years at Northumbria I changed from a person who would just accept the world around me, to a person who now critically challenges/questions it. Sociology taught me how to view the world with a critical eye and how to put that into practice.

It is with this critical lens that I started volunteering at a charity in my first year of University. I worked with Changing Lives one day per week to help out and to gain experience with a range of different departments including contracts and procurement, business development and communications. The charity specialises in working with vulnerable people and offers a vast range of services to people in need, from homelessness hostels/outreach, addictions recovery schemes and accommodation to women in danger of domestic violence, just to name a few. The charity showed me the amazing life-changing work it does on an everyday basis and how my sociological imagination could help the charity to grow.

Sociology taught me how to view the world with a critical eye and how to put that into practice.

After two years of volunteering with Changing Lives, I was offered a paid position at Changing Lives as a Bid Writer. This job opportunity allowed me to examine social problems and come up with practical solutions to try and tackle them. One of my first challenges was to try and help the charity develop its Veterans’ services in Northumberland. I used the knowledge from my Sociology course, previous research and the help from front line staff to build a model for an outreach service in Northumberland. The funding bid was successful and we have just won £140,000 to implement the service.

I feel very proud of this achievement as I have seen how my knowledge and critical eye have helped to create something that will have lasting impact in Northumberland. I plan to keep expanding my knowledge and experience by pursing a Masters course in International Development at Northumbria. I could not have done it without the support and encouragement from the Sociology staff at Northumbria.

Social betterment and healthier, happier communities

PhD student Amanda McBride reflects on her experiences as a Cumberland Lodge Scholar

At the beginning of September I was inducted into the Cumberland Lodge, an educational charity tackling social divisions by promoting creative thinking and inclusive dialogue. The Lodge was founded in 1947 when King George VI very kindly allowed Amy Bueller use of a house in Windsor Great Park, traditionally the home of the Warden of the Park.  Bueller’s intention was to use the facility to bring together academics and those invested in social issues from across the board to reflect and debate on their work and its impacts. Bueller’s book Darkness over Germany was published in the same year and details various trips she made to the country to run symposiums with academics before war was declared.  The upshot of these visits was that Bueller became committed to the idea that communication across boundaries (academic disciplines, faiths, political positions) would foster cultures of tolerance and ultimately peace.  This is something the Lodge has done since that time, bringing together those with an interest in the ‘betterment of society’ to mutually engage in discussion. Each year six PhD students join the Lodge as Scholars for a two year period in which they work to support the interdisciplinary and cross sectional conferences and seminars that are run as part of its program. As a Cumberland Lodge Scholar I will attend a number of events with the goal of stimulating conversation and debate, offering interdisciplinary perspectives and helping to find common ground where it exists.

My research looks at how pleasure is experienced and regulated in social contexts; I was drawn to the Lodge as I am interested in how this might be related to ‘social betterment’ and healthier, happier communities.

My research looks at how pleasure is experienced and regulated in social contexts; I was drawn to the Lodge as I am interested in how this might be related to ‘social betterment’ and healthier, happier communities.  I met my fellow 2017-19 Scholars over the first weekend of September at our first Scholars Retreat, a residential weekend hosted at the very beautiful Lodge. Our cohort is 7 rather than the usual 6, as we have an additional member in support of CARA, and our research areas are suitably diverse including history, chemistry and IT ethics.  The weekend included a Friday night lecture by Claire Foster-Gilbert of the Westminster Abbey Institute and later a drinks reception and dinner.  Saturday was focused on communications workshops to support our role as Scholars- covering writing styles and standards adhered to by the Lodge as well as public speaking training. Evening dinner was followed by heated conversations that lasted into the wee hours, covering all sorts of social, political and philosophical issues. On Sunday morning we debated the value of free speech before a final lunch together and then departures.  It was an extremely stimulating weekend in many ways, and I look forward to my next visit there.

Women, mining and participatory photography

Dr Katy Jenkins reports on the first results of her Leverhulme-funded research project:

After a nail-biting weekend of worried messages to and fro with my wonderful RA, Lexy Seedhouse, in Peru, finally the first photos from my participatory photography project arrived… Over 1,000 photos from 12 women, they’ve really got stuck into it!

The project, funded by a Leverhulme Trust Fellowship, aims to use participatory photography techniques to capture Andean women’s conceptions of Development in the context of large scale resource extraction. Following a two-day workshop I conducted with 12 women anti-mining activists in Cajamarca, Peru, at the beginning of May, the women spent 3 weeks taking photos on the theme of ‘alternatives to extractivism’. My RA has just returned from Cajamarca where she spent a hectic (and slightly stressful!) few days coordinating meetings with the women and eventually managed to download 12 sets of photos, and to set the women off on their next theme – ‘wellbeing’.

Display of corn and beans
Yeni Cojal Rojas/Women, Mining and Photography Project

We worried they wouldn’t ‘get it’, or would choose not to take part, or would be too busy, or would only take selfies, but we have ended up with engaged, creative, thoughtful and beautiful photos, that are a testament to the enthusiasm of the group, some of whom had never used a camera before.

Llama wandering in green field
Felicita Vasquez Huaman/Women, Mining and Photography Project

So far, my sense is that research using participatory photography does put much more control into the hands of the research participants than more traditional qualitative methods – if they don’t take photos, I don’t have data! This has made for a tense few weeks since returning from Peru and giving the cameras to the women, waiting to see what would come back from them, if anything! However, the women activists have been really keen to participate in this project, seeing it as an opportunity to generate resources for them and their organisations to use in the future in contesting large scale mining in their region and generating dialogue and discussion about the direction they would like ‘Development’ to take in their communities.

Woman in large hat sorting out produce
Blanca Tasilla Moqueira/Women, Mining and Photography Project

The women will take photos over 3 months, and I will conduct a second workshop with them in Cajamarca in August, when we will develop narratives to accompany some of their photos, ultimately leading to an exhibition of the women activists’ photos. For now, I simply want to share a few of their photos that speak to the theme of alternatives to extractivism.

Woman milking a cow
Killari/Women, Mining and Photography Project

To follow the progress of this project, please visit the project website.

Katy Jenkins is Associate Professor in International Development in the Department of Social Sciences, Northumbria University.

Twitter: @drkatyjenkins