Final event

Connecting Epistemologies: Methods and Early Career Researchers in the Connected Communities Programme FINAL EVENT 28/10/2014 City University London

Early Career Researchers (ECRs) face a variety of issues in the changing world of contemporary academia. To mark the publication of the final report from the Connecting Epistemologies project (available to download here on 28th October 2014), City University London are hosting an event that engages with questions confronting ECRs.

Connecting Epistemologies worked with a variety of ECRs, from PhD students and postdocs to early career lecturers, over the course of the summer to capture their experiences on the Connected Communities programme. The project explored their identities as academics and their methods and practices.

The afternoon will explore the way ECRs within Connected Communities may represent a new form of academic with a new form of identity; how they negotiate issues of precariousness; the skills needed to work as an ECR; and broader questions of what is legitimate as research, as methods, and as knowledge.

The session consists of three papers: one from the project team; one from AHRC reporting on the recent report Support for researchers in the Arts and Humanities post-doctorate; and one from Connected Communities Leadership Fellow Professor Keri Facer and project Post-Doctoral researcher Bryony Enright.

The session will then have a discussion on the future of ECRs within higher education and the arts and humanities.

All are welcome! To book a place email dave.obrien.1@city.ac.uk

Venue: Poynton Lecture theatre, City University London, Northampton Sq, EC1V 0HB

1.30pm welcome and coffee

2-3pm presentations

Keri Facer and Bryony Enright (Bristol) The shaping of a new generation? Early career researchers working at the interface between universities and communities

Connecting Epistemologies team: Understanding ECRs in Connected Communities

Sue Carver (AHRC) Support for researchers in the Arts And Humanities

3pm-4pm Q&A and discussion.

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What are disciplines?

I’ve entered the Connecting Epistemologies project as an inherently interdisciplinary researcher. I started my intellectual journey as a historian, then went onto study town planning, which is inherently interdisciplinary, before finding myself doing a PhD in policy analysis/political science and now I’ve ended up being a lecturer in social policy. A winding journey across epistemologies and methodologies.

Town planning and social policy are both interesting disciplines because they are both, arguably, quite UK-specific (social policy more so than town planning, probably) and also defined by the profession they’re attached to. As this paper by Pendlebury and Davoudi on town planning highlights, much of planning’s early history as a discipline was structured by curriculums provided by the Royal Town Planning Institute. Other academic disciplines have older traditions and come much more clearly from the academy itself and provide specific epistemologies and methods for people to use.

So, why am I reflecting on disciplines? I’ve now started coproducing my part of this project with my two early-career researchers and an early theme that is emerging in different ways between the two of them is the importance and scope of disciplines. Academic disciplines are not just important for providing us with epistemological and methodological grounding, but also provide us with collegial support and a strong sense of identity.

Like all identities, they tend to be developed in opposition: “I am A because I am different to B”. Two particular aspects of this have emerged in my early conversations with participants. Firstly, is how we understand and get at that “difference”. This has also been a debate in another project I’m involved with. As someone with a background in interpretive policy analysis and, to an extent, participatory action research (PAR), the main question of difference is where does PAR as social science practice end and participatory arts practice begin?

My immediate thoughts are they are similar – they both try and create change in a very organic, participant-led way using a multiplicity of ways. They both have a strong focus on process in research rather than outputs and outcomes as well. But there is a strong disciplinary divide between the two. I wonder how much this is about the language used to describe research practice. I also wonder, and I mean to be critically reflexive on my own role as a social scientist here, how much it is about arts practice defending itself from encroaching ethnographic approaches like PAR who are trying to stake out new territory for the social sciences.

This brings me to the other issue that has emerged, the inherent “power” of disciplines. In a bigger picture sense, this links to debates around the “crisis of the humanities” and the growing dominance of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Immediately, I feel a Foucauldian approach to understanding power-as-process is helpful here. One of the disciplines I’ve been in discussion about is very fragile – it is rooted in a history of gentlemanly amateurism and marked by temporary contracts and insecurity. Therefore bigger trends like falling funding, greater job insecurity, and de-professionalisation impact much more on this discipline. This, in turn, means that trends lauded by the Connected Communities programme as a whole, particularly community-led research, can threaten the nature of expertise and its inherent powerfulness in this discipline: if everyone can do it, why do we pay professional experts to do it?

These thoughts are just based on the first few conversations I’ve had with participants and hopefully these are questions we can get some more substantial answers too over the summer of fieldwork and in the final workshop.