We are in the process of re-writing an article on childhood publics and political talk in childhood for a Special Issue we are co-editing in Contemporary Social Science on Political Activism Across the Life Course emerging out of the workshop we ran last summer. We’re very excited about the Special Issue (due out later this year) and the many generative conversations and connections that it is creating amongst debates on the topic and contributors. The conference was a great opportunity to present the revised paper and get some feedback.
A new colleague, Robyn Long, joined the team a month ago and the BSA conference has provided an opportunity for us all to get to know each other. Robyn joins us from Sussex Sociology via the English Department where she is in the process of completing the MA in Sexual Dissidence.
The last 9 months on the study, which a year ago I had imagined as a ‘break’ from the intensity of fieldwork and a time to analyse and reflect of data before returning for a final smaller bit of fieldwork with the children supporting the study this spring, have been just as intense and have flown by at a dizzying speed. We’ve had our usual, annual team meetings in Hyderabad and Tirupati (November 2016) and then in Athens (February 2017).
There have been a number of dissemination activities from keynotes, public lectures, conference presentations, and invited seminars. Our dissemination page is now up-to-date with a list of those activities. We are also in the process of producing a book of children’s photo-stories from the project, a process which is being expertly project managed by our colleague Claire Prater and involves a collaboration with artist Babis Alexiadis who is designing the front cover for us, and who we collaborated with on our children’s workshops last May 2016 when he produced three beautifully illustrated timelines of the workshop days in each city.
There have been many highlights and little time to blog any of them on the go, so here’s a quick summary in reverse and then random order.
I really enjoyed presenting and discussing our work with an interdisciplinary audience of academics and practitioners at the Centre for Applied Childhood, Youth and Family Research at Huddersfield University. The seminar was attended by criminologists, researchers in education, and childhood studies from those who I got to speak to personally. There where also two play-workers in the audience who shared how, in their experience, between the introduction of ‘British values’ into early years curriculum and the current [insert adjective of choice here] political situation, many more pre-school children they encounter are chatting about topics of a political nature. In true play- and youth work traditions they told me about workers following children’s discursive leads and using these conversations as springboards for exploring values and ethics with children. They urged us to think about ‘political talk’ in childhood as not only happening at home. Political talk in early year’s settings, anyone?
I thoroughly enjoyed engaging with MSc students at Keele University back in January who asked lost of interesting and probing questions about analysing vast amounts of qualitative data and earliest political memories, and who challenged me to re-think the future relevance of our work for schools and others working with children and young people.
I’m grateful to the small, eclectic group of colleagues who Johanna Motzkau brought together at the OU at the beginning of March (link to event to follow) under her Cultures of Listening project, and who collectively created a safe space for the fragmented nature of an early version of our ‘idioms of childhood publics’ paper to emerge. A colleague at the Centre for Education Studies at Warwick University, has left me pondering this question: ’isn’t it time we started to analyse structures again when it comes to the topic of children’s agency?’ And late last year at the Critical Perspectives on Participation seminar series co-organised by Aris Komporozos-Athanasiou (UCL) and Alicia Renedo (LSHTM) it was really helpful to think through the politics of research and the ways in which children exercised their agency within the research context.
Back to the BSA conference. The two highlights for me were a coffee break conversation with one of the presenters about the challenges of running large projects. I could have hugged this person for normalising much of what I’ve encountered and experienced over the last three years, and sharing their tips with me.
The second highlight was the Wednesday afternoon session organised by the BSA Cities, Mobilities, Spaces and Places Study Group where we heard about the inspiring and beautifully presented by Tom Hall, ethnography of homelessness and the peripatetic outreach practices of local council workers in Cardiff. Tom spoke about the ‘muddy timescales’ of homelessness and outreach work. This really resonated in terms of our 18-months of ethnographic fieldwork: meeting outside office hours; sometimes unreliable timekeeping; and meeting in the moment.
Complementary to this, another presenter in the same session, Charlotte Bates, who spoke about her ethnography in Woolwich, part of another ERC funded study, also reminded us of that hugely evocative concept, familiar to urban planners, desire lines.
I first heard about desire lines a few weeks back at the Living Maps presentation Christos and I gave (more about that from Christo later). I remember feeling quite taken by it then and it has, once again, gripped my imagination. We had fun experimenting with creating our own desire lines across the heavy road works of Manchester’s Oxford Road as we made our way to and from the hotel and conference venue, and I found myself scanning the landscape on the train back to spot desire lines across the countryside. It also occurs to me that it’s a great way of thinking about interdisciplinarity and the intellectual ‘off-roading’ that I am so fond of.
A random act of kindness, ‘muddy timescapes’, and desire lines for living and thinking? That’s far more than I expected to get out of one conference.