Practitioners and academics discuss new cycling research

May 10, 2010 2 comments

UEL Public lecture on new cycling research, 27th April 2010

On the 27th April, UEL held a public lecture on new cycling research. This showcased both the EPSRC-funded Understanding Walking and Cycling project and UEL’s own ESRC-funded Cycling Cultures research. It drew around 40 people, mostly from outside UEL, representing a good mix of academics and practitioners including cycle trainers, transport consultants, cycle campaigners, and local authority officers.

Dave Horton and Griet Scheldeman

Dave Horton and Griet Scheldeman speaking at the public lecture

Understanding Walking and Cycling is a large, mixed-method project involving teams of researchers at several different institutions. Dave Horton and Griet Scheldeman outlined the ethnographic component of the project, which involves studying transport decisions at a household level in Worcester, Leeds, Lancaster, and Leicester. Dave and Griet described how frequently these decisions represent pathways to not-cycling. Studying decisions at the household level allows us to see how transport choices are embedded in household life. This might be particularly important for those with multiple roles and responsibilities – commuting becomes far more complex if two children need to be escorted to two different schools, for example. However, Dave and Griet discussed their worries that focusing on households could obscure a key factor discouraging cycling: the heavy volume of motor traffic on the roads.

Katrina Jungnickel and I talked about the Cycling Cultures project, which by contrast focuses on four areas (Bristol, Cambridge, Hackney, and Hull), with relatively high cycling levels. We want to investigate why this is the case and the contribution of “cycling cultures” in the four areas. We described the background to the project, the methodology, and the current stage the research has reached (I am writing this from a train to Hull!) Using the Census commuting data for comparisons, we can see that cycle commuters have quite different characteristics in the four places; for example, in Hull cycle commuters disproportionately come from car-free households (this may have changed since 2001, of course). Historical data adds perspective, as in 1971 both Bristol and Hackney were relatively low-cycling areas but have since bucked the national trend. How do economic, political and cultural factors combine to produce diverse rates and experiences of cycling in the four places?

UEL Public Lecture participants

UEL Public Lecture participants

There was a lively discussion following both talks and after the lecture in informal discussions. There seems to be a community of interest developing among cycling practitioners and academic researchers – not of course without its tensions and disagreements. I look forward to further events including our upcoming first Cycling Practitioner Forum and a seminar series we will be organising at UEL towards the end of the year. Further details of events as they are planned and the Cycling Cultures project can be found at www.cyclingcultures.org.uk . You can find out more about Understanding Walking and Cycling at http://www.lec.lancs.ac.uk/research/society_and_environment/walking_and_cycling.php . Any comments welcome!

Rachel Aldred

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Public perceptions of surveillance and use of personal data (Darren Ellis)

March 23, 2010 6 comments

Hi, I’m Darren Ellis, a lecturer in UEL, HSS, Psychosocial Studies. I thought I’d just write a little bit about a cross-school project that I’m doing with some colleagues in the School of Psychology at UEL (Dave Harper and Ian Tucker). Recently (March, 2010) we managed to secure a small amount of funding to recruit two research assistants to help us collect some interview data regarding perceptions of surveillance and the use of personal data. As you may havce noticed, there has been increased public debate in recent years about the social impact of surveillance and the storage of personal information on databases due to the ever increasing technological capability of surveillance and database systems. In 2006 the Information Commissioner commissioned a Report on the ‘Surveillance Society’ followed in 2008 by a select committee inquiry (House of Commons Home Affairs Committee). Last year the Joseph Rowntree Trust published a report on the ‘Database State’ and have gone on to sponsor an ICM poll on privacy rights and even a film on the encroachment of surveillance on privacy (Erasing David) http://erasingdavid.com. These reports have generally focused on technological capabilities and human rights concerns, particularly about privacy. However, somewhat surprisingly, they did not include any empirical investigation of public perceptions of surveillance.

There has also been an ever increasing amount of theorisation about issues concerned with surveillance; beginning with ‘Foucault’s panopticon’ up to more recent Deleuzian theorisations of ‘rhizomatic surveillance assemblages’. Although these theories have been extremely useful in facilitating the development of compelling models of surveillance systems, they tell us very little about how the public generally perceive and experience them. Indeed one of the major gaps in the surveillance literature is a rigorous investigation of the dynamics of public perceptions of surveillance. So, to enable us to explore participants’ perceptions of surveillance in more detail we’re conducting a qualitative study which we hope will help to elucidate dynamic and contextual factors influencing perceptions.

We are interested in any thoughts you may have on this project, so do contact us:
D.Ellis@uel.ac.uk
D.Harper@uel.ac.uk
I.Tucker@uel.ac.uk

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What are research participants doing?

December 27, 2009 Leave a comment

I thought I’d use this blog as an opportunity to ask myself what social research participants are doing in social research when they are clearly doing something other than, or as well as, research. Research participants’ involvement in research is a rather obvious example of the co-research to which the blog title refers. Of course there are research approaches – such as participatory action research, or PAR – which explicitly require and address such participant involvement. But what happens when that involvement is manifestly and necessarily distinct from that of the researcher? And might the answer to this question have something to say about contemporary characteristics of social research itself?

 Recently I have been doing some research with Chila Kumari Burman, Leverhulme Artist in Residence in our School and with the school’s Centre for Narrative Research (http://www.uel.ac.uk/cnr/ChilaBurman-Artistinresidence.htm ) Chila has been running workshops on visual autobiography with groups of people in different East London locations, using life size shapes drawn round their bodies as a starting point, and a mixed media approach involving collage, painting and drawing.  I’ve been doing interviews with the workshop participants afterwards about how they put these visual autobiographies together – what they put in, what they left out, what the process was, what they liked about it, how they might do it differently next time. Cigdem Esin, CNR’s Research Officer, has been helping out, and so has Abu Maruf, a Masters student on our Narrative Research module. You can see examples of Cigdem’s and Maruf’s own visual autobiographies below.

The workshops happened in an art gallery, a cultural center and and a supplementary school in Spitalfields, an area that is economically, educationally, ethnically and culturally highly diverse. A lot of work has already been done on historical, socioeconomic and cultural formations within this locality.  For me, the interest was not so much in diverse participant identities, but more in what participants brought to the workshops from the locality and from outside it, from across the city and across the world. Researching participation in a cultural activity like an art workshop is a good way to go beyond everyday socioeconomic identities because the activity is exceptional; some people will see the workshop happening in their regular environment and ignore it, others will hear about it from outside and travel to it. At the same time, researching, by individual interview, the subjectivities expressed in the images, allows a breaching of everyday identity formations, since a wide range of subjectivities – past, present and future, actual, reconstructed and imagined, your own and those of others close to you, from East London, the whole city, the country and the world – all find a place. 

 What about in the art itself and the making of it? Most people constructed autobiographies mainly within the shape of the body, using materials at the workshop that they liked, drawing, painting and writing alongside and over them, sometimes  – like Cigdem – bringing materials in to add to the images or adding things later at home. Some images  – like Maruf’s – were entirely made up of their own images, written in this case, though using the paint materials in the workshop.

 The most obvious visual difference was in the name and postcode tags that dominated some of the children’s images, picturing a concern with local identities that’s quite common across London and in other cities. Visually, these tags crossed and sometimes completely shattered the boundaries of the body maps, writing names, postcodes and localities around and over individual bodies.

But these tagged images also emblematiseda broader issue: the taking over of the research by the participants. The children who made these images started off following the guidelines for the workshop and then, realising they didn’t have to, invented some of their own, about what to tag, where, and who could tag whose work. Some of them made separate, poster-sized tag pieces as well.

 This kind of journeying away from research within the research itself, is always going to happen to some degree, especially when research is being done in people’s regular leisure, cultural and educational settings. It’s particularly feasible when, as in this case, research piggybacks onto the making of art, which all the participants understood as at least partly their own creation – not subsumed by curriculum or aesthetic tradition. Also, when people work in groups, as here, it’s possible that at times the researcher will become just another citizen of the research world, outnumbered, outperformed and outspoken, in the art and the interviews, by the research participants. And when, as in this case, the research is also supplementary to art, and is happening in educational or cultural institutions, the researcher may even be less researcher, and more a co-citizen of the artmaking, educational or cultural worlds of the research context. The researcher may end up writing the research, but even without PAR the resultant work is going to be determined by contributions not of their making and often not even known about by them.

 It was very clear in the art and the interview elements of this project that people’s participation was functioning in a lot of ways independently of the research and even of the art. In interviews, they said variously – and sometimes self-contradictorily – that in the workshops they were having fun; doing something they were good at; spending time on an activity they used to love but now had less time for; enjoying art in a non-judgemental context, large-scale art, the lengthiness of the project, or materials they hadn’t used before; trying to develop their artistic practice; interacting within families; interacting between friends; exploring the content and histories of their lives; thinking about their futures. Since these participants were so active in determining the research, these participant activities and drives must shape it. But it seems salutary to imagine research itself as a hybrid of drives and activities like these: as fun, as social activity, as historical exploration, and as explorations of the future and of change. One of the children who had made an artwork dominated by name and place tags looked at it later, in the interview, and considered aloud whether that was how he always wanted to draw himself.  This research made me wonder something similar.

Research collaborations across universities walls

I run across this researchers’ network site which is quite impressive, at least in its potentials. Go to http://www.academia.edu/.  One could construct virtual departments across the world, according to people specific or broad research interest, thus facilitating information and communication and share projects. Few names from UEL and HSS are already there.

University commons

Here is an article by David Bollier on the “Renaissance of the Science Commons“. It outlines few basic dynamic of academic communities to produce and share knowledge  in spite of corporate and institutional pressures for enclosing research within propriety rights fences.  Bollier identifies three means at the disposal of researchers  to regain control over their work “1) commons made possible by new software architectures; 2) commons based on innovative legal structures; and 3) institutional commons.”

ISA forthcoming conferences

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international sociological association
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conferences
6th International Young Scholar
Socio-Economic-Panel Symposium
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Hanse Institute for Advanced Studies, Delmenhorst Bremen, Germany
March 4-5, 2010
Abstracts: November 30, 2009Information and Communication Technologies
and Development. Research Voices from Africa

Makerere University, Uganda
March 22-23, 2010
Abstracts: November 30, 2009

Beyond Citizenship: feminism and the transformation
of belonging

University of London, United Kingdom
June 30 – 2 July 2010
Proposals: December 1, 2009

publications contributions

Transcience
A Journal of global studies
Submissions: December 15, 2009

Special issue on Transnational Islam
European Journal of Economic and Political Studies
Submissions: March 15, 2010

fellowship | funding | prizes
Post-Doc en Sociologie de la famille et des relations
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Centre d’Etudes de Populations, de Pauvreté et
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Oñati, Spain
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Welcome to co-research!

Coresearch is a blog created by staff of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of East London and open to all who want to contribute and participate. The school is very large and multidisciplinary, with about 150 members with a wide range of research interests.  The range of subjects and research areas investigated  can be found from the school page here. Among the Social Sciences in the school,  interests cover subjects areas such as anthropology, political economy, social psychology, sociology, social policy, psychosocial studies, politics, innovation studies and international development. It goes without saying that such a large range of approaches call for a correspondent range of research practices,  methods, research questions and problematics.

The editors of this blog believe that in spite of the great diversity, there lie a  key common denominator among many members of staff in the school: most of the social scientists who have ended up at HSS would like to live in a different world, with fairer access to socially produced resources,  with less discrimination and power hierarchies, with more social, economic, and environmental justice, with better sensitivities to people real stories, and more empowerment from below. For this reason, we tend to see our research as contributing, even if in very small bits, to social change. But how and how do we know?  The role of this blog is to create an arena in which we become aware of the many ways to do this, to facilitate constructive engagement with different research practices and communities, to construct meanings of “knowledge exchange” beyond commodity-exchange and that explore  practices of solidarity and co-production across communities. In a word, the effort here is to create a context in which we learn from one another and find a way to turn the many fragmented worlds of  our research into a common research, a co-research, a research in common, among ourselves and those with whom we share our research practices through all sorts of professional or ordinary engagements.  None of us can predict what will emerge from this experiment attempting to build bridges, redefine boundaries, and open spaces, and yet, respect diversity and plurality. However, one thing is certain: there is no world-changing research without some form of co-research.

We encourage researchers to post texts, videos, words and notes  accounting for their enthusiasms and frustrations, their big and small questions, whether these are the ones they can safely write in research proposals, or those meta-questions that drive our curiosity and keep us awake at night. Questions and quests, successes and failures, experiments and routines, all problematised in the spirit of the value of our experience as agents of social change.

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