Local residents entertained, challenged and moved by ESRC Festival of Social Science

More than 500 people took part in the workshops, talks and activities organised by the University of Warwick for this year’s ESRC Festival of Social Science.

University researchers took to Coventry and Warwickshire’s streets, bars and community centres to share insights from their work with enthusiastic and interested audiences. The events tackled topics from the nature of time itself and the puzzle of DNA to taxes and accents.

Dr Rachel Turner-King and a team of volunteers organised a pop-up Story Garden in Canley Community Centre, with four themed areas of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter representing different aspects of learning. She said:-

“We were thrilled with the turn-out. My aim was to welcome the public into a transformed space that brought the outdoors indoors! I also wanted to create a space that felt inviting, enchanting and beautiful.

“In the Summer garden we invited visitors to co-create stories by finding curious treasures hidden amongst the tree-trunks and branches and using these objects as prompts for creative writing. One young boy found some old keys, some shells and a spoon. We co-created a story about a prisoner who was washed up on a shore and had found 5 magic shells that would help him unlock the secret library in the castle. It was really impressive how quickly he took to storytelling in this way.

“I feel like we can really take this idea of a transportable Pop Up Story Garden to other venues around the city and it’s something we want to develop in the near future.”

Professor Victoria Squire and artist Bern O’Donoghue led an event in Leamington Spa’s Royal Pump Rooms sharing some of the 250 stories gathered from migrants and refugees about the perilous journeys they made across the Mediterranean Sea in 2015 and 2016 in search of safety and a better life and using paper boats to illustrate the loss of life in a very visual way.

She said: “Each time we do an event like this I am struck by how moved people are on hearing the experiences of people who have escaped situations of suffering and who have made perilous journeys across the Mediterranean Sea by boat. We had over 130 people visit our installation, many of whom joined the workshop to explore the migratory stories on our digital map (www.warwick.ac.uk/crossing-the-med-map).

“Many people wrote postcards to their MPs in response to what they heard. We will be sending these directly to the House of Commons to ensure that the voices of people on the move are heard by our politicians, based on the desire for change expressed by many of those attending our workshop.”

Dr Arun Advani from the Economics Department gave a lunchtime talk on the Warwick campus about tax avoidance in the UK. He said: “As someone who spends most of my day thinking about tax — an area that is famously boring — I was excited not only to see a full house, but to have so many people engaged and asking questions even once the event was over.” Dr Redzo Mujcic from Warwick Business School also welcomed the strong engagement for the audience at his event, commenting: “It was pleasing to see the audience members relating the research findings to their own experiences and engaging in fruitful discussions about current and future work on human happiness and well-being.”

Professor Vanessa Munro from Warwick Law School led (with Professor Sharon Cowan, Edinburgh Law School) two workshops – one with students and the other with members of the local community – at Leamington’s Temperance Bar. As part of the day, visitors were taken on a journey through the politics and impact of landmark legal cases, and were able to engage with artistic work produced as part of the Scottish Feminist Judgments Project (SFJP). The SFJP is a collaborative project involving over 40 academics, legal practitioners, activists and artists, who have imagined how the outcomes of legal cases may have differed if the judge had adopted a feminist perspective.

Vanessa said: “While the SFJP workshops and art exhibition have drawn great attendances across Scotland, we had no idea what to expect in bringing the project ‘down south’. But we were delighted with the response. Students from the morning workshop were introduced to key techniques in feminist judging and had the opportunity to create their own found poems from the cases they had worked through together. Those who attended the afternoon session – from the local community, third sector and state agencies, as well as creative arts – told us they were really struck by the contrast between law’s purported objectivity and the ways in which perspective matters in the determination of legal claims as much as in the creation of artistic work.”

Organised with support from the Economic and Social Research Council, the Festival is held across the UK every autumn and aims to show how the work social science academics do can explain and influence the world around us.

Reflecting on the week, Professor Matthew Nudds, Chair of the Faculty of Social Science at the University of Warwick, said: “We wanted to offer a programme that would share our passion and enthusiasm for social science research with local residents, and it’s been fantastic to hear that every event has attracted interested, engaged audiences keen to ask questions and explore ideas.

“The Festival is just one of a whole series of events and activities across the University which are open to our local community – we don’t believe in ivory towers and we want everyone to feel welcome to discover all that Warwick has to offer.”

Professor Jackie Hodgson, Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor for Research praised the work of social science academics at Warwick: “Colleagues did a fantastic job of bringing their research to a variety of audiences, demonstrating the significance and the relevance of their work to the lives of local communities. People were introduced to challenging topics in creative ways and in the events I attended, it was great to hear how engaged and excited audiences were.”

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