Nine: Conclusions: encountering and building on difference

Through personal anecdotes, this collection has zoomed in on certain aspects of how research is conducted and perceived, many of which often remain hidden in academia and beyond. The main message of the book is that these encounters and engagements matter, not only to researchers but also to the way the research is perceived in and percolates through into the ‘real world’. Rich in illustration of cases across different countries and contexts, the chapters in this volume offer a persuasive account of why it pays those involved in research or users of research to develop a more critical eye towards the research process and its impact. The aim of the book has been to expose the plethora of social interactions and characteristics that are manifested in encounters and the role of researchers, policy makers, industry representatives and civil society in negotiating difference in engagement and impact. A key message of the book is that difference is encountered in many ways, some less subtle than others, during every aspect of research and engagement. However, institutions are ill equipped to recognise and offer support and training in critically engaging with intersectionality and its implications in encounters and encounter spaces. This needs to change. This book serves as a testimony that the things that can shape research are often unexpected to the researchers themselves and that, while they may be invisible to others, they can be unsurmountable to some, shaping and moulding future research and reaching out beyond neatly labelled parts of research work, such as fieldwork and engagement.

Through personal anecdotes, this collection has zoomed in on certain aspects of how research is conducted and perceived, many of which often remain hidden in academia and beyond. The main message of the book is that these encounters and engagements matter, not only to researchers but also to the way the research is perceived in and percolates through into the ‘real world’. Rich in illustration of cases across different countries and contexts, the chapters in this volume offer a persuasive account of why it pays those involved in research or users of research to develop a more critical eye towards the research process and its impact. The aim of the book has been to expose the plethora of social interactions and characteristics that are manifested in encounters and the role of researchers, policy makers, industry representatives and civil society in negotiating difference in engagement and impact. A key message of the book is that difference is encountered in many ways, some less subtle than others, during every aspect of research and engagement. However, institutions are ill equipped to recognise and offer support and training in critically engaging with intersectionality and its implications in encounters and encounter spaces. This needs to change.

This book serves as a testimony that the things that can shape research are often unexpected to the researchers themselves and that, while they may be invisible to others, they can be unsurmountable to some, shaping and moulding future research and reaching out beyond neatly labelled parts of research work, such as fieldwork and engagement. As researchers who are bound by strictly defined notions of impact and its relationship with research, we can be blind about the ways in which our personal characteristics, convictions and experiences can be empowering in everyday contexts (see Chapter Eight). In this chapter we offer closing thoughts and, using the contributions in this volume, offer provocative questions for readers from academia, industry and civil society and for policy makers to take away and ponder.

The impact of encounters and being encountered

The premise of the chapters in this volume is that we need to unpack encounters and to speak openly and critically about the role of encountering in the creation of impact. As we have seen from Pritchard, Hiteva, Hall and Richardson’s chapters (Two, Five, Three and Four, respectively) in this collection, encounters (whether during fieldwork or engaging with others) can be internal and intimate. That is, we as researchers encountered others (in capacities with which we may not always be comfortable), sometimes with far reaching consequences for us as people, for our research and in the real world. That academics are increasingly expected to perform through encounters with others and that encounter spaces between research, policy, industry and civil society are multiplying and expanding means that it is important to get serious about encounters and impact. Finding shared understanding, rules and language about encountering others and being encountered is an important part of the process of working towards more inclusive and ethical impact. It has the potential to change not only researchers’ experiences in engaging with impact but also the way in which impact is co-created and serves a greater group of people (as advocated by Moss and Prince and by Catungal in Chapters Seven and Eight, respectively). What the collection of contributions has compellingly shown is that researchers, policy and industry representatives and civil society alike have a lot to gain from thinking through how encounter spaces can be made ‘safe spaces’ for engaging with difference and spaces for change. A key message of this volume is that we need to apply the same level of criticality and reflexivity to our impact and engagement activities as we would to our data analysis.

Like all types of social interactions, encounters are not neutral or limited to the here and now. If unchallenged they can inform and shape multiple future encounters. On the flip side, encounters can also be transformational in a personal and professional context, and as such can and should be thought of as points of possible metamorphosis and openings to change and as opportunities to challenge hidden biases and preconceived notions, as well as dominant models of operation and being. Having a non-critical perspective on what underpins encounters and being encountered leads to missed opportunities for change. It can also lead to limited impact. As Ibegbuna points out in the Foreword, we collectively need to become more aware of the gaps and tensions between different stakeholders and learn to build upon such differences for genuine and meaningful engagement and impact. Encounters and intersectionality, as has been shown in this volume, are one of the building blocks of engagement and impact, and without one we are unable to fully understand the other.

Institutional investment in safe and meaningful encounter spaces can allow for differences to be acknowledged and embedded in the process and outcomes of research engagement. They can lay the foundations of the type of partnerships that share deep, genuine connection of ideas, bridging and connecting across class, gender, race, (dis)ability or discipline that limit our ability to see and act differently. Such partnerships can change practices of engagement: from seeking out strategic partners to disseminating findings and extending research to hard-to-reach groups and areas; to building partnerships by recognising the intersectionality of different stakeholders; and to the multiple, often subtle, ways in which ‘sameness’ (see Richardson, Chapter Four) and/or difference (see Hiteva, Chapter Five) can be a building or stumbling blocks for (dis)engagement. To borrow once again from Ibegbuna’s astute observations, building genuine connections between different stakeholders would require looking beyond ‘over-simplistic labelling’ and engaging with the multifaceted reality of people’s lives. We could not agree more that an intersectional approach would be instrumental in fostering richer and more impactful connections between stakeholders.

The first step is to start a conversation engaging policy makers, industry and society on the need to reflect on encounters between them, to open up understanding of encounters and encountering. As researchers, we are often judged on aspects outside of our work and identity (gender, disability, class, race, how junior/senior we are) both within and outside academia. Furthermore, unchecked biases in both spaces and encounter spaces ‘in between’ can have a disproportionate effect on researchers who are in the early stages of their career (ECRs) and shape who and what we are not able to engage with or whom or what we actively choose to disengage with (see Pritchard and Hiteva, Chapters Two and Five, respectively). Therefore, we hope that this collection is the beginning of a larger discussion between academia, policy makers, industry and civil society.

Lessons from across the contributions

In the Foreword the practitioner Ruth Ibegbuna warns about how a lack of meaningful engagement exercises between researchers, policy and communities could deepen existing divides along lines of race, class, gender and so on and are doomed to perpetuate a system that creates limited value for everyone involved. She points out that the cost of non-action is fleeting and often transactional connections ‘rather than a deeper shared understanding of the issues and solutions’. An intersectional approach as a starting point for encounters, engagement and impact aims to debunk the myth of homogeneous communities ‘that share the same perspective and outlook, to be studied and to be steered’ and help develop ‘the appropriate mechanisms for understanding and engaging the multilayered views of the individuals that make up the community’. She urges us to proactively seek and see the intersectionality of encounters and to do the ‘the extra work’ needed to ensure that we do not ‘ask the same unanswerable one-dimensional questions’ and that we create authentic relationships, build trust and confidence with communities for genuine and meaningful engagement.

In Part I, ‘Encounters with difference’, Erin Pritchard’s chapter (Two) talks about the intersections of gender, disability and (hetero)sexuality in engagements with potential participants. Using her personal experience during her PhD fieldwork she illustrates why female researchers’ safety needs to be part and parcel of research ethics. This is in contrast with current ethics approval procedures which are designed to safeguard vulnerable participants rather than researchers. Pritchard’s experiences show how intersecting identities of disability, gender and age in encounter spaces that at first sight might appear to be ‘safe’ can turn the tables on who is vulnerable in encounters between researchers and participants. Pritchard’s story begins to illustrate the multifaceted ways in which intersectionality can have a disproportionate effect on ECRs in encounter spaces, a theme developed further by several other contributions in the collection. The intersection of the researcher’s various identities and the specific encounter space of the annual gathering of people with dwarfism skewed the power balance between researcher and participant, changing the scope of Pritchard’s study and its impact on the disability community. Pritchard’s experience should serve to raise awareness for associations for people with dwarfism of the intersectional drivers of unwanted encounters during their meetings. She calls for the development of a safeguarding and whistleblowing policy during meetings, including measures such as a women’s officer and responsive complaints and appeals procedures.

In the second contribution Sarah Marie Hall (Chapter Three) unpacks class, accent and dialect as opportunities and obstacles in research encounters. Hall’s contribution speaks of the importance of being placed, often according to class, accent and dialect. When these social markers intersect, at times also with gender and whiteness, they can manifest as opportunities and obstacles within research and serve as means of social positioning within research encounters. Although they are often invisible and sidelined by more prominent markers of difference (such as gender and race), Hall reminds us how class, accent and dialect can also be powerful in shaping research perceptions. Personal and almost inseparable characteristics of researchers’ identity can also emerge as a form of emotional labour in encounters, which falls unevenly on some. Hall calls for the explicit inclusion of class, accent and dialect as important elements of equality and diversity remits, training and procedures, within institutions and across society, therefore making this a collective endeavour rather than a personal burden for a few.

These contributions raise a number of questions for several institutions, once again reminding us that change would need to take place across the board as well as within research and professional institutions like universities, not-for-profit organisations and businesses. We ask academic institutions and funders: How can we adjust existing research ethics policies to offer adequate protection for researchers in engaging with research participants? What training can research institutions provide for researchers (and their supervisory teams) to help them deal with the vulnerability that emerges from intersecting identities and specific encounter spaces? How can we (as researchers) partner with civil society associations to inform their policies and understanding of vulnerability as a result of intersection between identities characteristics (such as disability and gender) and encounter spaces that are meant to be safe? How can class, accent and dialect be productively included in equality and diversity remits, training and procedures, within institutions and across society?

In Part II, ‘Experts and expertise’, Michael Richardson (Chapter Four) explores the relationship between ethics and expertise in three encounter contexts: post-industrial, intergenerational and post-colonial spaces. He argues that the notion of expertise can unlock the limiting nature of preconceptions. Moving between the three encounter contexts, his accounts of expertise built on perceptions of ‘sameness’, assuming shared values and life experiences and revealing yet another facet of the intimate nature of encounters between researchers and participants. Adopting an intersectional approach, Richardson explains how commonality sits within and across multiple research encounters, and is sometimes unexpected to researchers. However, he warns, rapport can also belie the significance or meaning of a research encounter. Richardson experienced ‘sameness’ as key in expert making, alongside the emotional intelligence of the researcher and the importance of situated knowledge.

This is in stark contrast to the experiences described by Hiteva in Chapter 5 on encounter(ing) spaces and experts. Using personal experiences of engagement on infrastructure outside and within academia, she argues that encounter spaces between policy, industry and academia hold open the possibility of destabilising boundaries and creating new spaces for negotiating across difference. She reveals such encounter spaces as spaces of intense emotional labour, which if unquestioned can reproduce practices of discrimination. The negative impacts of this can stretch beyond specific encounters and stakeholders, resulting in self-imposed isolation and censorship in research and engagement. She calls for pre-emptive action to bring clarity and awareness of intersectionality to encounter spaces, and to embed support measures for emotional labour in mentoring schemes, impact training activities and ECR training in academic institutions. In a similar vein to Hall, Hiteva argues for building a shared understanding of the importance of encounters and institutional capacity, both within and outside of academia to raise awareness of encounter space dynamics pre-emptively, with the introduction of guidelines and best practices for managing encounter spaces. Failing to recognise diversity as an integral part of the solutions that are needed for societal challenges such as climate change and well-being could mean that infrastructure research agendas miss opportunities for new research directions, ways of engagement and inclusive impact on the lives of people.

Gordon Waitt’s chapter on transdisciplinary research encounters in a fuel poverty project in Australia examines the intersectionality of a feminist domestic energy upgrade framework (Chapter Six). Through two research encounters, Waitts illustrates how intersectionality, together with situated knowledge, may reproduce or contest conventional approaches to knowledge about domestic energy research practice, policy and publics. He calls for energy knowledge to be formed from dialogue across the social and physical sciences, and for future research coalitions to be built using an intersectional approach and feminist research agendas. Using the example of collective video narratives, he unpacks how structures of power and masculinist discourses continue to dominate research engagements with policy makers and to overlook questions about larger capitalist agendas and structures that are integral to energy injustices.

Building from these contributions, we ask researchers and the researched: Who are the experts in fieldwork? What do assumptions of expertise rest upon?

To research funders and institutions we put the question: What support can be introduced in research institutions to support researchers in managing the emotional labour of research in engagement?

We ask institutions and organisations routinely working with researchers or planning to do so in the future to consider all aspects of such engagement, including the emotional labour that comes hand in hand with expert work.

In Part III, on ‘Research, power and institutions’, Moss and Prince (Chapter Seven) introduce the concept of nomadic positionings and becoming to emphasise the need for flexibility in our understanding of disability and to explore the possibility of nomadic disability policy. They show how intersecting realities of physical capabilities of the human body, the built environment (buildings, public spaces and transit systems), common forms of information and communication, general attitudes, and popular assumptions and practices can be encountered as disabling for those with episodic, cyclical and invisible disabilities. They offer multiple, useful ways of taking these two academic notions and transplanting them at the heart of disability policy in Canada, so as to provide more extensive protection for and assistance to people with disabilities. They invite the reader to reject the pursuit of ‘fixing’ identities through social locations and to create a more open and flexible agenda for understanding how disability is encountered and could be engaged with. They invite researchers to unpack and engage with the multiplicity and fluidity of disability and its impact on the lives of the disabled.

In the final contribution of the collection John Paul Catungal explores the intersecting roles of academics in public policy, as critics, advocates and enforcers, and raises the question of ethics in engaging with policy (Chapter Eight). Catungal uses an intersectional approach to offer a timely and engaging critique of the public and policy relevance of research. He illustrates how attention to the multiplicity, complexity and co-constitution of social differences enriches our understandings of governmental instruments and their uneven impacts, and emphasises the complex policy environments within which researchers work, dreaming up policy, providing critiques and evaluating it. Intersectionality demands that we approach academic engagements with policy with careful attentiveness to power and how such encounters impact upon, shape and are shaped by the representations, experiences and needs and desires of marginalised peoples and communities.

This leads us to ask institutions (in academia and beyond): What guidelines, rules and best practice for managing encounters can be introduced within individual institutions and shared institutional spaces to enable better understanding and management of intersectionality and engagement? How do we create a flexible understanding of encounters and encounter spaces that allows us to account for the multiple and complex ways in which experiences become disabling at the intersections of perceptions, human bodies and the built environment?

Where to from here?

The individual contributions in this edited volume unpack different facets of understanding how intersectionality shapes the fundamentals of impact: from researchers and the research process to the making and accepting of expertise. It highlights the complex spaces of engagement between research, policy (makers), industry and civil society. First and foremost, we have shown that all of us – researchers, policy, industry and civil society – need to pay critical attention to a lot of things that are currently overlooked. While academia has a long, albeit inconsistent, tradition in self-reflection and learning, this kind of inward gazing can be difficult to implement in practice in policy, industry and civil society, especially if the potential gains for all of us are not clear: a better environment for encountering each other, and meaningful and inclusive impact. So we ask: How can we work together in dreaming up a future where intersectionality and encounter spaces are used to create better outcomes for research and society? And how do we make it happen?

Content Metrics

May 2022 onwards Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 155 135 11
PDF Downloads 53 29 4

Altmetrics