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  • Author or Editor: Sarah Marie Hall x
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Assumptions made about social class, accent and identity, and the links between them, have long been understood as a form of geographical referencing, a way of placing ourselves and of being placed by others, both socially and spatially (Donnelly et al, 2019; Savage, 2015; Skeggs, 2004). In this chapter I reflect on this form of identity making and social positioning in the context of research engagement with families, academic communities and policy makers alike, in an attempt to speak back to these various stakeholders. As I discuss, by locating people socially and spatially according to accent and dialect, leaps in understanding can be made about whether and how as a researcher your lived experiences are similar to those whom you research, and the extent to which you may be able to speak for others – if this is ever even preferable (also see Chapter Four in this volume). To do this I draw upon relevant literatures alongside insights from two ethnographic research projects in the north-west of England. Both studies explored everyday family relationships and practices (the first in 2007–9, the second in 2013–15), involving families and communities from varied socio-economic backgrounds. They also applied similar research designs, built predominantly on participant observation and supported by taped discussions, participatory tasks and photographs (for further details on methodology, see Hall, 2017). And, significantly, both projects were led by and carried out, with findings disseminated by the author, Sarah: a young(ish) white woman from a working-class family, born and raised in Barnsley, a small Yorkshire town in the north of England.

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The move towards creative research outputs within academia has seen a recent and rapid uptake of mediums such as comics, zines, film, podcasts, and theatre to translate and engage the wider public in academia (Arevalo et al, 2020). These mediums can both be powerful and enlightening ways to communicate research findings, though they also come with distinct challenges (Hall et al, 2021). In this chapter we discuss the process and potential of communicating crisis research in creative forms, using the example of comics. More specifically, we draw upon our own experiences of developing creative research outputs and explore this process by looking at the comic, After Maria: Everyday Recovery from Disaster. This comic translates Gemma Sou’s ethnographic research on how low-income Puerto Rican families recovered from the impacts of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the Caribbean island in September 2017. Our aim is to use the After Maria example as a means of developing critical discussions about the representational politics, pedagogy, and process of translating crisis research into comic form.

We argue that communicating crisis research via comics is a highly democratic process because it ensures your research is accessible to your participants as well as the wider public. Relatedly, the production of comics also enables a more participatory research process whereby participants can shape how their story is told. Comics are also uniquely positioned to produce a politics of representation that challenges reductive, dehumanising, and apolitical narratives about crisis-affected people that often circulate in mainstream media (Scott, 2014), and in academic research (Tuck, 2009). Furthermore, comics offer powerful rhetorical power as they are uniquely able to distil complex ideas into engaging and highly learnable forms (Chute, 2016).

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This book develops critical and original perspectives on research engagement and impact. It uses first-hand accounts from social scientists to unpack and highlight the intersectionality of their work and experiences in engaging with policy, industry, civil society and other academics. With a personal and reflexive take on experience and the politics of research engagement, including notions of social difference, power and inequality, we respond to the growing agenda and the desire of academic research for real-world influence. Our aims for this collection are, then, to provide critical reflexivity to understandings and applications of research engagement and impact strategies, within academia and with other stakeholders, namely policy makers, industry and civil society. In this introductory chapter we outline the contemporary landscapes of impact and engagement; identify important spaces of research engagement and encounter; outline key ideas about intersectionality, identity and positionality; and provide a taster of the themed sections and chapters that follow. Academic engagement with non-academic groups and actors – such as policy makers, industry, charities and activist groups, communities and the public – is arguably more important now than ever before. From public engagement activities such as talks, exhibitions and festivals, to the co-production of knowledge for and with interest groups, the imperative for real-world influence has moved from being an ideal in academic research to something of a normative expectation (also see Banks et al, 2019; Hardill and Mills, 2013). Indeed, such engagement, or rather ‘impact’ on industry, policy making and public opinion, is increasingly being formalised, as another marker of esteem and credibility upon which academic institutions, their staff and increasingly students are promoted, measured and ranked.

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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.

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