Increasingly, career progression and grant funding within academia necessitate working with policy makers, industry and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). For example, the interest in universities’ engagement with industry partners has grown considerably in recent years, from both a policy and an academic perspective (Cohen et al, 2002). This means that infrastructure research – exploring issues around the governance and delivery of infrastructure assets (such as power plants and railways) and services (such as flexibility and mobility) – involves multiple encounters with different types of stakeholders in a variety of encounter spaces, some of which may have distinct institutional settings and norms. While interdisciplinary research in collaboration with policy, industry and civil society rapidly becomes the norm, this type of encounter space is very much still a black box in research on infrastructure, or is considered to be neutral. I argue that such spaces can in fact be hotspots of emotional labour, in particular for early career researchers (ECRs), and that they shape the type of engagement and potential for impact from collaborations. Using personal anecdotes and experiences, I unpack the intersectionalities involved in doing social science research and engagement on infrastructure in encounter spaces between academia, policy, industry and civil society. Positionality and intersectionality play a decisive role in how we are perceived in encounter spaces and in the terms of our engaging with others within them.
Available Open Access under CC-BY-NC licence. Engagement with non-academic groups and actors – such as policy-makers, industry, charities and activist groups, communities, and the public – in the co-production of knowledge and real-world impact is increasingly important in academic research. Drawing on empirical research, interdisciplinary methodologies, and broad international perspectives, this collection offers a critical examination of the liminal space of interactions between policy and research as spaces of difference and engagement, showing them to be far from apolitical.
The authors consider what, and who, are present in these encounter spaces and examine how pre-existing perceptions about differences in social identity, positionality and knowledge can affect engagement, equity and research outcomes.
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.
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.