I recently participated in a workshop titled ‘Engaging Tactics’ (30th April – 1st May), which explored creative methods emerging in the social sciences. Engaging Tactics was a Postgraduate and Early Career symposium organised by graduate students of the Sociology Department at Goldsmiths, University of London, and sponsored by the British Sociological Association.
On the opening morning the organisers explained that the motivation for the symposium was in part the current push for emphasis on ‘impact’ in academic work. They were interested in asking ‘how can we think about impact differently?’ The conference did just that. It pressed participants to consider the methods or ‘tactics’ we employ when researching or communicating with the public (or with our publics – whatever they might be). To reflect not only on the substance of our work, but on how we do what we do, and what effect that has.
The workshop was remarkable for its use of spaces within and around Goldsmiths and the New Cross and Deptford area – a railway tunnel, a public library, a community project, an elevator, a University corridor, a pedestrian crossing, a local café, a lecture theatre, a heating plant room, a former police station and prison cell. The organisers did a fantastic job of designing a workshop structure and presentation format that allowed participants to demonstrate and explore the tactics we’re using.
I presented some of the work I’m doing as part of ‘SiteWorks’ – an ongoing collaborative project coordinated by Bundanon Trust, based on the Shoalhaven River. Here I’m interested in what interdisciplinary collaboration – in this case artists, geographers, scientists, local craftspeople making and doing projects together – reveals about a place or a problem. I’m struck by the extent to which how we do what we do – engage, investigate, communicate – shapes the effects or impacts of our work, whether it be in academia, in the community or elsewhere. Both SiteWorks and Engaging Tactics are teaching me about how we might think differently about the ‘impacts’ of research.
Leah Gibbs is a Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Wollongong. Her interests are in the cultural and social geographies of nature, and in particular cultures of water, water governance, and interdisciplinary research methods.