ESRC Festival of Social Science 2021 at Surrey Sociology

By Moslem Boushehrian, Kate Burningham, Robyn Muir and Kavin Narasimhan

Edited by Paul Hodkinson

The ESRC Festival of Social Science offers a valuable opportunity for those involved in scholarly research to engage with policy makers, practitioners and the public. Over the last few years, colleagues in the Department of Sociology at the University of Surrey have organised a range of innovative and impactful events as part of the festival. This year, this included events on Disney princesses, young people’s experiences of urban life, community-based water management and the framing of hate crime.

Young people and urban environments: film screening

Understanding young people’s lives in urban environments is important as we strive to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. The international CYCLES project seeks to understand the lifestyles and aspirations of young urban residents and to share their ideas for living well within environmental limits. CYCLES research is happening in: New Zealand; Bangladesh; India; Brazil; South Africa; Japan and the UK.

Academic research involving Kate Burningham and a range of colleagues has been accompanied by short films made by award winning filmmaker Amanda Blue featuring young people in some of the cities. Their FoSS event previewed the films from Christchurch, New Zealand and Makhanda, South Africa and involved a discussion with the filmmaker, young people who had appeared in the films and project researchers from the UK, South Africa and New Zealand.

Amanda’s films brought young people’s feelings about their cities and their place in them to life and inspired a wide ranging discussion with our international panel and audience. The event highlighted the value of including the films in our work, demonstrating their ability to engage diverse audiences in conversations about what’s needed to enable young people to live well within urban environments.

Framing Hate Crime

Framing Hate Crime event was organised by Moslem Boushehrian to bring together experts and practitioners from policing and support organisations working in the field of hate crime. In the event’s first half, the National Police Chiefs’ Council presented the UK hate crime problem on the national level. Meanwhile, the Surrey constabulary provided an update on hate crime recording, investigating, and referral processes as well as introducing their Victim and Witness Care Support unit. Moreover, the Hampshire constabulary focused on the hate crime against the public sector staff and the police officers and staff in particular. It is an under-researched area, and it was a golden opportunity to highlight it. Finally, Rise Mutual presented its initiatives in working with hate crime offenders through dialogue, multi-step programmes, and CBT.

The second part of the event hosted the support organisation. Stop Hate UK, CST, and Victim Support discussed their services and highlighted the challenges in supporting and countering hate crimes. Solution Not Sides and Stand-Up Education discussed their informative and dialogue-based initiatives to combat disinformation and prejudice. Faiths Forum London highlighted the effectiveness of activism and running campaigns that had attracted an enormous number of audiences. Finally, Refugym showcased their wellbeing camps in Greece by refugees for refugees.

A recording of the event can be found here.

Community-Based Water Management

Irrigation Management Transfer (IMT) is an institutional reform to devolve the authority and responsibility for irrigation management and service provision from government agencies to community-based institutions like Water User Associations (WUAs). IMT was first proposed in the 1970s and has continued gaining popularity across world nations. Half a century later, how successful are WUAs in different countries? Motivated by research focusing on the role and success of WUAs in West Africa, Kavin Narasimhan and colleagues organised and hosted a Festival of Social Science event to explore the opportunities and challenges of community-based water management. Our virtual event had two parts: an interactive participatory system mapping (PSM) session using the free and open source PRSM tool and a public-facing webinar open to anyone interested in the topic.

The event brought together researchers and industry experts in water resources management, climate change and sustainability from the UK, USA, Germany, Sweden, Ghana, Zambia, Nepal, India, and Australia. Our speakers and participants explored important issues related to community-led water management. They broadly agreed that community involvement, participation and ownership is critical to implement and succeed in sustainable water resources management, but also highlighted the important role of governments, funding bodies and external agencies to empower, educate and support communities in the process. They also underscored the role of scientists and scientific tools (such as satellite imagery, crop, hydrological and climate modelling, agent-based modelling, role playing games, PSM, etc.) in facilitating and enabling effective, sustainable, and climate-wise community-based water management.

Making sense of Disney Princess culture

In her event, Robyn Muir invited parents and their children aged 3-8 to discuss princess culture, and how families can use Disney Princess films to discuss wider societal issues. Robyn began by asking children to draw what a princess looked like to them and talk about what being a princess means. Together, they discussed the qualities of a princess, with Robyn connecting children’s interpretations with her wider research on princess culture, which is featured in her upcoming monograph. The discussion highlighted that the appearance and magical powers of princesses were key engagement factors for young children, indicating that, whilst the Disney Princesses have come a long way, there is still room for improvement when it comes to the beauty standards set by the films and merchandise. Robyn then shared guidance on how to use scenes in princess films to discuss important issues, inviting parents to share scenes that they thought would start a valuable discussion.

The event highlighted that understanding children’s interpretation of princess culture can aid our understanding of wider gender roles. Enabling media literacy for young consumers is key to facilitate them in their journey as active media agents and using Disney Princesses to understand representations of gender, race, sexuality, and identity is one way that consumers can do this. Feedback on the event was extremely positive and parents indicated they had taken away valuable ways to talk about wider issues through the films, and would be practicing that the next time they watch them. Robyn is currently putting plans in place to explore consumer interpretations of princess culture further through events, toolkits, and research.