We had a chat with Pauline Hadaway and Sarah Feinstein, organisers of a new research community, ‘Common Ground’. Back in May 2016, Pauline and Sarah convened a one-day conference, partly funded by the NWCDTP, at the University of Manchester.
In their own words, ‘Common Ground’ is ‘a research community aimed at building dialogue between academic researchers and communities who are the subject of research in Ireland, focusing on the experiences of the North.’ The aim is to ‘foster better understandings of the role of academic research and the arts in the representation of conflict and reconciliation’.
Why did you establish Common Ground?
PAULINE: The decision to establish Common Ground arose from conversations Sarah and I had about the experience of being a researcher in Northern Ireland and the sense that many of the same people were being asked the same questions over and over again. When I was working as a cultural manager in Belfast, I was regularly called upon to contribute to research and consultation, which was often frustrating because you were rarely invited to take part in discussions beyond the interview or focus group. More often than not, even the finished research was not shared. Now, as a researcher myself, and having come across published research where I have been quoted and cited, I feel I can see the problem from both sides. I have also observed that other academics have been questioning this idea of Northern Ireland as a case study for conflict, rather than a place – unexceptional at times – where people lived and worked. I think Sarah and I saw the Common Ground conference as an opportunity to bring people together to listen and talk about some of these issues.
Your statement of purpose states that the research network will include a wide range of people not traditionally seen as part of the academy (activists, professionals and representatives from the researched communities). What do you hope this range will add to the network?
PAULINE: In spite of the ‘engagement agenda’, a gulf remains between academics and people involved in the day-to-day operation of arts, cultural and community organisations. Universities and cultural organisations work very differently and have very different structures. While academics and cultural managers, artists and community workers share lots of interests and cross overs, it’s actually very difficult for people to negotiate shared space where they can talk productively and develop their ideas. So even though people are breaking down boundaries in the way they work as artists, activists and researchers, they often find themselves siloed in particular specialisms. People find this frustrating because it acts as a barrier to meaningful engagement. There’s nothing new about these insights, but as someone with a foot in both camps, I think it’s helpful to bring different people together wherever possible. However, I think we are now coming face to face with much bigger challenges. The result of the EU Referendum came as a very unwelcome shock for most people working in Britain’s universities. Amidst anxieties about the political ramifications of the result, many academics and students are experiencing a profound sense of hurt and bewilderment. As the dust settles, it is becoming more and more clear that large sections of our society have grown detached and alienated from each other. We all belong to the same society and with our commitment to engagement and dialogue, we cannot walk away from the problem. So it’s not just about widening our own networks, but looking for new ways to connect, listen and talk with a much broader public. As bridges between universities and the wider public realm, arts, cultural and community organisations have an important role to play and I’d like to think that Common Ground could open up opportunities for supporting that work.
The NWCDTP partly funded your one-day conference at the University of Manchester in May. What sort of issues were raised by the attendees, and how has this affected your vision of the research network?
SARAH: In some ways, the day confirmed our experience as researchers as being quite common and certainly validated the benefit of having an interdisciplinary discussion. On the day, one of the issues that came up that struck me were the discussion about the over and under-representation of Ireland and Northern Ireland within the discourse of British history. Another memorable issue that came up for me was the role of the impact of academic research and the value of reimagining more traditional academic formats creatively. An example of the later came out of the discussion of the launch for the Postgraduate Journal for Irish Studies, particularly in using the published work as a springboard for a broader discussion instead of an author reading or recounting their published research. One observation a participant made about the Common Ground event was a desire to rethink the panel discussion format to have a more inclusive and less hierarchical platform for dialogue, particularly about participant’s research practice. Pauline and I would very much like to explore this at the next event. Because of the generous support of NWCDTP we were able to film both the panel discussion (https://commongroundmcr.wordpress.com/video-panel-discussion-10-may-2016/) and the conversation after the film screening (https://commongroundmcr.wordpress.com/video-in-conversation-dr-laurence-mckeown-and-dr-alison-jeffers/), which we have posted links for on our website – https://commongroundmcr.wordpress.com/about/.
What are your plans for the future?
SARAH: We are planning a follow up event for November using a similar format: a discussion in the morning and artist talk in the afternoon. We would like to work with interested member of the network to think of ways to deliver on the observation of that participant about restructuring the typical panel to facilitate a more direct opportunity for dialogue. We are also planning a two-day event in late Spring 2017 in Belfast in partnership with Queen’s University Belfast and Open University Ireland. There seems to be a hunger to discuss across disciplinary and sector boundaries and we look forward to working with peers and other partners to critically examine research practice and representation. For anyone interested in learning more or joining the network, please contact us at email@example.com.
Sarah Feinstein has worked in the cultural sector for over seventeen years, acquiring skills in collections management and arts administration. She worked as a museum specialist in Painting Conservation at the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.) and as research assistant for the Repatriation Office at the National Museum of Natural History (Washington, D.C.). Most recently, Sarah worked as a researcher at The Pankhurst Center (Manchester) and the Prisons Memory Archive (Belfast). Her research on the repertoires of agency and resistance in feminist music production, distribution and archival practice was published in the edited volume Suffragette Legacy: How Does the History of Feminism Inspire Current Thinking in Manchester in 2015. She holds a BA in Liberal Arts from The Evergreen State College, a MA in Arts Administration and Policy from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a MA in Creative and Critical Analysis from Goldsmiths University London. She currently a doctoral candidate at the Institute for Cultural Practices at the University of Manchester and serves as a trustee for the Manchester District Music Archive. You can read about her PhD here.
Pauline Hadaway has worked in arts and education since 1990 and as director of Belfast Exposed Photography between 2000 and 2013, overseeing its transformation from a small scale, though politically significant, city based project into an internationally renowned gallery of contemporary photography. For her doctoral research at the University of Manchester, Pauline is currently exploring different uses of arts, heritage and culture as tools for peace building in Northern Ireland. She has been published widely including: ‘Policing the Public Gaze’ (2009), a report for campaign group, The Manifesto Club; ‘Escaping the Panopticon’ (2012); and ‘Re-imagining Titanic, Re-imaging Belfast’ a chapter in Relaunching Titanic: Memory and Marketing in the Post Conflict City (2013). Currently, Pauline is a Research Associate with Digital Women’s Archive North and Researcher in Residence with the National Cooperative Archive, Holyoake House, Manchester. Pauline is the co-founder of The Liverpool Salon, a new forum for public debate on Merseyside. You can read more about Pauline here.