New Podcast Episode: Professor Christine Robbins discusses Development Fund Project ‘Fragile Faiths’

In the third and final episode of our IICE Development Fund podcast series, Professor Rob Gleave (RG), the director of the Institute, speaks to Professor Christine Robbins (CR) about the Development Fund project Fragile Faiths, which examines processes of continuity and change in the ‘fragile faiths’- a term here applied to certain ethnoreligious groups violently displaced by war, placing their cultural survival in doubt- with essential participation from community members as researchers and partners. The podcast episode explores how the project aims to promote cultural preservation in the diaspora through shared dialogue and policymaking, where deemed appropriate, and to share community strategies for managing cultural change whilst preserving identity.  

It must be noted that this episode was recorded in March 2021, prior to the ‘Fragile Faiths in Dialogue: Heritage Loss in Endangered Communities’ workshop, which was held on zoom, 22 June 2021. This restricted workshop focused on three endangered religious communities – Yezidis, Mandaeans and Syrian Christians – who have suffered displacement, genocide and ethnic/religious cleansing, and who face an uncertain future in exile or attempting to rebuild in an insecure homeland. A panel of members of the Yezidi, Syrian Christian and Mandaean communities briefed attendees and a small audience of NGOs, government organisations and parliamentarians on common concerns about cultural loss and their requests for action in safeguarding these ‘fragile faiths’ for the future. Whilst the interview does not cover the workshop itself, it holds valuable insights into the motivations and details of a vital Development Fund project.  

Listen to the podcast here or read the full interview transcript below.  

 

There is just one week remaining to submit a proposal to our internal call for this year’s IICE Development Fund Projects- To find out more and apply, download and complete the 2021-22 IICE Development Fund Guidance with Application form. All applications must be submitted using the form provided. Please submit by email to . The deadline for Proposals is 09:00 on 6th September 2021.

Interested applicants can discuss their ideas with Professor Rob Gleave, International Institute for Cultural Enquiry (r.gleave@exeter.ac.uk) before applying.


Introduction  

RG: Hello, you’re listening to a podcast from the International Institute for Cultural Enquiry, based at the University of Exeter. My name is Rob Gleave and I’m director of the Institute. The Institute supports interdisciplinary teams of researchers working in cultural enquiry in their engagement with partner organisations outside the University. 

In this podcast, Professor Christine Robbins of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies (Kurdish Studies) at the University of Exeter discusses the project Fragile Faiths in which she and Professor Emma Loosely, also of the University of Exeter (Theology), explore ways in which the experience of small religious groups in the Middle East might be better understood by policymakers. 

I should add: normally we will be able to record these podcasts in the Digital Humanities Studio on campus, but because of the current lockdown we are doing this from our own homes with our own equipment, so the sound quality may not be as we would like. 

So apologies for that, but in any case, I hope you’ll be able to enjoy her description of a highly rewarding and important collaboration that she’s been involved in with members of these small faith groups and with policymakers. 

 


Interview  

RG: Well hello everybody, my name is Rob Gleave and I’m director of the International Institute for Cultural Enquiry at the University of Exeter, and I’m here today with Professor Christine Robbins who works in the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University and was one of the recipients of the Institute’s Development [Project] grants. Her project is called Fragile Faiths.  Continue reading “New Podcast Episode: Professor Christine Robbins discusses Development Fund Project ‘Fragile Faiths’”

IICE Development Projects Podcast Episode 2: Professor Gabriella Giannachi and Rob Gleave on ‘Understanding How to Improve Support to Veterans During Transition into Civilian Life’

In the second episode of our IICE podcast series, Professor Rob Gleave (RG), the director of the Institute, speaks to Professor Gabriella Giannachi (GG) about the Development Fund project Understanding How to Improve Support to Veterans During Transition into Civilian Life, which examines how cultural heritage and art can be activated to assist veterans in their transition into civilian life.

They discuss co-working with a group of veterans on a constantly evolving project; utilising heritage as a concept, practice and a method to support Veterans; responding to COVID research limitations by tapping into the possibilities of knowledge transfer, and exploring how research and policy can make a meaningful difference to a group of citizens marginalised by the society in which they live. 

Listen to the podcast here or read the full interview transcript below. 

 


Introduction 

RG:   Hello. You’re listening to a podcast from the International Institute for Cultural Enquiry, based at the University of Exeter. My name is Rob Gleave, and I am the director of the Institute. The Institute supports interdisciplinary teams of researchers working in cultural enquiry in their engagement with partner organisations outside of the University. 

In this podcast, Professor Gabriella Giannachi  discusses her engagement (through the Development Fund Project ‘Understanding How to Improve Support to Veterans During Transition into Civilian Life’) with military veterans in the South West of England. The Institute funded her team to explore with the veterans how cultural enquiry could help them in their transition from life in the military to civilian life. 

 *I should add that we would normally be able to record these podcasts in the Digital Humanities Studio on campus. But because of the current lockdown we are doing this from our own homes with our own equipment, so the sound quality may not be as we would like. Apologies for that but, in any case, I hope you enjoy this description of a highly rewarding and important collaboration between University of Exeter researchers and local veterans’ organisations.* 


Interview 

RG:  Welcome everybody. I am joined today by Professor Gabriella Giannachi from the Department of English at the University of Exeter. Gabriella was one of the recipients of the International Institute for Cultural Enquiry Development Fund grants last year in 2020, and she has been doing a very interesting project on understanding the role of culture and heritage in supporting veterans during transition into civilian life. 

So, Gabriella, can you just tell us a little bit about your project? What did it aim to achieve and what your main activities were? 

GG: Yes. So, I’ll give you a tiny little bit of background as to why we decided to do the project because that might help to explain our aims as well. I came across a particular group of veterans as a part of an HLF (Heritage Lottery Fund) funded project in which we used heritage as a way to bring veterans together and help them to open up about themselves through a coffee morning experience and, whilst we were doing that, the veterans kept saying: ‘what about this?’, ‘can we not go to a museum’, ‘what about a walk?’, ‘how can we do this other thing’ and suddenly I realised that we could do so much more together with them. Hence this project, which was basically seeing how far we could go in utilising heritage and also art as both a concept, practice and even, indeed, a method to support Veterans- including some veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental health related issues- in helping them through transitioning into civilian life.  

So that was the original aim, and to do that we partnered with the Armed Forces Community Support Hub, which was the hub supporting these particular veterans in our HLF funded project. They have very extensive experience working with veterans in the South West, with 400+ clients in the South West alone. We decided to form an interdisciplinary team to unpack this, and that involved Dr Sarah Bulmer from politics and Dr Anke Karl from the mood disorder department in Psychology. We aimed to have two phases in the project: one in which we would interview the veterans and understand their thoughts in relation to the challenges of transitioning, and their thoughts on what heritage and culture could do, and then a second phase in which we would do a more hands on kind of forum and in-person activity.  

Then, of course, the pandemic happened and all our aims to meet face-to-face and have gatherings and so-on had to change quite rapidly. On a practical level, these circumstances meant that it would be difficult to find a research associate to undertake the research activity, so I decided that it would be more interesting, perhaps, from the point of view of the Institute, to carry out some knowledge transfer. And, so, I taught one of the veterans how to do both a literature review, and how to do an interview within the parameters of ethics the University had set out for us to do. This, in the end, proved to be a much better proposition in the sense that, of course, the veterans opened much more to one of their own- the person I trained was a veteran herself- and she, in the process, was able to learn how to conduct an efficient literature review. So that first part allowed us to create a document in which we mapped out what these challenges and opportunities were, and then we had a second meeting with the entire group in which we workshopped these various points and they also identified art. 

RG:  So, they weren’t specifically interested necessarily in just military heritage, it was much more broadly understood, was it, in terms of what might help them with this transition?  

GG: Yes, so there were two types of heritage that for us were interesting. Military heritage was one of them, but not exclusively. Natural environments and natural heritage were perhaps the areas that we started with, but we also identified the veteran as a form of heritage. Veterans have their own language; they have their own and understandings of certain terms, and they have their own cultural and practical habits in the way they engage with each other. I have found that when I walked into a room full of veterans and I didn’t understand what they were saying (and it’s not just because I’m Italian, although they might crack a joke and say ‘yes it is’) that we wanted to go both ways. We wanted to identify who veterans are, what they can bring to society, what they like to do, what they want to do, what they need to do, what would make them happier people, and also to understand what institutions and organisations could do to help veterans. We worked very closely with the National Trust on this, and they have been fantastic in helping us to see how this could be done. But for this project, we again decided to go the art way and to organise an art exhibition based on some works that they [the veterans] created themselves. 

RG: Yes. We are going to put up some of those exhibition images, and you can see them at the link on the institute website. 

There’s one question which would strike a lot of researchers in the humanities, which is: how did your research link into what the project aimed to do? How did you feel you used your research? 

GG: So my background is in performance and new media, and in these particular fields the idea of documentation and archiving is really important because performance is a very ephemeral thing. It occurs, and unless you somehow capture it, document and preserve it for the future, there would be no future memory of it. I have done a lot of work in this field with various cultural organisations, particularly museums, but I decided at some point that I wanted to work with a different kind of organisation, and that is how my work with the football club started, which was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, where we identified sporting football as a form of heritage that was definitely worth preserving. 

And, as a part of that, we decided that we would work with the veterans to try and see how different groups of people- veterans, but also people with mild forms of dementia- would engage with these heritage types, not only in talking about them and handling them, but also maybe in collecting them. 

Once I started working with veterans, it was very clear to me again that we as a society tend to cut them out of cultural heritage. It became really important to me to find a way to reconnect them, but also to show cultural organisations how they could reconnect with veterans. 

RG: It’s interesting because it seems like you initially had one project, and that grew into another project, which grew into another project, and this is the way in which a lot of engagement with external partners works… One project leads to another because you see the possibilities of using your research to engage with external partners? 

 GG: You know, Rob, you learn by listening, I think. When you work with partners you may have your own desires and objectives to begin with, but quite often you learn a lot by just listening to what they would like to do, what they need to do, or they have never done and dream of doing, and that is how one project came out of another. They became an absolute priority because of the absolutely dire conditions in which veterans tend to live in our society. But I just wanted to add, because before you asked me about outcomes and I hadn’t mentioned this, is that one of the directors of the Hub took the some of the findings of this project and developed a ‘straw man’ out of this, which I understand in military terms to mean a report for Whitehall. 

 RG: That’s fantastic. So therefore, you’ve got: the art exhibition, which is like a cultural product, if you like, of the engagement; you’ve got, hopefully, a policy impact somewhere along the line, but also the engagement with individuals and particularly the person that you enabled to be able to do literary reviews and interviews within an academic framework.  

Was it a growth period for them as well? 

GG: I hope so. You would need to ask them that question. It was certainly a growth period for me because I had never worked with veterans before, nor had I thought that I ever would. I have learned a lot from them, but for me this was a really important way to create a tie between research and a group of people who are living in our society but are largely neglected by it and see how much of a difference we can make, not only within the cultural sphere or within the political sphere, but also just by simply working together. By bringing together the capacity that we have as academics- as people who write grant applications and people who know how to talk to the press- how we can collaborate with partners, and really mutually benefit from each other. 

RG: What’s important about your project is how you’ve identified a group which is marginalised in society more generally, and you’ve been able to reach out and provide something for them and they have also enriched your research life as well through that engagement.  

Had they had very much contact with the university before? 

 GG:  I don’t think so. And I think since then, because I quite quickly worked out where they could apply for grants, for example, and they since then have been able to apply to a couple of The Armed Forces Covenant Fund grants and have been able to set up a very wide range of activities with different groups of cultural heritage in the South West, and then also very quickly move all these online when the pandemic took place, which range from yoga and mindfulness to cooking to digging up archaeological findings, to working in a forest, and helping Rangers on Killerton (a National Trust Estate with expansive parkland located in Exeter). It has been a huge, fantastic and very quick journey within the arch of the year, and this project has really enabled us to then share some of these approaches with Sarah and with Anke in order to learn from them. Anke of course is a psychologist, and Sarah has done a lot of work in this field with veterans- she has an AHRC grant to work with veterans in heritage. It has been a fantastic learning journey for me and a wonderful challenge. I don’t know what difference I made to others, but it has made a huge difference to me, for sure.  

 RG: Where do you see the research going now? Do you think you’ll be able to develop this sort of approach to what you’ve learned from this project into future research activities? 

 GG: Yes. Definitely. If you go to the Veterans Hub Home page, I’m actually listed as a member of the team now, so you don’t start a collaboration like this to then interrupt it and give it up. I don’t know exactly where we’re going with this because the funding portfolio that would have normally been available to us is changing rapidly, but the Covenant has been a great source of funding for the veterans, and I’ve been able to map all sorts of activities in there that I think are necessary to them in the first instance. So that is where we are at the moment. If you ask me again in a few months’ time when the pandemic is over, I will be able to have a better and longer answer. 

 RG: Well Gabriella you really have done fantastically well considering the conditions under which you had to adjust and change the project various times, and it’s fantastic to hear about it. 

Thank you very much for your time. Anyone that wants to have a look at some of the artistic products of the collaboration can have a look at the Institute website and you’ll get a link there to the online gallery, which is a wonderful resource. Thank you very much. 

GG: Thank you. And thank you to all the veterans. 

 Well, there you have it. Thank you very much Gabriella, that was one of the podcasts linked to our development projects. The other podcasts are available on the institute website and, if you’ve got any queries, then by all means email us on culturalenquiry@exeter.ac.uk. That’s cultural enquiry, all one word, at exeter.ac.uk. 

And I hope you’ll enjoy the other podcasts that are available, linking to our other development projects. 

Introducing the IICE Podcast Series: Development Fund Projects in Conversation

In the first in a series of International Institute for Cultural Enquiry (IICE) podcasts, Professor Rob Gleave, the director of the Institute, speaks to Dr Elena Gadjanova and Dr Stacey Hynd about their Development Fund project ‘Whose Lives Matter’, which examines virality, ethics and scale in Humanitarian Campaigns in the digital age through a case study of #BringBackOurGirls. They discuss interdisciplinary co-working as a group of Africanists on this project, fieldwork and quantitative analysis in a COVID-landscape, big-data algorithms, influencer politics, conceptual vocabularies, response to changes in funding and much more. 

Listen to the podcast episode ‘Dr Elena Gadjanova and Dr Stacey Hynd discuss their Development Fund Project ‘Whose Lives Matter’ here or read the full interview transcript below. 

 


Introduction 

RG:   Hello. You’re listening to a podcast from the International Institute for Cultural Enquiry, based at the University of Exeter. My name is Rob Gleave, and I am the director of the Institute. The Institute supports interdisciplinary teams of researchers working in cultural enquiry in their engagement with partner organisations outside of the University.

In this podcast, Dr Stacey Hynd of the Department of History discusses the project Whose Lives Matter?, and we’re also joined by Dr Elena Gadjanova of the Department of Politics.  Together they’ve been looking at humanitarian campaigns, which ones get coverage and why some are more successful than others.

*I should add that normally we would be able to record these podcasts in the digital Humanities Studio on campus, but because of the current lockdown we’re doing this from our own homes with our own equipment so the sound quality may not be as we would like. Apologies for that but, in any case, I hope you enjoy her description of a complex, cutting-edge project using large data, as described by Elena, which sets to produce results which have direct policy implications for both government and those working in the aid sector. *


Interview

RG:  Hello everybody. I’m joined today by Stacey who works in the College of Humanities. She was a recipient of one of our Development Fund [Project] grants, and the title of her project was Whose Lives Matter? Race, Gender and Childhood in (Post-)Humanitarian Campaigning at Global and Local Levels- A Case Study of #BringBackOurGirls. She was part of an interdisciplinary team, which we’re going to hear about in a second but, Stacey, if we start off with the question about the project…

Tell me a bit more about it and what its aims and objectives are.  

SH:  This project really aims to answer the question of why we care about some children in humanitarian campaigns and not others. So, for example, why, in 2014, was there this enormous outcry about the situation with the Chibok girls and their abduction by Boko Haram- with all the international, global media coverage, the millions of tweets, the support from Michelle Obama and Melania Trump whilst- at the same time- there was no similar outcry over known cases of abducted Nigerian boys, or over Yazidi girls sold into sexual slavery by ISIS, or very little concern over displaced or migrant children in Latin America?

Essentially, we are trying to identify why some issues become major global humanitarian campaigns and others don’t. What is it that makes some [humanitarian campaigns] so salient and ‘attractive’? Why does the international community and globalist, civil society care about some children while the suffering of others goes unremarked? What is the weight of the political, cultural and emotional calculus of concern which determines which children are judged befitting of rescue? Why do some campaigns succeed when others do not? And how does this concern and outrage among transnational civil society translate and turn into effective intervention? One of the things that we’re also interested in looking at is the relationship between this kind of global campaigning- particularly in the news, newscast and social media-heavy age- and local, grassroots-driven humanitarian campaigning around these issues.

We’re looking very much at the relationship between the global, like the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag campaign, and the work of sustained and committed advocacy from local Nigerian advocacy groups working on this issue as well. So that is what we are trying to do with this, and we are bringing together an interdisciplinary team from history, politics, sociology, and ethnography to kind of draw us all together. We are being very ably supported by a number of student interns as well, who are giving us the invaluable new perspective on these campaigns.

RG: What was it like putting together an interdisciplinary team, and what were the challenges and the benefits of doing that?  

SH: This project emerged over a cup of coffee in the Amory Building Cafe one day between myself, Dr Elena Gadjanova (in politics) and Dr Sefina Dogo Aliyu (who is one of our earlier career colleagues). We very much wanted to find a way of working together as Africanists, because there aren’t too many of us in Exeter. This came out over a conversation on the work that I’ve been doing on the history of child soldiering in Africa, work Elena had been doing around social media campaigns and political campaigns in Ghana and, with Sefina, the work that she’d been doing around the Nigerian military and gender dynamics in Nigerian society.

We saw the immediate synergy between our work and decided to put a project application in together. We didn’t really find any major challenges in coming together to form this project. Perhaps this is because we are all from an African Studies background, so we’re quite used to working in this interdisciplinary way and we could all see and effectively communicate the benefits of the various methodologies that we wanted to bring to the project.

We were all clear about our own roles in the project: ‘here is what I’m going to do. I’m going to do historical, contextual, longer-term background, then Elena is going to deal with the social media and the more quantitative analysis, and Sophia is going to bring that really fine-grained, close analysis of kind of local qualitative interviews as well.’ So, we have the textual, we have the quantitative and we also have the oral side of things. For us, it worked really well to put this this application in together.

RG: Yes, I was going to ask about that. Because you’re all specialists or coming from an African Studies background… Do you think that it made the interdisciplinary co-working easier?  

SH: I think it really did, yes. We’ve all been trained with those perspectives of mind. I think it is also the case that the methodologies between history, politics, and the kind of International Relations and ethnographic approach do just work well together anyway, so there wasn’t anything particularly problematic for us in terms of shaping and framing our project and agreeing our combined methodology.

RG:  Great. We are going to hear from Elena in a moment about the actual technicalities of the data and how you coded it. But, you know, it’s been quite a year for people working on these development projects… we’re currently talking in March 2021 and, of course, this is one year on from the first national lockdown.

All the work that you were due to do was during this year when we’ve not been able to travel, and particularly fieldwork research has been very challenging…so how has covid impacted on the project?  

SH: Covid has massively impacted on this project in in all dynamics to be honest. We originally intended to base this work very heavily around fieldwork in Nigeria, with Sefina taking on the majority of that. That was proven not to be possible, and unfortunately Sefina has now left academia aside to pursue an alternative career, so we’ve also lost the benefit of her expertise on this project and we are still trying to plug that gap and bring her in wherever we can.

So, we’ve been trying to find alternative ways of doing these qualitative interview methods and bringing in more and more student interns, potentially to help support that. I was supposed to be doing the archive-based side of things, including work in the UK and in Geneva, to look at the longer-term historical context of interventions around childhood in Nigeria. That has, thus far, proven impossible as well.

As Elena will explain, the main thing that is going ahead for us has been the coding of the social media data, and we’re looking to expand that dimension of the project to enable us to make some progress whilst lockdown and other restrictions remain in place for the time being. So, it’s been a real sharp learning curve; figuring out how to adjust this project, how to ensure that there are still some elements of it that are deliverable, thinking about how we can adapt and change, and where we can pull in more support to help us.

The one thing that we have really found invaluable has been the support of our student interns. We’ve hired a few undergraduate and postgraduate student interns to come and be involved in this project. It took quite a long time to get that set up and to get all the paperwork processed, but they are just fantastic, they really are. They bring in such good ideas and such commitment and energy to the project, and they’ve really helped re-shape the way that we think of the project and our aims, particularly regarding how we think about communicating our outputs in the future. So they have been the real stars of this project so far, as has Dr Lewys Brace in terms of the data management. He’s been phenomenal for this, and I feel like as a historian I’ve learned so much from working with him and Elena on the coding and quantitative side of things. It’s not often that historians work with tweets as their primary sources, so it’s been really interesting for me.

RG: That’s one of the things which comes from what you’ve been saying- how if you’re flexible enough and you have good staff in place, then it is still possible to get a significant chunk of work done even in difficult circumstances… there’s a lesson I think there for everyone to learn.

The final questions from me are: Where does this lead to? What do you think the next stage of the project will be? Because the development projects are always billed as leading to ongoing research, how do you see the next stage of this project panning out?  

SH: So, for me in particular, this project was designed to run alongside another starter grant I hold with the GenExe seed funding to work with a colleague in Geneva on the broader histories of humanitarian interventions around children in Africa. So, for me, the plan is to put those two projects together, look at their outcomes, and develop that into an AHRC standard grant application – to the Arts and Humanities Research Council – around histories of humanitarian and human rights campaigning on children in modern Africa.

Elena and I are also thinking about developing this in a slightly different direction and pushing it more towards an AHRC-facing application. Of course a lot of this will depend on future funding around GCRF activities – that’s the Grand Challenges Research Fund – and how the post-Covid funding environment is realigned. So we’re trying to stay flexible for the moment, keeping on top of which new grants are being announced and trying to identify how we can frame this project going forward. Whether we need to think about, for example, whether we should frame this in terms of looking more at youth dynamics and looking at youth responses to crisis and global crisis rather than just looking at more classical children-focused and humanitarian campaigning. We’re trying to remain flexible, and responding to changes in the funding environment as well as planning for future grant applications there.

RG: Great, thank you very much.

So let me turn to you, Elena. You oversaw analysing or collecting a lot of the social media data associated with the campaign.

Could you explain to me what the process was whereby you collected the material for analysis?  

EG: Sure, thanks Rob.  We have a team of five coders, and we basically web-scraped all tweets that contained several key hashtags, such as #bringbackourgirls or #bbog or #chibokgirls, etc. and that rendered something like 40,000 tweets per year from 2014- so from the initial outrage around the kidnapping of the girls, until 2017 when they were actually released. And, so, we collected all that data and we categorised it by virality. So, for each year, we started with coding the social media posts that were the most retweeted and got the most attention, and we’re proceeding from there.

RG:  So how many tweets were you dealing with overall, do you think?  

EG:  Over 100,000.

RG:  That’s a huge amount of data to deal with. How did you go about deciding what how to code it and approaching those sorts of issues?   

EG:  We put together a team of incredibly talented coders who began coding thousands of tweets by hand. Building on the basis of their work, we are going to be using machine learning to develop an algorithm which would be able to automate the process and parsing process of the 10s of thousands more tweets after. So, the human coders are really creating the conceptual vocabulary, which we’re then going to train a machine algorithm to use in order to categorise and to classify further tweets.

RG: So the decisions have to be made by a researcher at the beginning of the process? 

EG: Absolutely, so in carrying out the analysis, we’ve been drawing on approaches from a number of fields- from political communication, from media studies and social movements theory…

So, together as a team, we developed a conceptual vocabulary of some influential social media frames, and the attributes that they would possess in order to successfully increase issue salience and a vocal, powerful emotional response. That part is guided by what theory from different disciplines is actually telling us about what frames go viral and what is effective in mobilising emotions.

To give you an idea of what we’ve been looking at, we’ve been looking at messages that evoke negative emotions such as outrage or anger or frustrations. We’re also looking at messages that evoke empathy and seek to humanise the girls, and we’re looking at different sets of messages that portray them as victims worth saving. Some other sorts of really interesting categories of messages are those that are creating what’s called ‘issue linkages’ between the issue of #BringBackOurGirls to other issues that global online publics care about, such as good governance, anti-corruption, gender and humanitarian campaigning in general. And so that gives us different frames; a broader conceptual vocabulary which we are then applying to the social media posts to see how common different categories are and how they relate to each other.

RG: So, one of the interesting things about this campaign which you’re studying, is its scale. To what extent was the campaign international? To what extent was it local in terms of the Nigerian context? In terms of the data from the tweets, what are you finding out there?  

EG: This is an interesting question. It’s going to be one of the central questions to actually understand: What is it that makes this kind of campaign go viral?

It could easily be that, well, the Chibok girls’ campaign is distinguished from others precisely because of the international attention it got, right, and so the analysis is still ongoing and it’s something that we’re going to be looking at, but what we can see by sort of tracing where the tweets are coming from is that it is gaining global traction, and some global influencers- people like Michelle Obama or others who get engaged with this like Malala [Yousafzai], for example; when they tweet, they really have outsized influence on the direction of a humanitarian campaign. And so, really, the larger question here is around how structural and positional power can determine which actors can have oversized influence on social media in the digital age.

RG: A campaign like this, if it gets a major international personality like Michelle Obama or Malala Yousafzai on board, then suddenly it facilitates the virality of the of the whole campaign? 

EG: Absolutely, I think that is definitely something that is going to emerge from our analysis- something that we expect to see. Their attention to the campaign is outsized as well, because it also gets picked up by large media sources and it’s picked up across the world, right? They have huge followings, so it really makes it globalised, it makes it internationalised, and it just gives it that much extra weight.

We hope to be able to map the entire campaign on social media as something that was really successful from beginning to end, and that will hopefully teach us some really valuable lessons about successful framing strategies, a picture of the mix of framing strategy together with structural and positional power in humanitarian campaigns on social media in the digital age. I am certain that this research is going to inform a lot of practical lessons about how to potentially replicate this success.

RG: So how does all this research relate to the research you have done before you embarked on this project?  

EG: I have always been really interested in the analysis of political rhetoric, or rhetoric in in general; I’m fascinated by the power of words to mobilise, for better or worse.

In my other work, I study political communication is Sub-Saharan Africa, so I’m really interested in the use of ethnicity, and negative ethnicity in particular. You can see the connection between political speeches intended to rally ethnic groups for political action and potentially something that is trying to rally a global public to put pressure on the government to act.

RG: Great, well thank you very much, Elena, and thank you very much Stacey. We look forward to reading more about your project in the future.

EG: Thanks for having us, Rob.

RG: So that was Stacey and Elena and their project Whose Lives Matter. If you’re interested in any of the other projects, we have podcasts on them which can be accessed via the Institute website. And if you have any queries, please don’t hesitate to contact us. You can contact us via email at 

 

IICE Development Fund Internal Call (UofE) 2021/22 – Applications Now Open

Applications are now open for the 2021/2022 IICE Development Fund.

The purpose of the IICE development fund is to help facilitate research that is challenge-led, interdisciplinary/collaborative, large-scale, and geared towards addressing global, national or regional problems through attention to their cultural dimensions. It is intended to provide vital support for emerging projects that address challenges in a disruptive and innovative manner and that have the potential to enable the development of regional, national, and international partnerships.

We are able to distribute a total of £30,000 via the Development Fund and can support an individual proposal with a maximum value of £10,000. There is therefore scope for proposals of various scale and value.

To find out more and apply, download and complete the 2021-22 IICE Development Fund Guidance with Application form. All applications must be submitted using the form provided. Please submit by email to . The deadline for Proposals is 09:00 on 6th September 2021.

Interested applicants can discuss their ideas with Professor Rob Gleave, International Institute for Cultural Enquiry (r.gleave@exeter.ac.uk) before applying.

Decolonial Methodologies Summer School- the week in review

From the 28th June – 2nd July 2021, the International Institute for Cultural Enquiry hosted a Decolonial Methodologies Summer School- in partnership with Exeter Decolonising Network– for PhD students based at the University of Exeter, each at various stages of their research. Through a rich programme of sessions facilitated by University colleagues and external partners, our aim was to introduce doctoral researchers to the possibilities found in decolonial studies. In approaching decolonising research from a methodological standpoint, the programme took the positionality of the researcher as its site of departure; tracing and challenging the means by which knowledge is collected, interpreted, performed, informed, assembled and (re)presented in their work.

As outlined by Linda Tuhwai Smith in the introduction to the 2021 edition of Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, “Meaningful decolonizing practices are not all about theory or all about action but they are all about praxis and the reflexivity that is necessary for the integrity of research and of the researcher themselves” (pp. xiv). The intention of the  Summer School was to build a space for such reflexivity… for collectively getting uncomfortable, for dismantling hegemonic ways of being, for fleshing out emergent questions and for critically engaging as a diverse community of researchers from a vast range of disciplines.

The programme was designed to enable participants to develop as the week progressed, beginning with an introductory session co-led by Dr Katie Natanel and Professor Rob Gleave, which explored what ‘doing the work’ might mean in a PhD research context. Dr Natanel, in a presentation on Departures, positioned decolonial methodologies as open, evolving multiplicities: as interruptions to hegemony and established ways of doing and framing research as actions contributing to the construction of decolonial futures and material transformation; as diagnosing power and how it is constructed and (re/)produced through the colonial present. This session highlighted the radically transformative potentialities of a decolonised research praxis as orientated toward new ways of knowing, asserting that whilst ‘the work of decolonising and the scope of methodologies are contested terrain’ (Katie Natanel), ‘Decolonisation is not a metaphor’ (Tuck & Yang 2012).

‘Decolonisation is not a metaphor’ (Tuck & Yang 2012).

The sessions which followed across the first half of the week built upon the praxis and reflexivity necessary to embark on decolonial work. Who are you? Exploring the self through LEGO Serious Play, led by Dr Caitlin Kight, looked at self-awareness as a key part of social justice work. Participants experimented with the methodology of play, using Lego bricks as a medium through which to explore how their understanding of themselves influences the decisions they make in research. Dr Lara Choksey’s session on Speculative Methodologies explored speculation and wonderment as generative sites for decolonial praxis, considering processes of constructing methodologies in Black and decolonial studies and asking ‘How do we construct the subjects, contexts and questions of our research?.’ Drawing upon writings by Saidiya Hartman and AbdouMaliq Simone, the session created the space for considering “the minor” and “the uninhabitable” as spaces for speculation.

On Tuesday morning, Riadh Ghemmour led a session entitled Sharing Circle: Reflecting on Positionality, Power and Representation in Decolonial Work, which opened conversation on the links and tensions existent between a decolonial work and reflection. Riadh highlighted research as a site of struggle where power dynamics are established. Through exploring the Sharing Circle- an indigenous methodology based on respect, reciprocity, listening and knowledge co-creation- this session invited participants to question:

“What is the position which we are speaking, writing and researching from? Whose research/work is it? For whose benefit? And how are we framing the narrative(s)?”.

Similarly challenging hegemonic modes of knowledge production, Dr Aimée Lê’s Silence and Practice in Research Writing, starting with an initial case study of an alternative historical narrative as presented by Trouillot, addressed the question of silence within research material, meaning and the research process. Tuesday afternoon concluded by venturing beyond the academy walls, as participants visited Exeter’s RAMM museum to explore what decolonisation might mean in relation to their collections, considering the emergence and applicability of different methodologies to the museum and public setting, followed by dinner at the Exeter Phoenix, Exeter city centre’s multi-arts venue.

In Values in action: applying your personal values in a research context, Kelly Preece and Dr Caitlin Kight provided a space for participants to identify and reflect on their values as a researcher, examining how they want to enact these values to collaboratively envisage and develop a resilient research community. Malcolm Richards and Sandhya Dave (DDE) in Don’t let the cook-up catch! Re/defining our funds of knowledge through processes of de/colonizing relationships with community-focused research, considered how we can commit to ongoing processes which re/define our own identities, positionalities, and engagement in relation with the communities much of our work relies upon. The session ultimately asked:

‘As we explore histories, knowledge, repertoires, and movements expressed in scholarship which disrupt and resist our colonising ways, are we simultaneously cognizant of our responsibilities to the dialogues & valuing of the ‘funds of  knowledge’ we are privileged to access?’.

Following lunch, participants attended the IAIS Research Afternoon: Pierre Hadot and the Decolonial Study of Islam.

Professor William Gallois began Thursday morning’s activity with Decolonial  Methods and Indigenous Teachers- a session which looked at the centrality

of methodological questions to the ‘decolonial turn’, exploring the work of the Algerian artist Mohammed Racim – as a means to enumerate the challenges and joys of trying to produce decolonial work. We moved this session outside, and participants were able to examine and interact with works of art physically, questioning how sources perform differently dependent on the observer.

Decolonial feminism(s), a workshop facilitated by Dr Katie Natanel, invited us to centre gender and sexuality in decolonial research, theory and praxis; exploring how a ‘feminist lens’ (which begins from a place of multiplicity and intersectionality) enriches our methodologies. The session traced emergent 

theoretical and methodological streams, including decolonial feminist ecologies, decolonial queering, unsettling setter coloniality and decolonising solidarities. On Thursday afternoon, participants attended National Syndromes: A Symposium,  which ‘explored the intersections of health and biomedicine, racism and racialisation, and renewed imperial and colonial legacies in the conjoined context of COVID-19, Brexit and related international disasters.’ Through observing the range of different interventions in this critical space, participants gained insights into the forging of interdisciplinary decolonial research agendas. At the end of the symposium, all participants

 were invited to dinner at Al Farid next to Exeter Cathedral, where we enjoyed communing around delicious food and learning  about each other. 

The week concluded with a return to the reflexive. Sally Flint convened a writing workshop on Poems, the Power of Words and Changing Places, inviting participants to reflect on an object or place through poetry. Participants were encouraged to consider the significance of the medium of words in their own work, and one participant shared their poem, which was performed in her mother tongue (Portuguese). 

To return briefly to Tuhiwai Smith, ‘The challenge is always to demystify, to decolonize’ (17). The Summer School equipped participants with a series of methodological provocations, interventions and speculations, which we hope will act as a point of departure as they take on this challenge and  explore what decolonial methodologies look like in their specific research contexts. We hope it is a point of activation, inspiration, and empowerment for all involved as they forge their own decolonial research pathways and explore decolonial methodologies in practice.

BOOK NOW- Towards an Environmental Humanities: a Joint Seminar Between IICE, ESI & Penryn Humanities.

We are thrilled to announce that the International Institute for Cultural Enquiry is co-hosting an in-person and online seminar on the galvanising potential of an Environmental Humanities in partnership with colleagues from the Environment and Sustainability Institute and Penryn Humanities, to launch ‘‘Public Policy and Climate Change: The Contribution of the Arts and Humanities’ by Dr. Joshua Wells, Dods environmental policy consultant.

Climate Change is one of the most pressing concerns we face in the contemporary moment, and one which requires urgent, radical attention. This seminar will bring together voices from the International Institute for Cultural Enquiry, the Environment and Sustainability Institute and Penryn Humanities to discuss the galvanising potential of Environmental Humanities in Cornwall and beyond, and launch ‘Public Policy and Climate Change: The Contribution of the Arts and Humanities’ by Dr. Joshua Wells- a new research paper forthcoming publication by IICE.

Joshua Wells will be joined in conversation by Professor Nicola Whyte (Associate Professor in Landscape and Social History) and Dr Ilya Maclean (Associate Professor of Global Change Biology). The discussion will be chaired by Professor Rob Gleave (Director of the International Institute for Cultural Enquiry and Professor of Arabic Studies).

This seminar will have an in-person element for those with access to the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter’s Penryn campus. Those who attend will receive a complimentary lunch offering. We will also deliver this seminar online for those who do not secure an in-person place or who wish to attend online.

Find out more and register.