October 15, 2012 by Amy Ryall
The first blog of this week is a contribution by Matthew Kerry, a second year PhD student in the Department of History. Matthew specialises in modern Spanish history and his research focuses on the formation and interaction of communities and identities, looking particularly at the growth of political radicalism in the mining areas of Asturias in the north of Spain.
During last week’s session on the obstacles and pitfalls that we could face during our public engagement projects, it became clear that virtually all of the individual aspects which were discussed had both positive and negative sides to them. This served to confirm what I feel to be one of the key ideas of public engagement that has emerged in the sessions so far –that we should be continuously in a process of self-criticism, evaluation and discussion.
For example, it’s obvious that creating a project that is wide-ranging and inclusive with respect to the number of people involved can, at the very least, serve to stimulate debate, prevent the alienation of social groups and provide a rich process of sharing different experiences. This can only be a good thing. However, if a large number of people are involved in the development of the project, it can be difficult on a practical level to schedule meetings and to bring busy people together. Similarly, having clear aims can be limiting and impede creativity, but also encourage you to focus on what it is that you’re doing and also to be able to communicate it to others.
It all seems to depend on the process of self-criticism and the actual project planning itself. What is the best way forward for what I – and others – have in mind? How can the project be most effectively planned and realised? In asking myself these questions, I became aware of another, obvious, pitfall that I imagine is common among PhD students: we’re used to thinking by ourselves on our individual projects, working out solutions and putting them into practice in isolation, whereas public engagement requires collaboration from the very beginning. Even through empathy it’s impossible to cover all of the angles.
Continuous reflection, self-evaluation and discussion with others seem to be intrinsic to the whole process of public engagement, from inception to evaluation. Through this process of self-criticism I’m very aware of where my own problem lies and I assume (and hope!) it is one shared by others: the Idea. Talking about all of the different possibilities as a group in terms of time, money, aims, spaces and people highlighted the vast range of different possible opportunities out there. I just wish I had an idea about what I could do.