Over the past year, I’ve been researching how popular culture can be a driver for social change in the UK. Ever since I started working on this subject there have been endless questions buzzing around my head: How do cultural movements come about? Who shapes our pop culture in the UK? How can we connect with the people who influence our culture? And how do you even define ‘pop culture’ anyway?!
As the sun beamed through the windows of the St John the Baptist church in Newcastle this morning, the people gathered in the pews were bathed in lustrous hues of aquamarine, magenta, tangerine and luminous yellow. It felt like an auspicious moment for the Platforma Festival, a celebration of creativity and the arts by and about refugees and migrants. The festival is organised biennially by Counterpoints Arts and this year’s programme is set to enthrall and inspire in equal measure across the north east of England.
Guest blog for Engagement 2017 conference, published May 23 2017
What’s the best way to persuade others of your point of view? That’s the question academics, politicians, activists and many other change-makers are grappling with in our increasingly interconnected world. At a time when we are saturated on a daily basis with endless information and data, the question of how we carry out effective and persuasive engagement is becoming increasingly salient.
I worked for many years in academia, legal and policy environments, and I used to rely on straightforward methods of persuasion to make my case: facts, evidence-based data, well-marshalled arguments and rebuttal. But, after many years working on the complex policy area of immigration, I have come to recognise that whilst these can sometimes be effective forms of communication, they are not the only kind. And, what is more, they are not always the most appropriate when communicating on emotive and socially complex issues like identity and immigration. Indeed, persuading with facts and data can have the negative effect of polarising an issue, rather than winning people over. Instead, when we want to engage others with our message,
I love listening to other people’s stories. It is a deep and special privilege of a researcher to capture so much insight into other people’s lives. Earlier this year I decided to reverse the process and spend some time thinking about how to tell and share my story.
I signed up to a We Video online course run by StoryCenter. It was a thoroughly rewarding and fun experience – thank you Rob, Dascha and the rest of the team at StoryCenter! The StoryCenter methodology is based on the work of Joe Lambert, a pioneer in digital storytelling. His book, Digital Storytelling: Capturing lives, creating community is a must-read for anyone interested in creative storytelling.
So here it is, my identity story, weaving together the things that have affected me and matter most to me in my life: Belonging.
Everyone has a story…
Generosity and hospitality are rich seams in Ancient Greek mythology. Ovid’s tale of Baucis and Philemon describes the good fortune bestowed upon a couple that showed kindness to the Greek Gods Jupiter and Mercury who were disguised as ordinary peasants. Stories with the moral of ‘xenia’ (the Greek concept of hospitality towards newcomers), teach us that good will come from aiding and showing kindness to others.
The RSA’s work exploring refugee education in Athens proves that the concept of ‘xenia’ is alive and thriving in Greece today. Some of the examples we observed while in Athens were the work of The Cube, a co-working innovation space that has set up a Self-Organised Learning Environment (SOLE) to support refugee children, Hope School in Skaramagas refugee camp which provides education for displaced children run by volunteers within the camp and ACS Athens (the American Community School) which is piloting a project educating and mentoring unaccompanied minors. There are many other examples that illustrate the resourcefulness and resilience within the city.
It’s pretty tough out there at the moment. For anyone who cares about social justice, listening to the news in the morning and reading the paper is enough to make you want to crawl back under the duvet. But, being an eternal optimist and half-glass-full kind of a person, I am determined to remain positive. This post is a little celebration of the countless acts of kindness I witnessed while out and about in London today:
The widely shared theory that there are ‘six degrees of separation’ between us and every other human being on the planet (that’s seven billion, and counting) is awe-inspiring to reflect on. Regardless of whether the ‘six degrees’ theory is fact or fiction, the truth remains that a web of teeming connections intricately links us to one another.
The strength that comes from our networks and relationships can be used to powerful effect, particularly as advances in technology bring us ‘virtually’ closer, and more widely connected to one another, than ever before. The power of connecting with one another was central to the RSA’s recent summit in Athens, exploring citywide approaches to refugee education. The summit was convened by the RSA and supported by the Educational Collaborative of International Schools (ECIS), ACS Athens (American Community School Athens), The World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) and the British Council – all significant collaborative networks in their own right. The summit provided a valuable opportunity to strengthen pre-existing connections, as well as forge new global links amongst experts, education professionals, policy-makers, international networks and local practitioners.
A powerful illustration of the strength of networks is demonstrated by the connection that the RSA made, prior to the summit, with Hope-School in Skaramagas refugee camp, on the outskirts of Athens. Continue reading “Supporting refugee children in education: Networks and connections”
The life-changing power of reading is beautifully depicted by Jorge Méndez Blake’s artwork, ‘The Impact of a Book’. The knock-on, shockwave effect is expressed with artful simplicity:
I luxuriated in many good books this summer. They sparked countless connections and reading each one made me want to share themes, thoughts and ideas. So, as the summer days come to a close, here are the ones that had that rippling effect on me.
The age we are living in is the ‘Information Age’. It is a time of digital communication and endless data. It is characterised by a stark reliance on quantitative analysis and interpretation. We have seen the culmination of this in the recent referendum in the UK. The referendum was the ultimate poll, an opportunity to answer a question based on a binary outcome. The result has precipitated a deep fracture in our society with ‘Remain’ voters at 48% on the one side and ‘Leave’ voters at 52% on the other.