Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s I4P) describes how powerful conversations can be for exploring serious social and political questions:
As part of the University’s Festival of Ideas Emy Onuora talked about his new book and explored the ideas in the book through a dialogue with Peter Hooton.
The Q and A facilitated by Peter was a really powerful experience, as Emy talked about his childhood experiences of going to matches in the 1960s, his love of the game and his wish to reclaim the lives of those black footballers who have been hidden from history, and the power of representing their stories to a different audience.
The power of the ‘conversation’ is that it has the potential to connect a number of themes and ideas, from politics to racism, to economics and to social change. At the same time because it is a particularly personal form of presenting ideas, it breaks down the invisible barrier between the speaker and the audience. It makes the person more real and powerful in a way. And through the lens of the experiences of black British footballers, it is possible to see the ways in which British society has or has not changed.
By then connecting the story of football in the UK to another set of stories from the murder of Stephen Lawrence to the increase in attacks on asylum seekers and refugees it is evident how far we still have to go to.
Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s I4P) makes the case for working across boundaries:
Edge Hill’s Festival of Ideas brings together a number of shared themes and ideas. One of them – working across the different professional or discipline boundaries that can inhibit good practice, is reflected in a number of talks and workshops.
On the face of it, the invitation to work collaboratively can appear like talking common sense. Who can possibly be opposed to it?
In her new book, Gillian Tett talks about the ‘silo effect’ and the ways in which organisations can become ineffective and slow to innovate because of the ways in which boundaries between different bits of organisations or universities restrict developments or change. The question or questions are therefore about how to balance the skills and understanding that separate disciplines bring with the need to think about how their potential to limit change needs to be kept under scrutiny.
This raises important questions too about how we organise or structure organisations: do we reflect the needs of professional disciplines (in a university that would be departments), or do we also try to reflect the needs of users (students and external partners or potential collaborators)? If we privilege the needs of professional disciplines (the producers) does that reduce or restrict our potential to change or innovate? How do we organise and structure what we do so that it has that room for manoeuvre? And are all structures ultimately means of holding back innovation? Why does this matter?
Learning from and with both service users and producers, and being open to change, are new relationships based upon innovation more likely to sustain lasting change? And they suggest (but don’t ensure) that we are creating a cultural bias in favour of innovation which is a necessary but not sufficient condition of our times.
Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s I4P) makes the case for expanding Festivals of Ideas in Universities:
This week sees the start of the Edge Hill’s Festival of Ideas – Imagining Better. It is like many such initiatives – it draws on an eclectic range of events from public lectures, to films, to drama to art and photographic exhibitions, to workshops and book signings. It’s diverse, it’s stimulating and it reflects an important objective which is to create a space in which ideas, discussion and conversation can flow and in turn stimulate reflection and thought.
They are part (almost) of the furniture across higher education institutions. And whilst they are important (really important) they are, I think, a necessary but not a sufficient condition for all the possibilities outlined above to take place.
An important aspect of the concept (and this is central for me about the Edge Hill Festival) is both that it encourages, supports and makes explicit the idea of multi-disciplinary thinking and work. Whilst there are different bits of the University hosting particular aspects we could delete the organisational home and there would be recurring and overlapping themes. And central to that is the idea of how our learning and thinking is much more flexible and curious than any one subject or department or discipline. I think that’s a huge strength of what we are offering and I hope it becomes part of the taken for granted nature of what makes a good and exciting event.
Secondly, I think these events highlight the centrality of universities acting as civil society institutions in the public space where we need to encourage dialogue and the exchange of ideas.
And finally, the weaknesses in this approach: we need to develop much more examples of learning from and listening to those outside the academy. And perhaps a good sign of that will not be that next year we have a fringe which is even more interesting than the main event but when the fringe is the academy and the main event is a much more creative and different set of voices and experiences from which we deliberately seek to learn with and from.
In the meantime enjoy this year’s programme.
Edge Hill’s Festival of Ideas 2016 is a diverse range of events exploring culture, health and society. The main theme is Imagining Better – envisioning ways for communities, arts and healthcare to develop and flourish, even in times of austerity and inequality.
Click here for a full list of events.