Centre for Innovation & Research in Childhood and Youth

Interdisciplinary, international & in the real world

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We’re All Going To MMU…

A couple of summers ago a colleague mentioned that she’d been to the Summer Institute in Qualitative Research at MMU and had found it hugely stimulating. I remember at the time regretting that I had not been sharper in making time to go. So when a couple of colleagues mentioned that they’d signed up this time around, I decided to commit.

I could misrepresent what has happened since. I could massage a narrative that suggests that we all – with some gendered empathetic synchronicity – agreed that we would love nothing more than to offer ourselves en masse as a ‘Sussex Symposium’ to present at the event. In reality it happened a little differently and involved me unashamedly imposing my will upon the group in terms of a kernel of an idea I’d had of what we might do and how we might do it.

To be fair, since my initial cajoling and pleading, it has become much less about Humouring Rebecca and going along with her for the sake of a Quiet Life, and more about collective enthusiasm and engagement. We all like each other; we are interested in, and respect, the work that each of us does; and we have a sense of shared identity in finding ways, as feminists of different ages with a range of life experiences prior to coming to academic research, to ‘be’, ‘do’ and ‘go’ in the world.

We have met several times now – and I sense – with a growing commitment to working together, to find ways to say something collectively about aspects of our work that trouble us. From the outset, we have invited in Judith Butler as our helpmate by ‘thinking with’ some conceptual materials from her more recent oeuvre (2014).   And this has been a joy. We have immersed ourselves in ‘re-thinking vulnerability and resistance’ (ibid) in ways that speak to dimensions of our own research and writing and our sense of ourselves as researchers. We were supported in this endeavour, initially, by having jointly attended a Connectors Reading Group sessions during which these conceptual materials of Butler were introduced and discussed. Consequently, we understand ourselves to be both ‘acted upon and acting’ (Butler, 2014, 14). This means that we are vulnerable in ways that we never, of our own volition, select, in our ‘going about’ in the day-to-day, embodied, as we are relationally, and constituted within/through discourse. However, at the same time, Butler has suggested to us through her ideas in this text that there are always ways in which we are resistant to vulnerability. We display such resistance both psychically and politically. This capacity forms and re-forms us to shape the ‘forces of history on our embodied lives’ so that vulnerability becomes – crucially – an integral dimension of ‘the very practice of [our] political resistance’ (ibid).

So, vulnerability and resistance are mutually constitutive and go hand-in-hand. Butler posits this conceptual idea of vulnerability as resistance as a means of challenging masculinist ontologies of vulnerability. These always mark it as something that identifies one special group or category, fixing it or those that make up its category, so that they are perceived as ‘less than’, as unagentic and powerless and in constant need of being brought into the fold of normative ways of being and doing that do not trouble and ruffle sovereign powers.

And, in the blog that we will keep over the course of the coming week, we will not only engage with the way in which we are each speaking about how ‘vulnerability and resistance’ illuminate aspects of our own work[i], but we will reflect on the work of others, as this ‘speaks’ to each of us. In the spirit of our preparing together for this summer institute, we will each take a turn in penning a blog during the course of the week to share aspects of it that interest us.

Watch this space and enjoy!

Rebecca Webb

[i] Our symposium (‘Thinking With’ Vulnerability and Resistance as a Dynamic of the research/Researcher Process’) will take place on Thursday 9th July in Room 4.06 between 4.00-5.00. in MMU Business School, Manchester. Do join us if if you are there

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What you can do with a bit of space

By Steven Crowe.  2nd year BACY student


On our trip to Rotterdam we witnessed a variety of different areas of social care and social work, and the university had kindly set up visits to a variety of different organisations and settings to get a feel for some of the work that is being done in and around Rotterdam. For myself as a residential worker, the prospect of going to see how residential care can be delivered in the Netherlands was too tempting an offer to miss. So we made our way to Alphen Aan Den Rijn (that’s on the Rhine to you and me) To a place called RijnHove, run by an organisation called Horizon.

What immediately struck me from the beginning was the sheer scale of space in the environment. The community was set within and around the vast acres of Rijnstroom (Rhine Flow) Park, a place in itself which had a large historical background in the care of children, having been developed as part of the Christian backed “Martha Foundation” to look after uncared for children and orphans, which by the early 1900s was already housing almost 1,000 young people on land that included schools, churches, orchards, farmland and workshops.

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Whilst many of the buildings that were built through the 20th Century have been subsequently rebuilt or relocated for modern purposes, much of its story can still be seen. The manager showed us one of the remaining buildings which, whilst now operating as a building for theatre and arts, was once a large scale childrens home, containing church and school, and with residents being housed and cared for in large dormitories by the Nuns.

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Currently, the Residential community is set within adjacent parkland, and still holds the same lush, tranquil, leafy characteristics of the public park – the trees old, healthy and developed, the various ponds and streams interconnected by bridges and gentle pathways was a delight to see in such a space, being well maintained by the gardeners and the young people. It provided a beautiful backdrop for the facilities themselves, and I don’t think I could stop myself from looking around smiling and taking a few snaps of the place, like some kind of residential care tourist. The environment felt like nothing I have seen or experienced in social care thus far, and, whilst it did still have the making of a more institutional feel (signs for different buildings, advert / signs for the company itself told you what this space was for), it was minimal and impinged little on the outside space. I’m glad we caught it on a sunny day. Continue reading

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The ‘social’ in social work

By Ollie Mills, Social Work student


The Education and Social Work trip to Rotterdam was fascinating and enjoyable from beginning to end. That being said, as a social work student, I have to say that day three was my personal favourite. This was the day that two students of Childhood and Youth Studies and I had the opportunity to shadow a social worker in her office and district (something like a London Borough) and later visited a school to see the integration of social work in an educational setting.

We were introduced to Mariam and she kindly gave us a tour of the office and a rundown of her time in social work. Mariam is a part time student, balancing her studies with a demanding social work role and very real responsibilities. Her remit is quite specific as she works in a youth team, primarily with parents/children who have mild/moderate intellectual disabilities. Within her office, there are many professionals, all bringing specialised skills/backgrounds with them- this is relatively new format in Holland but the potential advantages are undeniable…If a social worker needs to speak with a psychologist? No problem, someone is but a few desks away. Concerns around housing/benefits? Again, a colleague practically beside you can fill you in. The capacity for collaboration and information sharing as advocated in so much literature seems to be the driving force behind this current set-up. While in it’s early stages, Mariam was optimistic about its implementation and as students, we were very impressed.

Our conversations turned to the reputation of social work in the Netherlands. In Mariam’s opinion, the portrayal of social work in the media is overwhelmingly negative- comparable to the situation in the UK perhaps.
Social work does intervene in people’s lives when they are potentially in very difficult and challenging situations. Mariam was honest about the emotionally demanding aspects of her work. Yet, she felt it was worth it.
She introduced us to some colleagues and guest speakers who shared her passion for the work they do. A youth worker who runs a mentoring scheme for kids in the community shared his experiences with us and we were enthused. After Mariam showed us her distract on a map, we went out to see more.

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Mariam explained that, to do her job properly, she needs to spend the majority of her time out and about in the community in which she works. The idea, is that she is seen and known. Fitting, that a “social worker” should be “social” in this way…I wonder whether social workers in the UK would describe this as part of their remit? We visited two organisations which further emphasised the community aspects of Mariam’s work: a clothing bank (wonderfully organised and presented) which aims to provide clothes free of charge for parents and children in financially difficult circumstances and a community centre with aspirations to change the way that youth and race is perceived locally. They were genuinely inspirational and Mariam worked closely alongside both projects. It would have been interesting to see an example of case-work, but the thing that struck me most, was that social work in Holland seems inherently concerned with the community; the collective as well the individual. This made me reflect upon how far this is true in the UK.

In the afternoon we visited a school, designed specifically to educate students to work in the trading/shipping industry (education in Holland, can vary greatly to the British system). It is beautifully designed and the architecture mimics the theme of the school; it also offers state of the art facilities in the form of simulator rooms. What’s more, the school has a social worker. A whole team dedicated to welfare in fact, as is legally necessary in Holland. We spent time with a man from this team who talked us through the challenges the school faces (ie. Significant expansion in recent years alongside the diversity and integration of students from many different cultures) and how they are trying to work to best protect the wellbeing of pupils. We visited a separate unit in which two teachers work permanently with especially challenging pupils…however, they do not just work on a behavioural level, they try to work holistically with their students. Social work is very much integrated into schools here!!  Interestingly, it is becoming more and more common for social workers to be placed in British schools so there are clear parallels across our borders.

At the end of the day, we all came together to share our stories. It was fascinating to see Social Work outside of the UK context, I am thankful for the experience and recommend as many students as possible take up this opportunity next year!

Henk


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Henk Oosterling’s lesson: Responsibility starts early

Further reflections by Alina


Next, the University of Applied Sciences, Rotterdam, offered us a lesson to remember. With hints of John Dewey, and a flavour of social pedagogy, Henk Oosterling’s TED talk about a more contemporary battle was simple but powerful. Using the example of London riots, the philosopher stressed the importance of up-bringing, of educating children to avoid violence, and on reshaping educational structure so that children learn to be responsible for their acts. Oosterling’ s answer to the social problems affecting Rotterdam, neighbourhood violence in particular,  was “skills city”.

He criticised how the educational system discourages children from being interested when natural curiosity is embedded in their nature. His concept of “Skills City” very much involved stimulating creativity and promoting craftsmanship in primary and secondary schools, to enable children to find a job and a meaning later in life. His 2008 pilot project, Physical Integrity, started in a primary school and was scientifically monitored. Interestingly, children had to have an experience of violence; they had to acknowledge that everything has been created by someone else and that all we do has an effect on someone else. The idea was to intervene on relationships, in different trajectories. In this respect, children were enabled to practice a martial art, to spend their energy proactively. Children were offered a healthy hot lunch, but also the possibility of growing and cooking their own food, and the understanding that food does not simply come from the shop.

Oosterling discussed an ecological circle: by practising a sport, by learning how to grow and cook their own food, by eating together and by learning philosophy intervention happens on social, physical and mental levels. These activities act not only as a basis for reflection but look at children’s interests on one of those skills. The project encountered barriers, such as parents’ concerns about children practising judo together given their age, sex and other differences. Once the school stopped the discussions and started the judo, there were no complaints, from anyone. The lesson to be learnt here is that by doing things in a transparent way, by enabling people to participate, all problems can be solved. Moreover, the parents who initially were concerned ended up participating and supporting this project themselves.

(sorry about the sound quality!)

The main benefit of “city skills” for children is that doing what they‘re good at and what they care about teaches meaning and responsibility. Also the children were connected to other schools, universities and professionals, working together and establishing relations that otherwise would not be possible. This project about material community showed that the sense of belonging gets stronger when children are taken seriously in what they are doing. They learn skills that become transferable; they develop socially, physically and emotionally, becoming very open. By teaching children skills and giving them the awareness of being part of a circle it allows them to cope with life much better and to belong. This is why, in Oosterling’s view, in terms of responsibility, change starts early.

To me, in a nutshell, Oosterling’s view on children’s education and upbringing, is just a reminder that in everyday life, we need the simple things again- firstly, learning how to be with each other. And, how sweet, to complete his circle, I read somewhere that his motto in life is “Every warrior is a giver”

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Falling for Rotterdam

By Alina Chirila 2nd year BACY student


It is not very hard to fall in love when you’re a pretty accurate version of Don Quixote. On this occasion, in my own search for meaning and beauty, I hoped to fall for the Dutch, and God, it really did happen. Black tulips, libertine coffee shops with their magic mushrooms and all sorts of curiosities, clogs and gouda cheese have nothing to do with my own falling in love and believe me, I’m not just a fool.

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This story begins with a particular charm infused by the town of Rotterdam, and its riverside setting, very 2015 chic-industrial look, artistic at the same time. People there seemed very to the point, saying what they mean and meaning what they say, and not really up for talking about the weather. Our university exchange was not long, but it started between 8,30 and 9 o’clock and was very well structured, with the Dutch taking care that we’re not leaving them with an empty stomach, nor empty hearted. Absolutely, Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences made sure that we’re starting in force, taking us by waterbus to The Attack exhibition, organised by Rotterdam museum to commemorate 75 years since the Germans bombarded Rotterdam. The bombardment was reflected pluralistically through the eyes of local civilians, Dutch soldiers and of course German soldiers.

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The layout of the exhibition was well thought, with a model of Heikel He 111 which destroyed the town in a few days, intimidating the rest of the scene consisting of original objects, personal stories exposed in large projections on the walls, and of course a consistent explanation of what happened in 1940 in Rotterdam.

In the back of the hall, a call for empathy is made by giving visitors the chance to write their own paper of what happened there through the eyes of a child. But my heart observed something even deeper- many visitors were people in their 70ies, even 80ies and I’ve seen a few sitting there, respectfully dressed as my grandparents would dress Sunday at the church. Often, they were still sitting still. Intrigued, I checked this observation with the staff working there, and indeed, those were people who witnessed the bombardment or people whose parents were in this tragedy. “Sadly, most of our visitors are very old” confirmed a staff.

I wonder if the social problems experienced by the town are reminiscent of this tragedy. However,the official motto of the city is “Sterker by strijd” (Stronger through battle)

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A visit to Rotterdam: integration, segregation and assimilation

By Elsie Whittington


In the last two years Sussex’s Education and Social work department have played host to two groups of social pedagogue students from Rotterdam.  Russell Whiting and Janet Boddy have been the key contacts and involved the students in classes, taken them on visits to social work placements and provided the students with a flavor of Brighton. This week my self and Russell have traveled over to Rotterdam, with 6 students from the BA in Childhood and Youth and the BA in Social work and tha MA in Childhood and Youth, to enjoy part two of this exchange.  I hope that the next few posts will be contributed to by these students – reflecting on what they have learnt about pedagogic practice in Rotterdam, and our experiences of the exchange, visiting work places and traveling around the city. Eline Bouwman who teaches on the social pedagogy course at the university of applied sciences in Rotterdam has created a programme for us that will give us a good idea of who social pedagogy is taught and practiced in the Netherlands and especially how it fits within the city. For now I will reflect on our first day.

For those of you who don’t know about social pedagogy it the theory (and practice) about the education and upbringing of children.  As Janet has taught us in the BACY module on European Perspectives: Social Pedagogy and Work with Children and Young People (which I was lucky enough to sit in on this year), Social pedagogy is ‘education in the broadest sense’.  It is about the up bringing of the child as the responsibility of a whole community not just of the parents and immediate family.

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Social pedagogues work with children and young people from a starting point  of their ‘life world orientation’.  Which essentially means starting where the child is at and understanding their behavior, difficulties and desires from their experienced and background, not in comparison to the other young people you might be working with.  This is something we saw and experienced when we visited a number of work sites (but we’ll talk about that in another blog).

We started our day on Tuesday by discussing the chapter social change in America from ‘Bowling alone’ by Putnam.   We had been sent this chapter in advance so that we could come prepared to the seminar on ‘Growing up in Rotterdam’  where the 1st year BA social pedagogy students would be presenting their learning and experiences of spending time in different districts in Rotterdam with reference to ‘bridging’ and ‘bonding’ and also to lifestyle colors – which I will come to later.

We arrived at the class, did some introductions and then listened to the presentations about different areas of the city.  It was interesting to hear about the different type of communities, the activities and provision that was available in different areas. After each presentation there was time for questions and considered how some of the things that they were talking about would be approached very differently in the UK.

The students considered how the communities were set up, whether there we opportunities for bridging and bonding, how safe people felt in their neighborhoods and also talked very openly, and freely about community ‘integration’ ‘assimilation’ and ‘segregation’ –  In the UK we don’t formally talk about ‘assimilation’ and if and when it is spoken about in seminars the discussion is often accompanied with a a sense of tension and embarrassment – with people worrying  about what words to use and not wanting to ’cause offence’.  We wondered if the British value of ‘avoiding embarrassment’ or ‘getting along’ (which Russell thinks is is an important one), means that we do not have some of the conversations that were taking place in this pedagogy class.  We discussed this further over lunch and a few of us thought that perhaps the act of avoiding embarrassment means that we sometime stagnate and do not have the awkward conversations that we need to move forward and learn.  We talked a lot about ‘multi culturalism’ and the arguments that suggest we are not in fact ‘beyond multiculturalism’ 

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‘The old west’ district

The other thing that stood out for us was the ‘lifestyle colours’ that the student assigned to their neighborhood.  Some communities were described as red, others blue, others red with a bit of yellow.  What did this mean!? and what was it’s significance?

All of us were so intrigued by this classification system that we asked question after question about it and in the end Eline, asked her colleague Marlee to explain it to us properly later in the day- we love a good classification system.

So the way the students were deciding what colour each district might fall under was based on the idea that certain people choose to live in certain areas because the spaces and people align with their lifestyle and what they want from a ‘community’. In particular the system that they pull from for this course looks at everything through the eyes of the child and the parents.  Considering public spaces, the types of houses and space around them, lifestyle, public provison, such as schools and libraries, ways of moving around/road safety.

There are four colors – Red, Yellow, Blue and Green, which it turns our were developed by city planners and architects rather than social scientists, which was good to know as the idea of ‘lifestyle choice’ seemed somewhat reductionist and also, as you will see and as we discussed in the group, non of the colours reflect ‘poverty’, lack of ‘choice’ or change.

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So if you are in a red area; you like to live close to the city center, you might be individualist, extrovert and value freedom and ease of access.  You want to live in a busy place, and these people are often highly educated and progressive.  The Children tend to be independent and have city based interests such as skating, street dance, and they use the neighborhood as there playground rather than needing specific and structured spaces such as play parks.  There is less contact with neighbors here and people live in smaller houses and flats and value privacy.

Blue:  Like to live in areas with space, large houses and lots of green space.  These people have ambition, are career driven and status is important.  They need a clear separation between work and home.  They want to learn and develop and they pass this desire for learning on to their children.  They value privacy more than public space – while they want to see green, they do not want to use it communally.  They are likely to commute a lot, moving between home and good schools, provision and work areas.

Yellow:  These areas tend to have been built more recently, they are spacious with green areas – but not as much as the blue.  They are group oriented, tend to be middle class, and like to get to know the neighbors.  These people look through the eyes of the child and think about where they are living in terms of ‘will this place be good for my child, will they have others to meet and play with’?.  The houses are nice, there are some communal spaces where many group activities and events take place.  There is a lot of local provision which focuses on family and social needs.

And Finally the Green:  These people want the cosy closeness of a village but in the city. They have quite small social networks but a very close to them.  They want security and privacy and their home and community is the main focus of their lives.  In these ares there are lots of strict rules about how to be in that space, such as ‘no noise after 10′ ‘pick up your litter’  ‘in this street we greet everyone’.  The children should be able to play outdoors safely in communal and central spaces – a little like a village green, where they can be seen and safe.

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In spite of some of the issues with these classification systems it offers a simple way of considering how space and place affect children’s upbringing and wellbeing. The students giving presentations were able to articulate how where you live defines what you can and cant do, and how outsiders (such as social pedagogues/social workers) may be perceived and what expectations they may have to fit to be productive in the neighborhood.  We can consider the environment as a 3rd, another actor in the upbringing of a child and community.

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