An introduction and reflection on CIRCY membership

linkd Hello. My name is Elsie Whittington and I have just started my PhD in Social Work and Social Care. I am also the graduate teaching and research assistant (GTRA) for CIRCY for the next three years. I am slowly getting to know the CIRCY steering group and members and I am looking forward to working with them more over the next few years both as a PhD student and in my GTRA role. I hope to use this blog, at times, as a space for ‘thinking aloud’ about the experiences, interactions and opportunities I have from being part of CIRCY. So here goes…


I’ve just had a very interesting and informative conversation with Robin Banerjee, a developmental psychologist who is on the steering group for CIRCY.   As many readers of this blog may know, CIRCY is in its third year as an active, vibrant research centre within Sussex with a growing reputation and influence more widely. This year we are beginning a review process, to think about how CIRCY is fulfilling its aims, enacting its themes and supporting its members.

In my conversation with Robin we discussed a whole host of things.  The most interesting for me were to do with his involvement in CIRCY, the practicalities of interdisciplinary working, and what makes research under the ‘CRICY umbrella’ distinct from research with children and young people more generally. It is this that I want to be the focus of this Blog entry.

Our conversation about the challenges of interdisciplinary work lead us to reflect on what might draw people to affiliate their research and work with CIRCY? Many researchers, particularly those who are well established and in a position to set up and lead research projects have a routine way of working, an established methodological paradigm. This is something that we know makes interdisciplinary work difficult, different disciplines often have distinct, or favoured research methods. For example, if we ask a Psychologist and an Anthropologist to research the effects of peer pressure on children in primary schools, they would set about this research in very different ways; ontologically, epistemologically and therefore methodologically.

CIRCY membership includes Psychologists and Anthropologists, faculty in the schools of English, History, Law, Politics and Sociology and the Medical School as well as those from the Education and Social Work School in which the research centre is housed. We are ‘clearly’ interdisciplinary (after all it is one of our three ‘key defining features’). But what does this mean in practice? And moreover does it work for everyone?

One of the main attractions to being a part of CIRCY for me was the ‘interdisciplinaryness’, or rather the space and support for collaboration, creativity and ‘meaningful engagement’ with young people and my topic of study. Great – we’ve got an interdisciplinary membership, but are they active, do they feel a part of CIRCY? How do they ‘fit? This, as Robin and I discussed, may be one of the hardest questions to answer – but one of the most important. Important because it is the question that people, prospective members, collaborators and researchers will be asking themselves. How do I (my research, my methods, my areas of interest) fit under… within… alongside… the explicit key principles and research themes and the more implicit paradigms and ‘unspoken criteria’ of what actually comes under the CIRCY umbrella.

What are people ‘fitting’ into when they join CIRCY? A centre that supports and would like to be associated to any research with children and young people?

No.

Research that is interdisciplinary, international and in the real world?

Yes. But…

It is implicitly more specific than this. When we thought about current and past research projects that have been done through/by CIRCY we considered what made them distinct from other research with children and young people.  We came up with this: child and youth empowerment and engagement is at the core of CIRCY research. Our paradigm is one that holds children and young people at the centre of research; we do research with children and young people often supporting them to be the ‘architects of investigation’ (thanks for that phrase Robin) not just the subjects.

It will be interesting over the next few months to talk to members and find out what draws them to CIRCY, but also what inhibits them, or perhaps us from supporting them to do innovative research with children and young people that ‘fits’ with CIRCY.

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