RGS-IBG Royal Geographical Society Annual International Conference

Bryony Enright (Chair)

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference


Connected Communities Session at RGS-IBG 2014 Co-organised with Aksel Ersoy and Nathan Eisenstadt Connected Communities and the ‘Impact’ of Co-production: From Engagement to Social Justice The Impact Agenda and continuing debate around public engagement, impact and relevance (economic, political or otherwise) is having a significant influence on the UK university sector. This debate has been fuelled by the banking failure in the late 2000s which saw politicians, economists and (rather more unsettlingly) some academics seek justification for universities through their contributions to economic growth (Calhoun & Rhoten, 2011). One route to ‘impact’ that has gained particular traction within social science, arts and humanities has been an increased emphasis on ‘public’ and ‘community engagement’. The mechanisms for measuring and embedding ‘impact’ of this kind have begun to take hold through institutional structures such as the Research Excellence Framework (REF); bodies designed to support universities in their public engagement strategies such as the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE), The Welcome Trust, the Catalyst Public Engagement Beacons; and university public engagement departments. Meanwhile, new funding streams have opened like the AHRC-led Connected Communities programme, designed to promote collaborative endeavours and co-production between academics, artists, public service providers and a range of ‘community’ groups. With the growing emphasis on community co-production, researchers have embarked on a range of innovative, experiential and participatory projects deploying novel forms of analysis and knowledge production, including performance (Pratt and Johnston 2013) forum theatre (Brookes et. al. 2012), community mapping (Amsden 2005; Perkins 2007) and have created an array of ‘non-traditional’ ‘outputs’ from crowd-sourced digital archives, exhibitions, festivals and training opportunities to a plethora of community toolkits (Pain 2011; Carter and Thrive 2011). Underpinning much of this work have been social justice goals of participatory action research (Kindon et. al. 2007) and an aspiration to move from ‘knowledge transfer’ to ‘knowledge exchange’ and collaborative knowledge-making. In parallel to, and informing these novel approaches, the very terms of the debate through which they emerge have undergone profound critique. In the last decade, scholars have articulated rigorous criticism of the concepts and practices of ‘community’ (Joseph 2002; Banerji 2000) ‘empowerment’ (Li 2005) and ‘participation’ (Kothari et. al. 2001). The ‘empowerment’ of communities, as a process through which unpaid ‘active citizen-subjects’ take responsibility for social provision has been analysed as an important technology of neoliberal governmentality (Hall and Reed 1998; Herbert-Cheshire 2000; Marinetto 2003; Larner and Butler 2005). Discourses of community engagement have been criticised as offering participation without substantive decision-making, or worse, for cultivating consent for decisions that were not, nor ever could have been, to the benefit of the communities they claimed to help. In the context of an increased emphasis on community co-production in the academy, and of the ongoing critique of the terms of this debate, this session aims to bring practitioners, academics, artists and ‘community activists’ together to explore these novel, experimental and often ‘perverse alignments (Newman 2011). We invite reflective contributions to address some of the following questions: • What are the key challenges and possibilities for co-produced research to move from engagement to social justice? • How are these new forms of dissemination and practices of ‘doing research’ transforming and/or challenging the role of academics and the university as a public institution? • To what extent can co-produced research reframe debates around impact, value and relevance and what new forms of knowledge and expertise emerge through these practices? • How might co-produced research experiments navigate or exceed the dichotomy of community as a mode of governmentality or as an authentic sphere of social action? • How do these new collaborative engagements allow us to rethink impact and reframe the impact agenda?
Period28 Aug 2014
Event typeConference
LocationLondon, United Kingdom


  • Impact, co-production, social justice,