On the 3rd and 4th July, WISERD held its 10th Annual Conference in the Medrus Conference Centre at Aberystwyth University. This year’s theme was Civil Society and Participation, and as Wales’ largest social science conference, the event attracted over 100 delegates from across academic, policy, public, private, and third sectors.
The conference began with two training sessions, offering the opportunity for delegates to learn more about using the WISERD DataPortal – a free data discovery tool – and how to get published in well-recognised journals. Both sessions offered expert, practical advice for researchers and a stimulating start to this year’s conference.
Following a welcome address from WISERD Director, Professor Sally Power, the conference officially began with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Wales Doctoral Training Partnership poster pitching competition.
Abeer Alabdan and Maram Alamri, both PhD students at Bangor University, presented their research to a full audience of delegates. Congratulations to Abeer, who was voted by delegates as the winner for her poster pitch on, ‘Reflections of Commonality and Differentiation in VI Education: Curriculum, Pedagogy, and Teacher Training’.
Over 40 papers were presented over two days, exploring inter-disciplinary research from Wales and beyond, focusing on approaches to civil society and participation that have been adopted in a wide range of policy areas.
These encompassed a diverse range of themes, from language revitalisation and the new curriculum in Wales, to changing patterns of welfare pluralism, local growth narratives in the UK and disaster governance in India.
A highlight of the event was the keynote lecture by Professor Sarah Neal (University of Sheffield) on ‘Revisiting neighbours and why conviviality matters’. Professor Neal presented findings from pilot interviews, highlighting the radical and unique nature of neighbour relations, and the importance of these social relationships in understanding civil society.
Throughout the event, delegates also took the opportunity to view the postgraduate poster competition, sponsored by the Learned Society of Wales. Congratulations to Sophie Baker from Bangor University for winning with her ESRC research on ‘Perceptions of belonging in service users with psychosis living in linguistically mismatched communities in North Wales’.
Day one closed with a reception hosted by the new WISERD Politics and Governance Network, jointly led by Dr Matthew Wall and Dr Bettina Petersohn from Swansea University.
On day two of the conference we were pleased to welcome the Vice-Chancellor of Aberystwyth University, Professor Elizabeth Treasure, who introduced a special plenary panel session. In this session, four WISERD co-directors shared findings from the ESRC WISERD Civil Society programme and looked back across five years of interdisciplinary research.
Panel members discussed key findings and the subsequent policy recommendations they would make from their respective research areas. A common thread emerging from each theme leader was that our research to date has helped us understand more about how the concept of place shapes civil society.
These places can be the homes we inhabit with our families – and to some extent, our neighbours – and our local communities, to the wider public sphere, including our borders and beyond. Each space presents its own set of challenges for civil society and we depend ever more upon our community and regional actors, institutions and governments to facilitate participation and reduce inequality.
The co-directors also looked ahead to the new ESRC WISERD Civil Society programme on ‘Civic Stratification and Civil Repair’, which starts in October. They emphasised that while the first phase of civil society research has contributed to strengthening our position as a national research centre, a key consideration of the new programme will be to determine how we can influence policy beyond Wales.
WISERD Co-Director, Professor Mike Woods hosted this year’s conference. He said: “We were delighted to host the WISERD Annual Conference in Aberystwyth this year and to celebrate Aberystwyth University’s continuing investment in the WISERD Centre for Welsh Politics and Society.
“Over the last two days we’ve seen an extremely impressive programme of research addressing the theme of Civil Society and Participation, which has provoked a great a great deal of discussion. I hope our excellent speakers have found the experience a useful way of taking their work forward, particularly those from our postgraduate community.
“We are grateful to Professor Sarah Neal and Professor Elizabeth Treasure, and indeed to all delegates, for joining us to discuss some of the most important issues facing contemporary society today in Wales and beyond.”
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