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Global Challenges and Social Justice

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Public Engagement & Media

The Centre for Global Challenges and Social Justice hosts a variety of public facing events, seminars and workshop that engage different audiences by drawing on the latest research conducted by members of the School of Social Sciences & Global Studies at The Open University.


GCSJ Roundtable: Alcohol, Violence and Harm

12 June 2024
Speaker: Lucy Bryant and Madeline Stenersen
Alcohol-related violence is a significant global harm. Policy responses to this often include interventions rooted in criminal justice systems – e.g., policing operations in night-time economy districts and enhanced custodial sentences for violence committed under the influence. However, criminal justice systems also produce physical, social, and emotional harms, and entrench racial, class, and gender inequalities.
While alcohol-related violence and criminal justice system responses may be linked in the policymaker imagination, it is essential that practitioners, researchers, and advocates seeking to address alcohol harm ask what further harm might be done by endorsing and advocating for policing and carceral responses to this violence. Further to this, these responses turn attention away from the environment in which such violence takes place – an environment, at least in part, co-created by a global alcohol industry and the bodies that regulate this.
This panel will explore these ideas in an attempt to understand next steps in this policy space.

Human investment vs Neoliberal precarity - Academic researchers on FTCs

5 June 2024
Speaker: Les Levidow, Peter Wood and Iman Naja
In engaging OU procedures, their efforts have faced a conflict between two employment models: human investment versus neoliberal precarity. The human investment model has encountered many obstacles, most fundamentally an institutionalised ignorance; this concept helps analyse how institutions strategically neglect, obscure or forget knowledge that may disturb their agendas.
To find ways forwards, the speakers have been elaborating Participatory Action Research, whereby a group process learns from experience so that joint action can more effectively achieve common aims.

Quantitative and statistical methods

3 June 2024
Speaker: Ece Kocabicak and Ayobami Ilori
The thematic focus of the surgery is ‘Quantitative and statistical methods’, with Ece Kocabicak (Sociology) and Ayobami Ilori (Economics). The format of the PGR methods surgery contains talks by two members of staff about their use of the method, practical dilemmas, issues, challenges, work arounds, etc. This is followed by discussion with PGR participants.

Participatory Action Research PAR Methods for Reflective Collaborative Practice

17 May 2024
Speakers: Andrea Berardi, Les Levidow and Agnes Czajka
Commentary: Agnes Czajka

Participatory Action Research (PAR) is research into practice undertaken by those involved, aiming to improve their situation. To pursue common aims, practitioners jointly plan actions, implement them, observe the effects and reflect on the practical implications; then they repeat the cycle. Through this process, they can become a stronger collective actor. They gain new understandings of the change process. Separate individuals become a more cohesive group, learning how to devise more effective actions. This webinar focuses on PAR methods for Local Authority policy-change, especially for promoting solidaristic agri-food alternatives in Britain and Brazil.

Social, Policy and Criminological Research

16 May 2024
Speakers: Isla Masson, Lucy Bryant and Ece Kocabicak
Chair: Keir Irwin-Rogers

This panel is oganised by the disciplines of Social Policy & Criminology, Sociology and includes the following presentations.
Ambiguous Loss: The Experiences of Remand Prisoners’ Loved Ones: Isla Masson’s paper contributes new knowledge about the nature, scope, and resilience shown by loved ones supporting remanded prisoners in England and Wales, indicating where future research and policy should be focused.
Who’s running the show?: The regulation of live music in England and Wales: Lucy Bryant shares patterns identified across the regulatory areas which suggest that the productive power of regulation has contributed to the development of a live music industry formed in the image of neoliberalism.
Women’s labour force participation in developing countries: The impact of gendered landownership rights? Ece Kocabicak’s paper demonstrates that legal discrimination against women in land inheritance curtails female participation in non-agricultural paid employment.

Imaginaries of Environmentalism Epiphanies, Fantasies, and Rituals

16 May 2024
Speakers: Charlotte Weatherill, Sophie-Grace Chappell and Maria Nita
Chair: George Revill

This panel is organised by the disciplines of Philosophy, Religious Studies, Politics & International Studies. Environmentalism has a politics of policy and activism, but it’s also a contested space of emotion and imagination. These papers bring together different ideas around environmentalism and imagined alternatives to the harm and violence that is being enacted upon the world.

Tackling Multi dimensional Inequalities

16 May 2024
Thais DeCarvalho-R-Lopes: The loss of environmental capital and intergenerational impoverishment in the Peruvian Amazonia
Julia Chukwuma: The financialisation of healthcare: Public-Private-Partnerships and health in Africa
Andrew Trigg: Rosa Luxemburg on inequality and economic crises
Chair: Dinar Kale

Organised by the disciplines of Development, Economics, this panel is building on the research conducted in the Development and Economics stream. It engages with causes, consequences and potential solutions associated with multi-dimensional inequalities. Inequalities have become a pervasive and ubiquitous part of everyday lives in the Global North and Global South. These inequalities are shaped by historical contexts, social structure, and power dynamics, and they manifest in various dimensions such as income, gender, race, and relationships underpinning them.

Starting from elsewhere storytelling and telling geographical stories

16 May 2024
Speakers: Claire Wellesley Smith, Edward Wigley and Gunjan Sondhi
Chair: Sonja Rewhorn

Organised by the discipline of Geography & Environmental Studies, this session forms part of the Open Geographies research conversations that explore how thinking spatially opens up different ways of making sense of the politics of the present. It offers us provocations to consider how radically different notions of openness (and closure) are being articulated through various cultural and political projects, experiments, movements, and resistances – and asking: What’s at stake?

Contemporary Challenges of Information and Trust

16 May 2024
Speakers: Dan Cavedon-Taylor, Precious Chatterje-Doody and Paul-Francois Tremlett
Chair: Jamie Gaskarth

This panel is organised by the disciplines of Philosophy, Religious Studies, Politics & International Studies. The contemporary crisis of social, political and media trust is well-documented, as is the range of the challenges it poses for reliably making sense of news and current affairs in a real-time global media ecology. In this context, our immediate affective responses can significantly condition how we react to social stimuli, creating conflicting trends in who and what we trust. This panel looks in more detail at some of these trends.

Borders, Migration and the Hostile Environment

15 May 2024
Speakers: Kathryn Medien and Dan Taylor
Chair: Liudmila Nikanorova

In this roundtable, Dan Taylor, Kathryn Medien and Anita Grodkievicz of the Rosmini Centre, Wisbech discuss recent projects exploring how migrants in the UK are experiencing and responding to the UK’s “hostile environment” policies.

Decriminalisation of Sex Work in Cape Town

15 May 2024
Speaker: Bev Orton
Chair: Umut Erel

Violence against women and girls in South Africa is one of the highest in the world. This also applies to femicide. Sex workers in South Africa face many challenges, murder, rape, sexual assault and significant barriers to safety. The reasons for becoming sex workers are varied and reflect their vulnerabilities and poverty. Decriminalisation of sex work would enable safeguarding and access to health care.

The Religious Toleration and Peace (RETOPEA) H2020 project

15 March 2024
Speaker: Les Levidow, Peter Wood and Iman Naja
This session reflects on the project Religious Toleration and Peace (RETOPEA), and its ‘Docutube’ method.
The Docutube method supports young people’s active learning about religious diversity in the past and present through the creative process of making short documentary-style films (‘Docutubes’). It has been developed by the Religious Studies team at the Open University as an innovative approach to promote critical and creative engagement with notions of religious toleration and peace.
The research was initially funded by the European Commission through their H2020 programme, which enabled the RETOPEA team to run pilot workshops in the UK, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Estonia, North Macedonia, Finland and Poland. Since then, through funding from Culham St Gabriel and The Open University’s Open Societal Challenges programme, we have been able further to pilot the approach in England and Northern Ireland, and in the Muslim majority countries of Albania and Jordan.

Making sense of Global China

28 February 2024
Speaker: Giles Mohan, Weiwei Chen, Ran Hu, Filippo Boni

The roundtable presents ongoing work of the REDEFINE project based in SSGS. China’s global rise has often been treated in ‘exceptional’ terms – that China acts as one, that it is ‘other’ to Western countries and capitalisms, and that it presents a threat to the liberal international order. Our work is framed differently by rooting China’s multiple forms of engagement in an analysis of the global economy and by looking at these relationally and comparatively. Our focus has been on the infrastructures of connectivity that Chinese firms have been investing in and/or operating in Europe; ports, railways, logistic hubs, airports. As such our take on the political economy of global China moves beyond the grand geopolitical narratives to explore the often long-standing and hidden processes of connection.

Vernon Lee, Polymath and Anti-War Activist

26 January 2024
Speaker: Derek Matravers, Shafquat Towheed and Sally Blackburn-Daniels

Vernon Lee (the nom de plume of Violet Paget) was a prolific thinker and writer, active during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. She is probably best known for her works of Gothic fiction, although she also did seminal work on empathy and psychological aesthetics. She was a prominent anti-militarist, something that might have contributed to her neglect. In this seminar, Derek Matravers will talk about the rediscovery of her philosophy; Shafquat Towheed will talk on Lee on pacifism and non-violent resistance; and Sally Blackburn-Daniels will discuss her views on conscription, heroism, and waste.

GCSJ Methods Surgery - Qualitive research methods

26 January 2024
Speaker: Jacqui Gabb and Dan Taylor

The thematic focus of this surgery is ‘Qualitative interviews and focus groups’, with Jacqui Gabb (Social Policy & Criminology) and Dan Taylor (Politics). GCSJ Methods surgeries connect PGR students with experienced researchers in the where practical challenges, obstacles, tips and tricks can be discussed.

Community-led Policy Innovation for Local Food-Growing

17 November 2023

As the wider context, community food-growing (CFG) generally means group efforts in community gardens or shared allotments. Some advocacy groups link CFG initiatives across an entire Borough to seek more helpful support measures. Their efforts have encountered systemic obstacles, in particular: CFG sites combine several activities and societal benefits, yet relevant responsibilities are fragmented across various administrative units of each Local Authority. This project brings together five Borough-wide groups in a peer-to-peer knowledge exchange process for more effective advocacy.
Watch the project video "Spelthorne’s Community-Led Climate Initiative" via Vimeo.

Black Lives Matter: Movement or Moment? Symbol or Substance

21 June 2023
Speaker: Gary Younge
Chair: Umut Erel
The Keynote lecture by Gary Younge (University of Manchester) addresses ‘Black Lives Matter: Movement or Moment? Symbol or Substance?’. The anti-racists uprisings of 2020 galvanised large numbers of people worldwide, raised consciousness, elevated more diverse groups to leadership positions and have managed to clear significant political space. But in the absence of longstanding institutions to incubate and democratise this energy, this new consciousness has failed to find an organisational home. As a result, we have proved unable to build on the space that has been cleared.

Arts-based Research Methods Roundtable

21 June 2023
Speakers: Charlotte Vincent, Siobhan Campbell, Christine Plastow and George Revill
Chair: Agnes Czajka The Arts-based Research Methods roundtable features the following Speakers: Charlotte Vincent (Artistic Director/CEO, Vincent Dance Theatre), Siobhan Campbell (Senior Lecturer of Creative Writing, OU), Christine Plastow (Lecturer in Classical Studies, OU), George Revill (Professor of Cultural Historical Geography, OU). The roundtable is chaired by Agnes Czajka (Professor of Politics and International Studies, OU).

Publishing in Academic Journals Roundtable

21 June 2023
Speakers: Dr Arabella Fraser, Dr Les Levidow, Aiora Zabala
Chair: Umut Erel
This event on publishing in academic journals gives tips and perspectives from editors. The 'Publishing in Academic Journals’ roundtable features contributions by experienced editors and authors from different backgrounds. Speakers engage with hands-on examples with the aim to give researchers a platform to exchange tips and tricks and expand their networks.

Directing Innovation Towards Just Outcomes

20 June 2023
Speaker: Theo Papaioannou
Chair: Jamie Gaskarth
Directing Innovation Towards Just Outcomes looks at the Role of Principles and Politics. Contemporary innovation theorists tend to defend a combination of Schumpeterian and Keynesian politics of innovation as a solution to the problem of directionality of new technologies towards socially just outcomes. In contrast, Hayekian theorists of innovation insist that top-down state interventions aiming at directionality suffer from epistemological and moral problems. Theo Papaioannou argues that despite differences, both theoretical camps rely on liberal notions of morality and politics which justify predominantly distributional currencies of justice, overlooking questions of relational equality in innovation. Therefore, they fail to go far enough to eliminate unjust relations of private ownership, domination, and oppression within processes of production of novel technological goods and services (e.g., IPRs).

Research Funding - Academic and Research Support Perspectives

16 June 2023
Speaker: Suzanne Duncanson-Hunter and Simon Usherwood
This workshop on research funding provides academic and research support perspectives. The workshop gives an overview of main funding opportunities and introduce the research bidding support team who are available to help colleagues who are considering applying for research grants. It also includes the perspectives of experienced academics who have successfully received funding for their research and the best practices they have developed in this process.

The Global Commons Roundtable

16 June 2023
Speaker: Derek Matravers
Chair: Giles Mohan and Dan Taylor The Global Commons roundtable includes presentations by Derek Matravers and Dan Taylor, chaired by Giles Mohan. ‘The high seas, the deep-sea bed, Antarctica, the atmosphere, and outer space are all defined as “global commons”. That is, they belong to no particular jurisdiction and we all (seem to) have rights concerning them. Where did the idea come from, and where is it going? What light can we throw on the concept and its relations to current controversies and debates?’.

Participatory research methods Roundtables

15 June 2023
Speakers: Elena Boukouvala and Daniel McCulloch Chair: Melis Cin (Lancaster University) This roundtable on participatory research methods features two presentations: 'Arts into Acts' is an action participatory research investigating how young people, refugees and locals, create belonging and enact citizenship. Located in Lesvos, Greece it has taken place online through creative and digital methods (presented by Elena Boukouvala). Critical reflections on participatory visual methods and voice: This presentation offers some critical reflections on the relationship between participatory visual methods and voice. Drawing on research which aimed to explore this relationship from the perspective of researchers, participants and audiences, it also considers why it matters that we ask critical questions about this supposed relationship in our own research (presented by Daniel McCulloch).

Reorienting global development

15 June 2023
Speaker: Giles Mohan, Ran Hu and Weiwei Chen Re-orienting global development: the multiscalar narratives of Chinese infrastructure investment in Europe features presentations by Giles Mohan, Ran Hu and Weiwei Chen. The event is co-hosted by the REDEFINE Project (China/Europe and the Changing Global Order Seminar Series) and the GCSJ Centre. The REDEFINE is funded by the European Research Council and examines what China’s rise means for how we understand global development and, specifically, Europe’s place in it. Through comparative, ethnographic case studies in the UK, Germany, Greece and Hungary REDEFINE will produce fine-grained analysis to understand the rationales for Chinese investment in Europe, the geopolitical dynamics surrounding these financing streams, the structuring of projects, and how they interface with national and local development policy.
Watch the project video "Spelthorne’s Community-Led Climate Initiative" via Vimeo.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: a disinformation primer

28th June 2022
Speaker: Dr Precious Chatterje-Doody
Lies, uncertainty, and disinformation have long been a prominent part of war and conflict. But now more than ever, conflicting reports of the same events circulate instantaneously due to the rise of social media and the proliferation of state-funded international broadcasters. This is precisely the case in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where information operations were intended expressly to support the military intervention. But, if these efforts have proven relatively successful at home, they have failed to resonate with many global audiences. This talk will introduce some key concepts such as propaganda, framing, and strategic narrative, which are helpful in understanding government disinformation in war. Then, the successes and failures of both Russian and Ukrainian attempts to shape international opinion of the war will be discussed, before reflecting on the lessons that can be drawn about how to both galvanise public opinion and respond to disinformation in war and conflict.

Epiphanies: an ethics of experience

27th June 2022
Speaker: Prof Sophie Grace Chappell
Discussants: Dr Alex Barber, and Dr Sean Cordell
Epiphanies is a philosophical exploration of epiphanies, peak experiences, ‘wow moments’, or ecstasies, as they are sometimes called. What are epiphanies, and why do so many people so frequently experience them? Are they just transient phenomena in our brains, or are they the revelations of objective value that they very often seem to be? What do they tell us about the world, and about ourselves? How, if at all, do epiphanies fit in with our moral systems and our theories of how to live? And how do epiphanic experiences fit in with the rest of our lives? These are Sophie Grace Chappell's questions in this groundbreaking new study of an area of inquiry that has always been right under our noses, but remains surprisingly under-explored in contemporary philosophy. (Publisher's website).

To smell is to kill: sensate regimes of war and martial power

24th June 2022
Speaker: Dr Kevin McSorley
Smell is a sensory mode capable of apprehending potential threat and enmity in ways that are orthogonal to other ways of sensing. Accordingly, the organisation and militarisation of the sense of smell, augmented by various non-human and technological means, occupies a distinctive place in warfighting, underpinning practices from patrol and manhunting to the tracing of improvised explosive devices. These activities supplement and trouble ocularcentric accounts that theorise martial power in terms of an increasingly abstracted co-production of vision and violence in wartime. In this seminar, it is suggested that critical inquiry into war would benefit from a broader theorisation of all its ‘sensate regimes’ right across a sensorium that is itself being continuously transformed through war.

Medical circumcision for HIV prevention in Kenya is a social justice issue (but we don't talk about it)

20th June 2022
Speaker: Dr Mark Lamont
Approximately 23 million medical circumcisions were carried out between 2007 and 2019 in eastern and southern Africa. Known as Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC), these circumcisions were part of a mass global health programme of HIV prevention targeting non-circumcising communities. VMMC was variously resisted in these communities when it was first rolled out, but not widely reported on as significant concerns about and for social justice. This contribution explores the cultural and political contexts of doing research on voluntary medical circumcision in Kenya and argues that social justice concerns have been censored through a mix of processes, some bureaucratic and tied to funding, while others impinge upon the politics of scientific peer review. One result has been a paucity of critical political-economic analyses of VMMC, while ethnographic access to VMMC programmes have been highly restricted. There is a prevailing fear among researchers that critiques of this medical intervention would result in them being labelled as anti-circumcision or as proponents of a polarised and, hence, compromised scientific community. If social justice is to be addressed as a central concern within global health interventions in eastern and southern Africa, examples such as the research on VMMC need to be subject to reflexive debate about the cost of scientific polarisation in the politics of knowledge production.

Covid Chronicles From the Margins: Migrant Solidarity and Belonging via an Experimental Arts-Based, Collaborative Digital Ethnography

23rd May 2022
Speaker: Prof Marie Gillespie
This seminar investigates how forced migrants from around the world have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic via creative and artful resistance to marginalisation. Covid Chronicles from the Margins exploits the creative potential of smartphone tools. Migrants share pandemic experiences in poems, songs, music, photos, short videos, written testimonies, diaries, artworks and blogs. In chronicling COVID-19 experiences, we are building solidarities and belonging; promoting a better understanding of the problems being faced; campaigning for the recognition of rights and social justice; and facilitating self-representation, civic engagement and community participation. With the help of arts-based methodologies and smartphones, we are beginning to understand how this pandemic unfolded among people whose lives, voices, talents, hopes and dreams often go unnoticed and undocumented in mainstream media and academia. ABCDE is a shorthand for this novel and experimental digital ethnography where young people set the agenda and represent experiences: from attacks on LGBTQ youth in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya to fires and floods in camps among Rohingya refugee youth in Bangladesh.

Voting for 'None of the Above': Enabling electoral disenchantment

5th May 2022
Speaker: Dr Richard Heffernan
Electoral choices are provided for us by the prevailing party system. Legacy parties exist because of historical background, past and some pre-existing partisanship, being protected when the electoral system returning the House of Commons, SMPS, often imposes upon citizens the need to tactically vote in such first order elections. The electoral choices on offer do not always bear out electoral preferences. Electoral disenchantment, expressed in non voting, reflects both apathy and, increasingly, alienation on the part of registered voters. Presently ballots which are deliberately spoilt go uncounted, so citizens should be able to register a refusal to choose between the party candidates presented at an election. That refusal, recorded and reported as part of the electoral process, would be achieved by adding a box 'None of the above' on the ballot paper. Electoral law should then enable an election to be rerun- with different candidates- should 50 percent plus 1 of those voting support 'None of the above' on a particular ballot. Counting and reporting abstentions would encourage the disenchanted to participate, allow citizens to chastise the political class and so help boost turnout. Alongside other forms of electoral and political reform, registering and reporting electoral abstentions would play an important part in the urgent tasks of re-equipping and hardening our democracy, its political institutions, and reforming our presently unfit for purpose political class.

Who should care? Social care and citizenship

27th April 2022
Speaker: Dr. Dan Taylor
It’s long been said that social care is in crisis. Despite recent government funding pledges, social care remains woefully underfunded. The UK has an ageing society. Demand for social care grows, but the number of carers, often on low-paid insecure contracts, is shrinking. The care crisis reflects a problem for citizenship, as many in ill-health or old age discover they can’t access all the support they need and would expect under a “cradle-to-grave” system. Care and who cares will increasingly become a political matter. The way care is framed counts, given that care involves all of us. Drawing on my experience as a carers community worker in London, my ongoing research on caregivers in Gateshead and on feminist theories of care and social reproduction, the seminar will explore the relation between citizenship and social care.