Making Waves: The Institute for Social Justice PGR Symposium 2023

Matthew Peyton, ISJ student intern, joined the Making Waves Symposium to discuss the ways to diversify teaching and social justice. 

I was recently invited to take part in the ‘Making Waves’, the Institute for Social Justice’s annual PGR symposium. The symposium explored how research can diversify the hierarchy in teaching and address social justice, with PGRs reflecting on new opportunities for others and how we conduct our research.  PGRs from different disciplines explored issues relating to social justice, from mental health to climate change to decolonising community music.  

The symposium began with a presentation from our keynote speaker, Chris Bagley, the Director of Research for States of Mind, a project focused on tackling issues around mental health in schools, with contributions from young people as active participants. The work that the States of Mind project has already done has been focused on making sure that young people’s voices have been heard as they encourage them to be active participants in the project. By having students write an open letter to Ofsted. The letter detailed how students were not able to express themselves or that they weren’t learning life skills, and that education became a competition between students. They have designed an alternative education evaluation framework, that encourages self-evaluation within schools with the help of student focus groups. The work that Chris and the States of Mind team have already done showcases how important it is to shake up the hierarchy of knowledge and to encourage young people to get involved so that their voices can be heard and makes the changes they want to make.   

The symposium also had several other talks, delivered by other postgraduate researchers, examining the way social justice is researched. Nicola McAteer discussed ‘Community Music and Women: Situating Decolonial Feminism Within a Practice Rooted in Resistance’ and explored the role of community music in social justice, through autoethnography and engaging with other women from different cultural and political positions. Emma McKenzie and her talk on ‘The Power of Narrative’ explored the need for mental health support in the form of a novel. Sam Pheby’s talk on ‘Knowledge from the Non-Human’ considered how language and using Zoosemiotics can help contextualise issues like climate change, by using narratives focused on animals.  

Though these talks came from different subjects and dealt with varying issues in social justice, they each highlighted an important message about researching social justice, which is that there is no one way to do it. This is something that struck a chord with me, especially when we were able to discuss ideas together as a whole group. The importance of what it is we are doing as researchers, using Chris’ presentation on the States of Mind as an example, the way we conduct our research is an opportunity for marginalised voices to be heard, and in a way highlights our responsibility to make sure these voices are heard.  

The ‘Making Waves’ symposium was an amazing opportunity to bring together researchers and academics from across the different schools in the university. Being able to showcase the hard work and dedication not only inspired but also gave all in attendance a moment to pause and reflect on what we can do, from giving a platform to those without one to interrogating the ways we conduct and deliver our research is something that helps make the mission of the ISJ become a reality.