THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Social Science blog

20 posts categorized "Social Policy and Welfare"

12 September 2014

Regeneration?

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Robert Davies, Engagement Support Officer for Social Sciences writes

Just over a year ago I wrote a short blog post ‘Memory Place’ which recorded my reaction to seeing a particular item in our Propaganda Power and Persuasion exhibition and how it evoked memories of the fire at the Cuming Museum, Walworth, a few months earlier. Since then I have been prompted to explore some of the Library’s holdings relating to the study of regeneration and re-development.

Why these particular areas of study? Well, the Cuming Museum, the town hall and the Newington library remain under plastic wraps or behind hoardings following the fire last year, but thankfully they have not disappeared as if part of an illusionist’s amazing turn of prestidigitation. However, over the last few months many other buildings have disappeared behind similar wraps or hoardings to re-emerge as temporary piles of rubble. This is all part of the vast and often disputed project to replace the Heygate Estate with Elephant Park and the wider redevelopment plans for this particular part of South London (or as it was once described ‘London South Central’).

As the re-development progresses I have been taking photographs in an attempt to record how once familiar places are being removed. Often you are confronted with rather peculiar sights such as spotting the wreckage of this car:

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Car wreckage at the Heygate Estate. Photograph by author.

This prompted me to wonder: who had left it behind, had the contractors forgotten to ensure that the garages were empty before demolishing them, could the owner not be contacted or had a film crew decided to take advantage of the demolition sites to record a scene for an apocalyptic movie or gritty television crime drama? Maybe it is a left over prop from the filming of ‘Attack the Block’, ‘World War Z’ or perhaps even as far back as ‘The Bill’? To me it is also one of many images which represent the “shock and awe of urban renewal….” as Professor Michael Keith phrases it [Chapter 14, The Routledge Companion to Urban Regeneration, 2013].

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Demolition at the Heygate Estate. Photograph by author.

As you can probably tell I am not a very good photographer. To gain a much better sense of the many types of media being used to research and record changes to ‘material culture, heritage, urban life, place-making practices and spatial politics’ you can read Dr Bradley L Garrett’s blog post on Visual Urbanisms: Perspectives on Contemporary Research and Holly Gilbert’s post Perceptions of the Material Landscape.

A large number of videos, created by a wide range of people, including those recording the oral histories of some of the former residents of the Heygate, can found online  by searching for ‘Heygate Estate’. Other websites worth looking at to gain different perspectives on project include those of the developers and groups such as Southwark Notes , The Walworth Society and 56aInfoshop.

Anyway, I’ll conclude with a select bibliography of some of the latest academic publications on the subjects of regeneration and gentrification held by the library:

Mitchell Duneier, Philip Kazanitz and Alexandra K. Murphy. ed.s. 2014. The Urban Ethnography Reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Available in the Social Sciences Reading Room at: SPIS.307.76

Anna Jorgensen, and Richard Kennan. ed.s. 2012. Urban Wildscapes. London: Routledge. Available in the Social Sciences Reading Room at: SPIS.307.76

Michael E. Leary and John McGarthy. ed.s. 2013. The Routledge Companion to Urban Regeneration. London: Routledge.
Available in the Social Sciences Reading Room at: SPIS 307.3416

Loretta Lees, Tom Slater, and Elvin Wyly. ed.s. 2010. The Gentrification Reader. London: Routledge.
British Library shelfmark: YC.2013.b.1602

Michael Storper. 2013. The Keys to the City. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. Available in the Social Sciences Reading Room at: SPIS.307.76

Andrew Tallon. ed. 2010. Urban Regeneration and Renewal: Critical Concepts in Urban studies. 4 vol.s. London: Routledge.
British Library Shelfmark: YC.2013.a.9906

Fran Tonkiss. 2013. Cities by Design: The Social Life of the Urban Form. Bristol: Polity Press. Available in the Social Science Reading Room at: SPIS.307.76

In addition to this very short bibliography there are numerous articles and reports available via our Social Welfare Portal and Management and Business Studies Portal. Whilst writing this particular post I have also found many other collections items which cast light on how current regeneration schemes within the UK fit into a wider social history including the ‘improvements’ of the late 19th century, the development of the garden cities movement of the early 20th century, post-war modernist architecture and urban planning, the entrepreneurial property-led regeneration of the 1980s and redevelopment schemes which have formed part of recent sporting ‘mega-events’.   More of that in another blog post.  

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Rubble at the Heygate Estate. Photograph by author.

16 July 2014

Age is in the eye of the beholder

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Social science curator Simone Bacchini reports on a recent conference at the British Library, which examined the portrayal of ageing.

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Professor Lynne Segal, Birkbeck University of London, speaking at the British Library

Everybody’s doing it, so we might as well be open about it. What? Drug-taking? No: getting older; it’s ageing I’m talking about.

And talk about it we did, at the one-day conference held at the British Library on Monday, 28 April 2014. To be precise, what we explored was how we talk about or, to be more precise, how we portray age and ageing. The event was co-organised by the British Library’s Social Sciences Department, Queen Mary University’s School of Languages, Linguistics and Film, and the Centre for Policy on Ageing (CPA).

You might think that this was a very academic debate, quite abstract and theoretical. And yes, many of the day’s speakers were indeed academics, starting with the keynote speaker, Professor Lynne Segal, - whose recent book ‘Out of Time: The pleasures and the perils of ageing’ (Verso, 2013) is an examination of her own life as well an exploration of ageing. But the whole point of the event was to show that the ways age and ageing are portrayed - in the media, in Government policy documents, or in countless everyday conversations – does have practical consequences.

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This portrait of Ms Alexa Purves (acrylic and watercolour on paper, 83.5 x 59.9 cm.), painted by Scottish artist Fionna Carlisle was displayed at the conference. It is part  of the artist’s cooperation with the Edinburgh-based  Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology for the  Portraits of an Intelligent Scotland project, an exhibition of portraits representing the lives of two groups of people: cohort participants in a unique study of ageing, and the scientists that are studying them.

Like many other occurrences, age and ageing do not appear to be problematic concepts, at least on the surface: age/ing is what happens when, well, when you get older. And yet, think about it a bit more carefully and problems begin to appear. Words like ‘old’ turn opaque: when does one become ‘old’, for example? Is it at 70, 80, or 90? Much depends on average life-expectancy, of course; which is why, in the West at least, who is and who isn’t ‘old’ and what society expects of them is constantly shifting.

So age and ageing have become ‘hot topics’. More and more people are looking at them from a variety of angles. This is why, here at the British Library, we decided to prioritise this disciplinary area by expanding the existing resources to facilitate its study and to actually bring together people with an interest in it, not only to exchange ideas but also to explore how to better respond, as a repository of knowledge, to their needs.

The idea for the conference began to form following an observation: on one hand, scientific innovations that allow us to live longer are hailed as great advances; while on the other, the fact that people nowadays live longer is regularly framed as a problem. The metaphors that are often used when the topic is discussed, for example in relation to the welfare state and health services are revealing: ‘time-bomb’ and ‘drain on resources’ are only two examples. And in discourse on ageing populations, older citizens (itself a problematic label: who are ‘the elderly’? Are they all the same?) are often portrayed as ‘takers’, leading comfortable lives at the expense of the younger generations who, when their time comes, will not be as fortunate. The messages we receive are, in other words, contradictory; age is both an opportunity, especially in a market economy that sees longer lives as a chance for prolonged consumption, and a burden, for its ‘costs’.

The ways in which we, as a society, represent age and ageing are therefore relevant and have consequences for the ways we construe and relate to older people. From policy-making to intergenerational relations, the ways in which age is construed and presented are never neutral. They can and should be constantly challenged; to do so, both the art historian and the sociologist, the social worker and the literary theorist, as well as – let’s not forget it – older people themselves, can and should contribute to the debate. Something we hope to have facilitated with this event, a video recording of which will soon be available (watch this space!).

And anyway, when does ageing really start? The day we are born, one may say.

 

21 March 2014

The Annual Equality Lecture

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This year we will hold the fourth annual Equality Lecture with the British Sociological Association on the 30 May. This series has been a brilliant way for leading sociologists and social scientists to present their research on key issues in equality to a public audience. This year, we are delighted that our speaker will be Dr Tom Shakespeare, a senior lecturer in medical sociology at the University of East Anglia and disability rights advocate. Tom will be talking about ‘Enabling Equality: from disabling barriers to equal participation’ to explore what it takes to achieve equality for disabled people, in the era of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and ‘welfare reform’.

Tom’s research interests centre on disability studies and bioethics and his publications include: The Sexual Politics of Disability (1996), Genetic Politics (2002) and Disability Rights and Wrongs (2006). He has worked at the World Health Organization in Geneva where he helped write and edit the World Report on Disability (WHO 2011). Tom has been involved in the disability movement for 25 years.

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Above: Dr Tom Shakespeare. Photograph © Jon Legge.

Last year, the speaker at this event was Professor Danielle Allen, from the Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton, who spoke about what is needed from society in order for an egalitarian model of politics to be successful. Her talk ‘The Art of Association: the formation of egalitarian social capital’ is available via YouTube and below:

  

In 2012, Professor Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography at the University of Oxford, spoke on the subject of ‘What’s so good about being more equal?’ Much of Danny’s work is available on open access via his website: http://www.dannydorling.org/. Danny’s lecture is also available via YouTube.

The first speaker in the series was Professor Richard Wilkinson, Professor Emeritus of Social Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham and co-founder of The Equality Trust, who spoke on the topic of the best-selling book (co-authored with Professor Kate Pickett) The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone'. The first lecture in the series was hugely popular and was a fantastic start to the whole series.

This year Tom's lecture will be accompanied by live subtitles provided by STAGETEXT. For more information and a link to the booking options, please visit the British Library’s What’s On pages.

Useful information

Remember that books by the speakers listed here are available via the British Library’s collections. Begin searching here and find out about how to get a reader pass here. The British Sociological Association lists their events here.

12 September 2013

Thank Goodness for Propaganda!

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The following article was prepared by Ruth Fox, Director of the Hansard Society, to open the discussion on our second of four public debates to accompany our exhibition Propaganda: Power and Persuasion. The debate was held on Tuesday 3 September. It has also been published on the website of Speakers Corner Trust, our partner for the debate programme.

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Stamps produced by the Tufty Club. The Tufty Club was set up in 1961 by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents to encourage better road safety amongst children Copyright Statement

What do Joseph Goebbels and Tufty the Squirrel have in common? Not much at first glance. Goebbels advanced the Nazi cause for over a decade, and Tufty taught millions of school children a ‘quasi-military kerb drill’ to safely cross the road. But in fact they embody the two poles of the propaganda spectrum – sinister and sympathetic, malignant and benign. And each, in their own way, influenced millions of people to change their attitudes and behaviour.

Propaganda is a word loaded with negative connotations – brainwashing, deception, lies, half-truths and hoodwinking – and is often associated with times of war. But strip the term of a particular context provided by time and place and propaganda – good and bad – is all around us. The Goebbels-Tufty comparison may be facetious, but the extraordinary extent of the difference serves to underline an important point: we have to think about the intent and if we think only of the sinister and not the sympathetic we fail to truly understand why and how hearts and minds are won. For stripped to its core, propaganda is no more and no less than the dissemination of ideas designed to convince the public to think and act in a certain way and for a particular purpose. And influencing beliefs and behaviours need not always be a bad thing.

Kill-the-fly
llustration from the Medical Officer journal to promote better public health. At the time, flies were held responsible for contaminating food and spreading diseases such as tuberculosis.

Propaganda by those in authority can be motivated by genuine concern for the public interest such as the health and safety of citizens. For every war that has been shaped by propaganda, so too a disease has been tackled by a mass public information campaign designed to eradicate health threats posed by killers such as tuberculosis and polio. The first national public health campaign urged mothers to ‘kill the fly and save the child’ here in Britain in 1910. In the 1960s every parent knew that ‘coughs and sneezes spread diseases’, and by the late 1980s fewer citizens were likely to be ignorant about AIDS following the government’s 1987 tombstone campaign.

Today, across the globe governments promote the ‘5 A Day’ campaign to encourage citizens to eat five daily portions of fruit and vegetables following a recommendation by the World Health Organisation. For some this is the nanny state in action. Of course the government wants to encourage people to eat more nutritious food but they also want to change behaviour in order to conserve resources and reduce the cost to the public purse posed by health problems like diabetes and obesity. Is that a bad thing?

Propaganda is also used to create a sense of identity and belonging and not always by the state. Historically, governments have utilised images and items – the national anthem, coins, flags, stamps, buildings or monuments – to promote a sense of national identity and patriotism. But so too have anti-establishment campaigns: the wearing of suffragette colours, or anti-apartheid and CND badges was a clear statement of a person’s views and an encouragement to others to join them in common cause. These iconic images portray meaning and belonging in the same way as the Swastika or the Hammer and Sickle, or an Oak Tree or Red Rose. Some are malevolent some are not; but all, in their own way, are instruments of manipulation targeted at hearts and minds.

Patriotic symbolism need not be jingoistic or even solely targeted at domestic citizens. The London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony on the theme ‘Isles of Wonder’ was described as a ‘love letter to Britain’. The organisers may not have intended it to be propaganda, but in showcasing the cultural, economic and social achievements and prestige of Britain it was explicitly designed to influence people’s emotional response at home and abroad, bathing the country in a positive light even before the sport had begun. It was soft propaganda for ‘Brand Britain’.

One of the most effective propagandists of recent years has been Her Majesty the Queen. Following her ‘annus horribilis’ in 1992 and the death of Diana in 1997 the Royal Family embarked on a concerted effort to change public attitudes towards them. The propaganda toolbox was cracked open in a carefully choreographed effort to win back public support. The power of symbols and ceremony and a nod to modernity and accessibility through the embrace of social media were all harnessed in the effort, buttressed by the propagandists’ clever use of humour culminating in the iconic James Bond moment during the Olympic opening ceremony. As the country marked the Diamond Jubilee, royal popularity hit a fifteen year high and the Queen herself has personal ratings that politicians can only dream of. But is this twenty-year public relations effort necessarily a bad thing? Only if you’re a republican perhaps.

Liberty-calling

Liberty provided a symbol that would be understood anywhere in the United States. The theme of “freedom imperilled” deflected from discussion of the rationale for joining the war. National War Savings Committee. Paper bags with war savings messages. c.1916. Copyright Statement

Even in wartime, some forms of propaganda can be a good thing. If the country has to go to war, better to win than lose; but to do so recruits, money and supplies are needed. So it’s in the national interest for the Parliamentary Recruitment Committee to promote a ‘Your country needs YOU’ campaign, encourage the population to ‘lend a hand’ through war savings, and remind everyone that ‘careless talk costs lives’. And, particularly as an island nation facing the disruption of international transport links, it’s vital that food and energy supplies – so essential to morale – are maintained. So propaganda efforts to promote rationing and the conservation of coal supplies are all beneficial for the national cause. In World War Two, as food imports fell by a third, an additional six million acres of land was cultivated largely as a result of the Dig for Victory campaign which informed the public how to grow vegetables in their gardens and on public land. Without this public information propaganda to change citizens’ behaviour the country might have been starved to surrender.

So there are times when we can say ‘thank goodness’ for propaganda.  Ultimately it is the intention of propaganda that should determine our view of its merits. The society in which we now live, with a watchful media and powerful social media platforms, means British citizens are less likely than in years past to have the wool pulled over their eyes and the government to escape challenge. That’s not to say it can’t happen; merely that it’s more difficult than before for malevolent propaganda to prevail, at least in peacetime. And as social media democratises access to powerful channels of communication we could all be propagandists in the future.

11 September 2013

Speakers Corner at the British Library

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Ian Cooke, co-curator of 'Propaganda: Power and Persuasion' provides a summary of public debates held at the Library in partnership with Speakers Corner Trust.

Over four days 2- 5 September, the British Library held four public debates related to the theme of our exhibition Propaganda: Power and Persuasion. We worked with Speakers Corner Trust to plan the programme of debates, and were extremely lucky to have four inspirational speakers to introduce and lead our debates. 

Dr Evan Harris, Associate Director of the Hacked Off campaign for a free and accountable press, introduced our first debate ‘Is the News Propaganda?’. On subsequent days, Ruth Fox, Director of the Hansard Society, asked us to re-examine our views about propaganda, and consider more-positive aspects. Anthony Barnett, founder of openDemocracy, led a lively discussion on our attitudes to media new and old, and how we respond to a sense of “information overload”. Finally, Agnès Callamard, Executive Director of Article19, gave a strong defence of freedom of speech as the best means of combatting the “propaganda of hate”.  

Each speaker gave a short introduction to the topic, and then the direction and theme of the debate, as well as the content, came from the audience present. This worked better on some days than others, but on every day I was struck by the richness and seriousness of the discussion that came from the audience. I learnt a lot, and the four days have made me look at these subjects in a different light. I’m very grateful to everyone who attended on these days. For the rest of this post, I’ll try to summarise some of the main points that came out in the debates. However, this is of course a personal view, and I’m sure that, for those of you who came along, you’d probably have different things to say.

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Introducing the last of our debates, Peter Bradley, the Director of Speakers Corner Trust, reminded us that ‘rights are like muscles, you need to exercise them or they grow weak’. A strong theme through all four days was the importance of freedom of speech and expression, and the value in ensuring this is extended and nurtured for all. Access to the means of communication, including through new media and social media, empowers and provides the means for groups to organise and gain support. More than this though, it can also provide a means of redress, to correct distortions and challenge prejudice. As Ruth Fox demonstrated, the use of powerful symbols, for example on banners and badges, could generate feelings of solidarity.

There are, of course, challenges. People talked about the inequality of access to spaces for debate, resulting from structural issues around ownership of the national and international news organisations and social media platforms, or around access to new technologies. Online information sources can sometimes give the impression of creating a “deluge” of news. Difficulties in sorting that which we find trustworthy from the untrustworthy can lead us to the conclusion that all sources are unreliable, and promote a sense of cynicism where we feel powerless and alienated. In the case of social-media, the capacity to harass and abuse, often anonymously or under cover of a pseudonym, appears unchecked. Much of the discussion over the four days sought ways in which we could overcome such difficulties.

We discussed regulation in the case of news reporting. In other circumstances, there was support for education as a way of challenging cynicism, coping with perceived “information overload”, and understanding how to exercise our right to free expression without restricting this for others. One person noted that those who used new media more frequently became more confident in recognising authenticity in online communications. Understanding the process by which news becomes news can help us make decisions about what sources we trust. The teaching of history is one way in which a critical analysis of sources can be introduced. 

The programme was devised to accompany our exhibition on propaganda, so there was much discussion about what the word meant to people. Talking about news reporting, propaganda could be thought of as intentional, editorial, bias. Also, and perhaps more damagingly, it could be a failure to analyse things presented as fact or to critically question sources. A lack of accountability or poor systems of redress could also contribute to propaganda. Here, we were thinking about propaganda as being the narrowing of argument and heightening of inequalities in access to debate. However, the presence of bias in debate and commentary could also be a healthy sign – one that shows that freedom of expression is protected. The crucial element here would be an accompanying plurality of voices.

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Ruth Fox reminded us that persuasive speech could also be used to mutually beneficial ends. Health campaigning by state bodies can result in savings for services, and more productive populations, but also result in genuine benefits in wellbeing for individuals. As with other, more readily-recognised forms of propaganda, the appeal is often made to emotions, using powerful images and symbols.    

An important issue in the way that we respond to these powerful messages is trust. This was a theme raised by many of our speakers and in subsequent discussions. At some points there seemed to be a reluctance to place trust in many of the sources of information that we receive, with both social media and more traditional media faring poorly. The point was made that we tend to place more trust in sources and people that are local. Also, that we are more likely to trust sources that we agree with – which can be a useful tool for propagandists. This leads back to the importance of education and access to debate. The more we understand about how the messages that we find influential are produced, the better-equipped we are to analyse and assess them. Access to the arenas of debate, and making use of that access, makes the sources of information more accountable and more reflective of the range of interests and opinions within a society.   

22 August 2013

When did we ever have it so good? Part 2 of the iPod generation

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Abiola Olanipekun is an intern at the British Library. This latest blog post is number two in a series of four which reflects on reports about the ‘iPod generation’ which appear on the Management and Business Studies portal and were published by Reform in 2006. 

This second blog post about the ‘iPod generation’ continues to follow the envisaged bleak turn of events for this generation. Before I start, you may want to read part one of this series here.

After my first posting, I re-read ‘Class of 2006: A lifebelt for the iPod generation’ and it confirmed that in 2006 there was no supposed ‘happy ever after’ or even a semi-decent outcome in sight, just a doomed financial future for this generation. Will there ever be any ‘Green Shoots’ at this miserable point? Knowing what happened to the economy in the years that follow suggest not.

Should you, as a member of our erudite audience, wish to see this report then feel free (once more) to click here. It’s free to download from our MBS Portal.

As I read the second report in the series by Reform, I wondered about the relationship between how the evidence is researched and presented, and how it is received. In my first post I received the information as an inquisitive person but certainly felt miserable by the end of the report. This time around it I feel more miserable than I ever did! Knowing that many of the bleak predictions came true in one way or another make the warning produced by Reform even more depressing.

Below are just a few of the points and observations made at the time of this report. Whether this may or may not be the case for today is another debate…

  • Young people’s earnings were rising by less than any other age group
  • Young people were most likely to be in debt
  • House prices had continued to rise beyond the range of young people’s earning
  • Older people will gain from a rising state pension linked to earnings. 
  • Young people funding the increase in the state pension at the same time as facing automatic contributions of 3 per cent of their salary. 

This report generally confirms that is predicting bad news like the first report.

When the baby boomers are referred to as ‘winning’ the generation game it sets the generations against one another in an insulting way as it reminds of how the older generations have benefited from the welfare state. Or maybe my sense of humour has left because I (like a lot of my age group) am so poor and frustrated feel the reality of these generational differences.

I must stress now though that I am in no way carrying out a ‘Debbie Downer’ type approach to these pieces because that would negate the areas where progress has been made for the young. I also am grateful that the situation for the young people here is not as bad as it is in some other European countries, but recent news stories have also shown that there is economy uncertainty and poor employment conditions for many. Fixed-term contracts, or worse, zero hour contracts do not have a place in my heart. I am hoping for something other than more economic instability.

30 May 2013

Every time you cross the road ...

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Ian Cooke, Lead Curator in International Studies and Politics at the British Library and co-curator of the Propaganda: Power and Persuasion exhibition, examines how propaganda can often be fed by public opinion.

I had a great time last week at a private view of Propaganda: Power and Persuasion for secondary school teachers, put on by our Learning programme. Professor Jo Fox, University of Durham, gave an excellent talk on the evolution of propaganda between world wars and into the cold war. One concept that stuck in my mind was the idea of propaganda being a reciprocal arrangement, which responds to public opinion and may require the complicity of its audience to work.

In our exhibition, we look at the London 2012 Olympic Games as a point at which there was a considered attempt to present a view of Britain that was in some ways new - about a population that was diverse, and drew confidence and innovation from that diversity. In some ways, there are echoes of the 1951 Festival of Britain, but, as the Sport at Heart bid film shows, the emphasis on people was much more central. The 2012 Olympic Games are also interesting in terms of public opinion, and we look at this as expressed through Twitter comments in the last section of the exhibition. It's been suggested that print media followed public opinion, expressed in part through social media, in its positive coverage of the games.

Carole Holden gives an example of public opinion shaping the form of propaganda on the Americas Studies blog. Norman Rockwell's 'Four Freedoms', initially turned down by the US Office of War Information for not being sufficiently representative of "fine arts", were later enthusiastically adopted by the same office once they had proved their popularity in the Saturday Evening Post.

Seeing Rockwell's 'Four Freedoms' up close in our exhibition brings home the emotional power in the images and it's not hard to see why they were so successful. However, the exhibit that's had the most impact on me personally is one that takes quite a different approach and at first didn't strike me as very impressive at all.

Road Safety
This poster, 'Road Accident Deaths to Children and Teenagers, Great Britain 1960' (click to view large image), presents a series of simple line graphs and I very nearly ignored it when I was looking through our set of posters from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. But I was drawn to the small graph in the left-hand corner headed 'Pedestrians'. The big peaks at ages 3- 4 and 6-7 was shocking and made me think about the risk to my own young children. Having been brought up with TV images of the Green Cross Code man, I was already running through the version of the code that I could remember (which I discovered is actually closer to the kerb drill) whenever I crossed the road with my children. However, seeing this poster made me much more diligent about doing this. And also now means that I take even longer to get anywhere.

Like a lot of propaganda, it didn't make me do something that was completely different than before. It worked through reinforcing attitudes and behaviour that I was already expressing. It's also quite odd in working even though I was looking at the poster in context of the exhibition - I was thinking about it as propaganda, but still influenced by it. The reason why it had such an effect was that I was exactly the right audience for it, which comes back to the idea of reciprocity and complicity in propaganda.

That's the piece of propaganda in our exhibition that's had the biggest impact on me. But how about you? What's the most effective or powerful message in your opinion or experience? Let me know #BLPropaganda.        

26 April 2013

What is the future of the voluntary sector? TSRC National Conference

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Bridget Lockyer, a PhD student at the University of York, reviews the TSRC conference which was held at the British Library in April 2013.

In 2013, the voluntary sector is in a state of flux and disruption. After a period of expansion and mainstreaming under New Labour, a change in the political and economic climate has led to scaling back of financial support and a different ideological approach to the voluntary sector and the provision of welfare in general. This has led to questions about the role of the voluntary sector in the UK and how organisations can adjust to this new environment.

The TSRC was established in 2008 with the aim to enhance knowledge of the sector through independent and critical research. A collaborative project between the University of Birmingham and the University of Southampton, it received five years of funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Office for Civil Society (previously the Office of the Third Sector) and the Barrow Cadbury Trust. As this current funding is set to end, the event at the British Library on 19th April was a chance for practitioners, researchers and policy makers to discuss the key issues facing the sector and contribute to the TSRC’s Futures Dialogue.

The conference was also an occasion to reflect on the vast amount of current third sector research and the resources available to those within and those researching the sector. TSRC director, Pete Alcock, informed us that the TSRC has produced almost 100 working papers on the current state and future of the voluntary sector. We were also reminded about the TSRC’s Knowledge Portal, an online and searchable library which collates academic papers, reports by voluntary organisations and government policy documents. This is a really useful tool for those seeking third sector evidence. Head of Social Sciences at The British Library, Jude England, discussed the Social Welfare Portal, launched in December 2012 as a single point of access to its print and digital collections of research and information on social welfare policy development, implementation and evaluation. Fiona Armstrong from the ESRC reiterated their continuing commitment to third sector research, via the Big Data Investment and the Centre and Large Grants capital funding initiative.

The day was organised into five themed workshops: People, Organisations, Resources, Independence and Impact. I had chosen ‘Workshop A: People’ which focused on the voluntary sector workforce, volunteering, skills and training, chaired by Stephen McKay (TSRC) with Keith Mogford (Skills-Third Sector) speaking. Keith discussed some of the challenges facing the voluntary sector workforce, including underemployment (as full-time, permanent roles are scarce); constrained training budgets; organisations playing it safe in recruitment decisions (chosing experience over enthusiasm); lack of long-term strategic planning and increased job insecurity. He also summarised the preliminary findings of the Marsh Review, a review commissioned by Nick Hurd, minister for civil society, which, through holding a series of conversations with key figures in the third sector, set out to recommend ways in which the sector can maintain and improve its skills. The recommendations Keith outlined were: increased digital fluency; better use and sharing of data; higher standard of governance; greater enterprise and innovation; more effective collaboration, the building of effective entry routes to and through the sector (for graduates and school-leavers) and better leadership development and management. The workshop group were very interested in these findings and the review’s recommendations and there was a general sense of despair about the false economy of short termism within the sector.

The discussion moved on to talk about young people, internships, apprenticeships and volunteering and the moral dilemmas inherent in providing and managing unpaid work. I was particularly interested in a discussion about the career routes into and through the sector as this was very relevant for my own research. The group considered how the voluntary sector could accentuate the strengths of work in the sector to attract graduates and school leavers. The distinctiveness of a career in the sector was examined, e.g. the horizontal rather than vertical career progression; the ‘portfolio’ or ‘rucksack’ career format and the fluidity and movement within the sector. Although the group devised two different questions to ask in the following ‘question time’ panel session, the question that stuck in my head was the age-old ‘what makes the voluntary sector different?’. To be specific, does/should the voluntary sector have a special commitment to provide jobs and a greater sense of responsibility (compared to other sectors) in the treatment of its workforce? I was left pondering these questions as we moved into the final sessions.

During the next session chaired by Sara Llewellin from Barrow Cadbury Trust, panel members Debra Allcock Tyler, Jonathon Breckon, Caroline Slocock, Karl Wilding and Pete Alcock were asked the workshops’ questions. The questions and answers focused on what the core values of the sector should be, the value of collaboration and partnership working, how to maintain voluntary sector assertiveness and its relationships with other sectors and organisations. This was a friendly and lively discussion, which gave a great overview of the current debates taking place within the voluntary sector.

The final plenary was given by David Walker, an ESRC council member. He expressed some criticism of the current government’s approach to empirical evidence, describing today as the best and worst of times to be a researcher of public policy. I agreed with him to a large extent but was unsure of the suggestion that those who research the voluntary sector could themselves be ‘moral heroes’, mindful of Debra Allcock Tyler’s comment in the previous session that ‘the voluntary sector does not have the monopoly on good intentions or worthy actions’.

It can often be quite difficult and frustrating to bring together different stakeholders who have diverse experiences and perspectives, but it is always worth doing. Overall, the conference provided an excellent networking opportunity and generated some stimulating discussion on the current condition of the voluntary sector and what its future role might be.

Bridget Lockyer is in the second year of an AHRC funded PhD at the Centre for Women’s Studies, University of York. She is researching women’s experiences of volunteering and working in the community and voluntary sector since the 1970s.

This blog post was originally published on Bridget’s blog: bridgetlockyer.wordpress.com and has been posted here with her permission. All views expressed are her own. Bridget has also blogged for the Guardian.