PhD Summer School Manchester 2019

Issue 44: Opening Up Sociology Wed 5 Feb 2020 0

The Best European Youth!

Monica Massari, ESA PhD Summer School Director 2019

Being at my fourth ESA PhD Summer School – after the ones held in Lisbon (2016), Athens (2017) and Paris (2018) – I thought that, in Manchester as well, it was going to be as exciting as ever, literally immersed, together with about 25 PhD students from many European universities and my colleagues of the ESA PhD Committee, for two full days in the topic of our general conference: “Europe and Beyond: Boundaries, Barriers and Belonging”… I don’t want to say that I was wrong, but what happened in Manchester really went beyond my most positive expectations.

Some clear signals were already in the air some months before, when we launched the call for papers and we reached the record number of 109 applications: 45% more than 2018. A really very encouraging result, considering that most of the research proposals that we received were extremely good, so the selection of the best PhD students who were going to be enrolled in our School was not so easy. But at the end, considering the funds available for covering their trip to Manchester and their staying there, we accepted 26 of them: mostly women – since they did apply more than men – and with Italy and Germany being among the first countries hosting the students selected (we received a record number of applications from students studying in these two countries).

The two days were organised according to a very well-experimented scheme: four parallel sessions per day (two in the morning and two in the afternoon) where students could briefly present the papers that they had already sent, well in advance, to their PhD colleagues and tutors and then mostly benefit from an in-depth discussion with their peer-discussant, other students attending their session and professors involved in the panel. Topics addressed spanned from migration to social mobility, from European identity to citizenship practices, from life experiences of trans-women to third gender theory, from ethnographic work with migrants and informal workers to social mobilisation of disappeared people’s relatives in high risk contexts, from forms of artivism around the world to environmental pressures, and so on. Migration studies proved to be among the preferred field of research of most of our PhD students: a trend actually confirmed also in the following days during the ESA conference, when there were several papers in the plenary, semi-plenary and panel sessions devoted to migration and related fields of study.

Adopting the same method successfully launched during previous Schools, the PhD Summer School in Manchester was focussed on the preparation of papers for publication. Moreover, it could benefit a lot from the lectures given by then ESA Executive Committee member Lena Näre on “Getting Published in Sociology: Author’s Perspective”, then ESA President Sue Scott on “Becoming and Being a Sociologist: the Challenges in an Academic Career” and by the Editors of the European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology and European Societies – Ricca Edmondson and Michalis Lianos – on “How to Publish a (Good) Sociological Article: Targeting Quality and Luck”.

The possibility to be involved in an extremely participatory and stimulating experience allowed PhD students to benefit a lot from insightful comments and constructive suggestions aimed at improving their theoretical framework and ongoing field research. But apart from that, I really would like to add that the incredible team spirit and the feeling of shared belonging to the group that developed during those two incredible days were really unique! At the end of the first day I started receiving messages on Whatsapp inviting me to join all – and I want to stress all – students at the pub for a beer together… I was too tired after that intense day – and I thought that they could not stand me anymore after so many hours spent together. But, most probably, I did not want to dramatically increase the average age of the people drinking at the pub by joining them there… so I politely declined. But then, even during the conference I met many of them together, again and again, and I was told that they continued, for the entire duration of the Conference, having dinners and drinks together. Even today, they still continue to have a Whatsapp group!

But what really will remain unforgettable of that exciting week spent in Manchester was the closing party and the amazing dance floor organised at the Bridgewater Hall where almost all PhD students who attended our School kept dancing until the very end of the night altogether with most of the professors tutoring them during the past few days, the former ESA Executive Committee almost complete, our ESA Director and Executive Administrator – Dagmar Danko and Andreia Batista – and a group of amazing colleagues like Manuela Boatcă, Sari Hanafi, Hermílio Santos and many others who proved – once more, if necessary – that sociological imagination always needs to be nurtured by life – even in its most pleasant aspects and surprises – and social as well as human relations with people.

A Space for a Meaningful Experience in the Academic Field

Nina Perger, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia

This year’s ESA Summer School, titled Europe and Beyond: Boundaries, Barriers and Belonging was held in Manchester, UK, between August 17 – 19. The structure of the school is perhaps following the model already established in previous years: the focus is given to discussing participants’ papers with the aim of improving them for potential publication in the future. In regard to this, the Summer School provides numerous opportunities for receiving valuable feedback, either from mentors, covering the particular participants’ groups, or from other participants. Namely, the Summer School consists of participants briefly introducing their papers, followed by another participant’s discussion of the presented paper, especially in terms of the paper’s relevance, strengths and its shortcomings. At the end of the presentation, participants’ feedback is followed by feedback from at least one of the mentors.

Such a structure, which builds on participants giving feedback – including critique – on other participants’ papers, could easily turn into competition and ill-intentioned criticism, where critiques are made not with the aim of supporting and orienting the papers’ improvement, but with the aim of proving oneself as ‘(more) critically oriented’ and generally ‘better’ (supposedly more knowledgeable, more thorough, more demanding, and other surpluses that are apparently valuable in the academic world) than other participants, that is, with the aim of individually climbing the ladder of recognition and symbolic capital at the expense of others. It might be that this inclination is stronger and more intensely felt in younger generations – we, who are trying to enter and even more survive in the academic field, which generally does not allow or at least does not encourage solidarity, cooperation and support in producing scientific work despite the well-established truth that all scientific accomplishments are always collective in nature.

Generally speaking, this was not the case at this summer school. Conditions encouraging well-placed and argumentatively supported critiques were successfully established and upheld throughout the programme by mentors themselves and by the whole participant group. Lectures and contributions from other scholars, such as Lena Näre on “Getting Published in Sociology”, Sue Scott on “Becoming and Being a Sociologist: the Challenges in an Academic Career” as well as the discussion with two editors of the ESA journals, Ricca Edmondson (European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology) and Michalis Lianos (European Societies), successfully contributed to such a generally agreeable climate.

Networking, resilience - and luck? From the academic career workshop with Sue Scott

In this light, the whole experience of participating in the Summer School was encouraging, rather than discouraging, especially in terms of the apparent necessity to recognise the rules of the (academic) game, as Bourdieu [1] put it, especially its ‘publish or perish’ mode, but also and foremost, of the possibilities of recognising these rules with reluctance and defiance, that is, in the recognition mode which is unfortunately not (yet) the general way, but rather a particular, even marginalised mode of playing the academic game differently, which by its mere existence testifies to the arbitrary rather than necessary and unavoidable character of ‘publish or perish’ and other similar institutionalised ways of ‘doing science’. With that in mind, we can sum up the experience of the ESA PhD Summer School as offering spaces for truly open exchange. The academic field is full of rules and expectations that young scholars learn to incorporate, but also try to resist. Especially in terms of searching for quality rather than quantity of academic knowledge production, the Summer School opens up opportunities which acknowledge and even encourage the wish for persisting in the academic field ‘without second thoughts’.

Reference
[1] Pierre Bourdieu: Homo Academicus, 1988, Cambridge: Polity Press.

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