SPA Conference Review

Image of blog authorA review of the 2012 Social Policy Association conference
By Lee Gregory, PhD Candidate Cardiff School of Social Sciences

When asked to review the recent SPA conference for the Policy Press blog I have to admit it raised some concern. How do you review something so large and diverse when you really get to see so little of everything that is going on? But I soon pulled out a couple of overarching themes from the conference, which perhaps make this year stand out from previous years.

First, of course, this year’s SPA was a joint event. Working in collaboration with the East Asian Social Policy research network (EASP) the conference brought together a wide range of perspectives, ideas and research. This was reflected not only in the range of papers on offer to delegates but also in the plenary sessions which drew out some comparative discussions between East Asia and the UK in relation to inequalities: a topic of renewed concern during a time of “austerity”. The conference ended with the ambition of future collaboration, on the basis of a joint agreement signed by the SPA and EASP, to continue working together.

The second overarching issue was the use of twitter. Whilst twitter may have been in use during previous SPA conferences, this year conference had an official hashtag #socpol2012 (for the non-tweeting readers, this is a way to label a post on twitter so posts can be collected together). The use of twitter actually addresses, to some extent, the concern that passed through my mind when first asked to write this blog piece. By following the hashtag I was able to read the key points coming out of presentations and discussions in paper sessions I couldn’t attend. Tweeting during conference also allowed a new platform for sharing ideas. Not only accessible to the public but also providing a digital record offering small insights into the conference.

Both of these developments are refreshing and encouraging. Refreshing because they provide new opportunities to connect with other academics (and the wider public), to share ideas and thinking. Encouraging, because they show a concern within the SPA to look beyond the conference to wider audiences.

One theme repeated from last year was the need to campaign and seek change not just to defend the social sciences but to challenge the ideas and policies being put forward by the Coalition Government (although I would urge a need to consider the devolved context in which policy debates now take place, I am, after all, currently based in a Welsh institution). Seeking collaboration with other organisations reminds us of the global contexts in which these issues take place, and twitter gives us a local means of engaging debate and change.

Lee Gregory, PhD Candidate Cardiff School of Social Sciences

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