The Common Cause project emerged from the AHRC/ESRC ‘Connected Communities’ programme and responds to evident gaps in University/community engagement identified in the Creating Living Knowledge report. Common Cause has allowed also close collaboration with the AHRC ‘Translating Cultures’ theme, a portfolio of now 120 projects exploring the need for research that studies and furthers communication and understanding between, across and within different cultures. Several of those projects – a large grant, Researching Multilingually, that has allowed researchers at the University of Glasgow to work with organisations such as Pan-African Arts Scotland; a partnership between Liverpool Hope University and Milpfest, Indian music and arts organisation – have been key case studies in the work underpinning this report. Much of the work of ‘Translating Cultures’ has focused on the diversity of the UK: working in linguistically superdiverse communities to understand new forms of communication that emerge when over 50 languages are spoken; collaborating with poets and musicians to translate into creative practice research on translation and multilingualism; reflecting on social cohesion, and foregrounding the work on those histories, memories, languages and cultures that are key to understanding how this might be enhanced.
‘Translating Cultures’ reflects in a single thematic programme many of the wider concerns of the Arts and Humanities: across the Arts and Humanities, we deal with diverse histories, often engaging with those of minoritized communities and grappling with the legacies of colonialism and slavery; our disciplines teach and study a range of languages, including increasingly those community languages often marginalized in policy and formal education; we gather and analyse the narratives recounting the experiences – individual and collective – of our fellow citizens; we focus on artistic production, with an increasing interest in community-led projects.
None of this work is possible without connections with a breadth of communities in the UK, including BME communities. We are increasingly understanding the importance of collaboration / co-creation, not only as means to enhance the impact of research but also as a key element of the design of research itself. We still, however, have a long way to go. The Common Cause report is essential reading for all researchers in Arts and Humanities. It does not, however, make for comfortable reading: it is not surprising that this is on occasion a story of deep mistrust, of structural inequalities, of universities operating as unwelcoming and often inaccessible white spaces, of low levels of BME staff amongst faculty, of patchy cultural competence among academics. But it also provides a positive blueprint for the future, with new forms of brokerage and support, identification of new spaces of engagement, suggesting fresh ways of discerning mutual interest and discovering common ground. The report contains clear guidelines on running projects successfully, on communication and relationship building, on recognising community expertise, on having difficult conversations, on working in multiple languages, in short: on changing the university and on changing the ways in which it engages with the communities of the UK in their rich breadth and diversity.
Common Cause outlines the possibility of a more inclusive set of Arts and Humanities research practices, engaging equitably with minority ethnic communities, seeking sustainable ways of working together, harnessing the often-unrealised potential for collaboration and partnerships across the full range of disciplines we represent. The report is essential reading for all researchers, community groups, funders and administrators committed to furthering these goals.