Giving Peace a Chance in Danaan

In this post, Edinburgh Law School postgraduate student Phoebe Warren reflects on her experience of taking part in the peace process simulation ‘Building Inclusive Dialogue in Danaan’, organised as part of the 2019 Festival of Creative Learning.

Photo credit: Laura Wise

It is frequently bemoaned that theory-heavy subject areas such as politics and law rarely provide opportunities from within the university setting to put education into practice. In an age where student loans continue to accrue for an entire generation while prospects of the job market dwindle, there is room for real concern regarding the employability of those interested in these disciplines. As a postgraduate student on the LL.M. Human Rights programme at Edinburgh Law School, the issue of lacking practical experience in my chosen field is one that worries me greatly. How can I one day participate in high-stakes politico-legal negotiations without being able to first make mistakes and grow from them in a low-risk environment? A useful solution has been the discovery of conflict resolution simulations.

In my final year at McGill University, I participated in a week-long, war-to-peace simulation that changed my life. The experience was intensely stressful but immensely gratifying, as I was able to combine everything learned in four years of political science courses, and ultimately led me to undertake a degree here at the University of Edinburgh. Upon finding out that members of the Political Settlements Research Programme would be hosting a one-day peace process simulation event during the February 2019 Festival of Creative Learning, I immediately jumped on the opportunity to participate and encouraged my classmates to do the same.

PSRP researchers Laura Wise and Kathryn Nash, along with Rebecca Smyth and Robert Macdonald, organised and facilitated the Building Inclusive Dialogue in Danaan simulation, designed by Inclusive Security, an organisation that promotes comprehensive stakeholder participation in peace processes, and particularly the participation of women. One week prior to the simulation, I received a series of general briefing materials regarding the fake country for which I would serve as the Minister of Interior and lead negotiator during peace negotiations and talks, as well as confidential information about my character’s motivations and ambitions. I particularly appreciated the details about the background, education, and family – these are considerations that most certainly colour politicians’ actions (and inactions). Having learned from my mistakes in past simulations, I spent a couple hours on the night before the event mapping out tactics, key interests, and potential allies in order to make the best use of my time during the game. I felt relatively prepared and ready to take part in one of my favourite (and niche!) hobbies early the next morning.

Photo credit: Laura Wise

On the day of the simulation, I was greeted by a room of mostly familiar, though sleepy, faces – many of my classmates had indeed decided to participate. This was both to and against my advantage in that I knew their personality types (a major factor in the progression of simulation exercises) but could not ruffle too many feathers as I would see them in class the next week! After a quick briefing from the organisers, I met the other member of the ‘Government of Danaan’ delegation. The Minister of Defence of Danaan was to be a dedicated but ambitious character who I could not allow to usurp my power, according to the confidential briefing materials. Further, we were limited in our ability to negotiate by the omnipresence of the President of Danaan who was not a character in the game but could veto our decisions and promises to other actors. In reality, the Minister was a fellow American and all-around pleasant and bright postgraduate who I immediately decided to treat as an ally rather than an adversary.

We spent the morning planning our overarching strategy, delegating tasks, and meeting with as many stakeholders as possible while simultaneously attempting to undermine negotiation manoeuvres of the faux-armed rebel group against whom our faux-government was engaged in decades-long civil war. However, the afternoon proved far more difficult as we felt that the government’s negotiation positions were not fairly handled by the mediation team. Purposefully designed to be alienating and difficult for participants, my partner and I grew increasingly frustrated by the peace process and ‘walked out’ of peace talks at the last minute when our demands fell to deaf ears. This was not conducive towards a state of peace in Danaan, but was entertaining to say the least.

Photo credit: Laura Wise

Participating in the Danaan peace process simulation reminded me once again that learning can and should be not only informative but transformative and enjoyable. I left the simulation reinvigorated with passion for the subject I study, reassured that there exist opportunities for self-education prior to embarking on my future career as a human rights policy practitioner, and ready for the next event.

I’m Not Racist But….Re-Cap on Festival of Creative Learning

By Ellen Davis-Walker

“bias is inevitable but can be addressed”

Of all of the takeaways from our workshop (Wednesday the 20th of February) this was perhaps the most recurrent piece of feedback, and the key message we would pass on to all readers of this blog! When thinking about the sort of workshops needed to challenge unconscious racial bias, Dr Veronique and I were keen to emphasise need for tolerance, respect and acceptance: a mutual understanding that prejudices in some form or another are an inherent part of how we see, and process the world. What is important is how we chose to act and respond when we find ourselves in situations where biases (of any form) play out in front of us.

In the first half of the workshop participants were introduced to the concept of unconscious racial (and gender) bias through a series of talks and structured group activities from organisers. We were also lucky enough to be joined by Dr Issa Robson, who was able to draw on her own first hand experiences as a BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) student and member of staff. The second half of the workshop was dedicated to role play activities designed to help participants reflect on questions of intersectionality and identity with the aim (as one participant phrased it) to hold up “a mirror to myself and how to challenge [my identity] more”.

Figure 1: Figures taken from the workshop feedback show a clear appetite for change
Figure 1: Figures taken from the workshop feedback show a clear appetite for change

Although these sorts of exercises can make for hard (and sometimes emotionally draining) work, the enthusiasm and openness of the participants made the workshop a joy to be part of. One participant commented that they felt “more confident and empowered to call things out” after just two hours!

Based on this wonderfully positive feedback, we hope very much that workshops on unconscious bias and prejudice will eventually be a mandatory part of training and staff induction, allowing for a wide range of voices and stories to be listened to and acted on. For now, at least, we are very grateful to everyone who made the 2019 Festival of Creative Learning so enriching and we look forward to seeing what 2020 has in store.

Bodies in the Anthropocene Workshop

By Patricia Wu Wu, a PhD candidate in Fashion within the School of Design (www.patriciawuwu.com), and

Asad Khan, a PhD candidate in Architecture at the Edinburgh School of Architecture & Landscape Architecture (www.theentropyproject.com)

Outline

The Anthropocene is the geological epoch in which the collective actions of human activities have been the dominant influence on our environment. The aim of our workshop was to address this ecological crisis, in creative ways that engage participants to think and explore collectively through the making of narratives. We encouraged them to re-imagine their relationship with the world using LiDAR scanning as a means to challenge their perception of body and surroundings, and how that in turn generates alternative modes of seeing.

LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) scanning uses an infrared light in the form of a pulsed laser beam to measure distances when in contact with an object, and converts the signal’s return time back to the scanner as a discrete set of distance values in the form of X, Y, Z coordinates. These coordinates are stored in a 3D point-cloud archive, which produces a highly accurate production of its target. Our focus was not to use LiDAR to reproduce a replica of the physical environment, but we were looking to subvert this particular technology into glitched and fragmented errors of alternate realities that could not otherwise be seen by the human eye. Through this thought process, we encouraged participants to arrange choreographed scenes through the use of gestures, body movements, materials, etc to potentially distort the machine vision of LiDAR into unexpected, unknown visual possibilities.

LiDAR visualisation

Development

On the first day of the event, we delivered our research presentations and engaged participants in discussions. This was then followed by the creation of diagrams in preparation for their scanning work. The purpose of diagramming was to capture their thoughts about how they wanted to be seen by the machine and what parts they wanted to reveal or hide, before being captured by the scan. Some were lines, curvatures, shaded contours to express body motion, whilst others preferred to write short poems to express a certain feeling. The diagramming process allowed them to conceptually grasp first how to plot a narrative and project it into a 3D archive. Based on each diagram, participants experimented with different postures, reflective materials wrapped around their bodies and different locations to visually speak through their narratives.

Participant Diagram 1
Participant diagrams
Participant diagram 2
Participant diagrams

After collecting their scans, they were taught how to visualise them and at the same time animate them into short animations. This tutorial was done during the second day to offer them a glimpse of the possibilities of navigating their LiDAR archive, and how they wanted to immerse themselves or others when viewing the scene. These techniques engaged them to understand and explore further the potential of a 3D archive, how their environment is being seen by LiDAR and how different it is from our actual environment, but also, in how they originally perceived it as through their diagrams. The perception of opening the archive, from before and after, is transformed by the LiDAR through its glitches, where participants’ bodies were split into parts, or merged with others. These scans created surreal aesthetic glitches, almost ghostly figures of their bodies in both their presence and absence. The end of the workshop concluded with reflections about the event and supporting participants further with their own work in how they could incorporate LiDAR.

Invisible Women: Talking about Menopause

By Kay Williams, Lesley Kelly and Daphne Loads

Despite welcome changes in the way we think about women’s health and wellbeing, nevertheless in a recent STUC survey 32% of respondents said that menopause was treated negatively in their workplace and 63 % reported that it was treated as a joke. This can’t be good for women experiencing menopause, for girls and young women looking ahead to menopause, or for supportive colleagues and family members of all ages and genders. Inspired by (but not a part of) the Menopause Café movement the Invisible Women event was an open invitation to talk, listen and learn about menopause. Staff and students of all ages and any gender were welcome. We created an inclusive and supportive atmosphere, where the following things happened:

  • beginning to make it normal to talk about menopause
  • sharing information and raising awareness
  • learning how to manage our own wellbeing and support each other
  • being aware of the facts of menopause
  • feeling able to ask for support and reasonable adjustments
  • discussing experiences of living and working with menopause
  • sharing insights and tips
  • feeling less isolated
  • recognising that menopause transition is different for all women
  • having fun, drinking tea and enjoying cake!

Nine women of various ages from different parts of the University attended our event on the day. We split ourselves into two groups and proceeded with illuminating and supportive conversations, stimulated by prompt cards containing quotes from a variety of sources including BBC Radio 4 Women’s Hour and the STUC report.

Some prompts featured personal experiences and reflections, such as author Allison Pearson’s observation made on Woman’s Hour (15 Jan 2018):

 “I really wish I’d known what was happening to me, so I could have discussed it with my children, instead of them thinking I was some kind of souped up Lady Macbeth.”

Excerpts from reports highlighted the lack of any consensus on how women experience menopausal-related symptoms:

“Overall the evidence offers estimates of the number of women who are negatively affected by transition symptoms at work which vary from 10% to 53%. Some of these studies  are more robust than others…  but no clear pattern emerges.”  Government Equalities Office report (2017)

Other sources challenged negative stereotypes and emphasised positive dimensions of change, such as this from relationships counsellor Pam Custers:

“The menopause is a perfect time to take stock of our life, …and start creating the kind of life we want.”

We received very positive feedback from the event, including comments like:

‘Helpful to chat with such lovely women. More of this kind of thing needed.’

‘Very informative and reassuring to hear other folk’s experiences.’

‘I would like to join an online community/ or a meetup group about menopause. I’d like to read more, talk more + listen more about it. This was a great event – thank you!

There is an appetite for the discussion to continue, and perhaps for these issues to ‘find a home’ at the University of Edinburgh – from where a supportive network might be managed, to enable staff (and students) to talk, to find information and support, and to feed into policy and practice where required.

Further resources:

Menopause cafes https://www.menopausecafe.net/

BBC Radio 4 series on Menopause:  https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05tpw79

Clips available from Kirsty Wark’s 2017 documentary on the BBC2 page The Insiders’ Guide to the Menopause https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08fmspd

Menopause on NHS inform (Scotland) https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/sexual-and-reproductive/menopause

Menopause – Lothian Sexual Health http://www.lothiansexualhealth.scot.nhs.uk/Services/SpecialistClinicsGPReferral/Menopause/Pages/default.aspx