Reflections on The Changing Campus #3 and #4: beyond the Multiverse?

“The ‘Idea of a University’ was a village with its priests. the ‘Idea of a Modern University’ was a town – a one-industry town – with its intellectual oligarchy. The ‘Idea of a Multiversity’ is a city of infinite variety. Some get lost in the city; some rise to the top within it; most fashion their lives within one of its many subcultures. There is less sense of community than in the village but also less sense of confinement. There is less sense of purpose than within a town but there are more ways to excel. There are also more refuges of anonymity.”

Clark Kerr (1963) The Uses of the University, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, p.41.

Writing over 50 years ago Clark Kerr’s nested (Village – Town – City) analogy for the evolution of the University as a place, and as an experience, seems at first glance quite modern (in the sense of contemporary). But thinking about it further it’s actually more Modern in the sense of a now-strange-to-us embrace of a diffraction of identity and experience. It’s a very liberal, mid-Twentieth Century, view of a university being a place of liberation, immersion, diversification.

Our Sheffield Hallam University Space & Place Group’s recent set of online ‘The Changing Campus’ sessions have perhaps identified an increasingly prominent diffraction of place-experience and place-identity. Across our final two sessions we’ve heard how campus spaces physically encode and sustain exclusionary assumptions about mobility, we’ve heard stories of enhanced senses of connection for some enabled by covid-era shifts towards online ‘places’ of interaction, and we’ve heard of the indeterminate boundaries of ‘the campus’ and of increasingly complex and hard to separate on-site and off-site university effects and impacts.

Here are the recordings of our two final sessions (the recordings and reflections for our first two sessions are here), they feature:

The Changing Campus #3: Embodiment, Materiality & Flow

Petra Vackova (SHU) & Donata Puntil (King’s College London)

Rooms of Possibilities: Making Spaces for Posthumanist (Un)doings

In our talk we will be exploring and asking what it means and what it does to be a community in the post-digital era. We will reflect on a Dream Team session we organized at the 2022 European Conference of Qualitative Inquiry in which we challenged digital capitalism, including digital labour and production, in academia by re-imagining and enacting a new approach to communing during a conference session that accounts for bio-digital becoming in/with/through rooms, both physical, virtual, and imaginative. As online, virtual ways of working are becoming normalized in academia, we argue that new meaningful and ethical ways of inquiring, living, writing, collaborating, and growing with/in/through bio-digital-material spaces must be developed to respond to the changing relationship between human and more-than-human others in the academia. Through a process of ‘quilting together’ with comments, images and connections in our online conference space, we paid attention to the role of bodies, objects, sounds and materials, the ways we encounter and entangle, across and between our physical and online ‘rooms’. By wandering and wondering between rooms, using all of our senses in physical movement, we diffracted, expanded, (re)experienced what is possible, what is valuable and what is often unseen or unheard in our bio-digital-material ways of working.

Carol A. Taylor (University of Bath)

Research-creation in the ‘posts’: Institutional kitchens, doors, cupboards

For a long time I’ve been interested in how mundane materialities constitute institutional life. In this talk, I focus on how human-nonhuman relations produce practices of mattering within material assemblages. The mundane materialities I focus on – kitchens, doors, cupboards – are often ignored, unnoticed, or taken-for-granted within the broader life of higher education workspaces. My argument is that such liminal, marginalized spaces/places/materialities can help shape the habits, routines, practices, values and norms of the everyday institutional life they are enmeshed within. The empirical materials I draw on were generated through a variety of research-creation encounters which favoured an experimentalist practice and an attentive stance. The analysis I offer is shaped by three ‘posts’: posthumanism, post-methodology and post-disciplinarity. I draw out some insights into the material, affective and political dimensions of the mundane materialities of our institutional lives and how these vital materialities produce resonances and connections across bodies, spaces and times

Pamela Holland & Nick Russell (on behalf of the SHU Staff Disability Network)

The Changing Campus: Challenging ableism

This session will explore the challenges faced by disabled staff when working on campus and remote Hybrid working. The importance of consulting disabled staff from a wide range of disabilities when designing and renovating campus buildings and facilities cannot be emphasised enough. Inclusion shouldn’t be an afterthought; it should be ingrained as part of the normal process from the start. Pamela and Nick will talk about their own positive and negative experiences as well as drawing on experiences from the wider staff disability network. We will cover a range of disabilities including physical, hidden, mental and medical within the case studies. On campus and Hybrid working challenges will be discussed to raise awareness of disabled staff experiences from both positive and negative aspects.

The Changing Campus #4: Wider learning Environments & Interactions

Teri-Lisa Griffiths (Criminology, SHU) & Jill Dickinson (Law, University of Leeds)

“I’m in a lecture hall with chairs and a big screen and someone talking […] it felt special in a way to me […] it felt like all my hard work had come to something”: Exploring what learning spaces mean to the student experience.  

During the 2020-21 academic year, campuses across the UK were in lockdown. Our research explored how students’ learning spaces had changed as a result of these restrictions. In this presentation, we will report on our key findings and explore how learning spaces can support and inhibit the social, cultural, and academic ‘becoming’ of learners. Using a sociomaterial framework, we will illustrate how students adapted and managed previously unimagined spaces of learning and what we may ascertain about the student experience as a result. We will invite discussion about the long-term considerations for policy and pedagogy which arise from our research findings.

Vicky Mellon (Tourism, SHU) 

“It feels like a job” : Understanding commuter students: Motivations, engagement and learning experiences (Stalmirska & Mellon 2022)

The number of students choosing to commute to university and remain at home, rather than relocating to the place of studying is growing, particularly within post 92 HE settings. Increased tuition fees and introduction of student loans is attributed to this growing trend. Subsequently, they are a valuable part of the student population. However, there is a lack of research on commuter students, including focus on their motivations, engagement and learning experiences. Here, the qualitative study addresses this gap and explores their reasons for commuting, their engagement and disengagement with extracurricular activities and their sense of belonging at university. The research highlights the challenges facing commuter students and how these differ from other cohorts, and offers some recommendations for overcoming barriers preventing engagement.

Julian Dobson (CRESR, SHU) 

The long shadow of the campus: ‘place’ and the civic university 

Universities cast a long shadow over places. The notion of the ‘university town’ is baked into European history: places where cultural identity and spatial form are significantly shaped by their higher education institutions. Even modern, isolated campuses ripple out beyond their boundaries, skewing property development, housing markets and neighbourhood dynamics. As universities become more conscious of their civic mission, they increasingly position themselves as agents of economic and social change within their wider communities. But the consequences of such interventions are not always fully considered. This talk will explore the porous interface between places and institutions, and present an emerging framework for understanding and assessing universities’ impacts on the places that host them.

Image credit: Sheffield Hallam University, City Campus Masterplan: