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Who Counts? Research as a Pathway to More Inclusive Societies
Research has many roles, motivations and rationales. For me, like many others, a critical role for research is to seek to bridge the gap between a vision of a just, equitable and inclusive society and a reality that is often unjust, inequitable and exclusive. In this lecture, I will explore the potential of research to illuminate the perspective of those who are on the margins. In doing so, I ask who counts when political and policy decisions are made – and how are they counted? How can the balance be shifted so that the views of who are silent and invisible count? What role can research play? And who has licence to speak on behalf of others? I will draw on three issues, which have shaped my own research journey, to reflect on these questions – and on the role of research as a means of fostering social justice.
The first example I draw on explores the ways in which images of working children were used by various sides of the political debate on responding to child labour in the 1990s – often at the expense of the interests and realities of children themselves. In this example, research with (rather than on) children was important in reshaping policy responses. The second example examines the ways in which social policy for children in Australia has focused on constructions of childhood, family and society that infantilise and depoliticise the issues (such as labour market policy) that matter most for children. Here, research has illuminated children’s priorities – but with mixed outcomes. In the final example, I focus on the reconceptualisation of poverty measurement that has occurred globally over the past fifteen years, with innovative research challenging approaches that are insensitive to gender and to the complexities of lives shaped by deprivation.
In drawing on my own and others’ research experiences across these three issues, I argue that while politics and interests often trump evidence, research matters in seeking to bridge the gap between vision and reality. I also raise critical questions about who speaks for whom, who interprets experience, and what counts as ‘evidence’.
Sharon Bessell is Professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, where she is Director of Gender Equity and Diversity and heads the Children’s Policy Centre. She co-leads the ANU Individual Deprivation Measure (IDM) Program (with Associate Professor Janet Hunt). Sharon’s research interests revolve around issues of social justice and human rights, and focus on two broad areas. The first is social policy, social justice and the human rights of children. The second area of Sharon’s work is the gendered and generational dimensions of poverty.
Listen to the lecture recording here.
This inaugural lecture is the fourth in the Gender Institute lecture series Inspiring Women of ANU, which celebrates female academic staff at ANU who were appointed to Level E in the last round of promotions.
This lecture is proudly brought to you by the Gender Institute and the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy.