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New directions

by on August 6, 2014

Some rather exciting things have been happening lately, one of which has been my appointment as deputy director at the Centre for Housing Research. Kim McKee, one of my close colleagues at St Andrews and who is currently the chair of the Housing Studies Association, was appointed as director, and together we are looking forward to the new challenge. For both of us these appointments (from the beginning of June) have been a big step up, and are the first big responsibilities we’ve had. Nevertheless, we are hoping to build on the success that CHR has gained over the years with large housing datasets and to diversify a little to also play to our own personal strengths in qualitative methods. You can read more about the changes at CHR, and some of the projects and activities we’ve been involved, in here.

The other ‘new’ thing I did last month was attend my first ENHR conference (photograph is of me ‘driving’ the canal boat on the field trip to Wester Hailes).WP_20140701_010 ENHR is the European Network of Housing Researchers, and it has an annual conference which I’ve never attended but heard much about. This year it seemed fitting to go as it was in Edinburgh for the first time. Organised around the topic of ‘beyond globalisation’ it was a great opportunity to meet colleagues from across the world and begin to make the international collaborations we hope to encourage within CHR. I presented two papers at ENHR, one with Kim on the relationship between Energy Efficiency and Stigma (see my earlier post on this topic) and one with my PhD student Katherine, on prosumption (see my earlier post here). Both went well, yet what I’d really like to use this post to reflect on is the nature of the conference, and what it says about housing research in the Europe.

After a terrific series of opening plenaries from housing researchers based in Scotland (I was so proud to be a Scot!), and once the main nitty gritty of the conference got underway, I picked up a few uniting issues. First of all, many speakers appeared to be dismayed about the way in which housing research is under resourced and the way in which housing is an issue often ignored in policy making. Secondly, and most interesting to me, was the emphasis many speakers put on the importance of putting people at the centre when thinking about housing research, understanding housing systems, and developing housing policies. This second point is something that is quite important to me personally, and particularly in relation to smart housing – that which is all too often centred around the building fabric, rather than inhabitants, or even the designers of such homes. Hopefully, such calls will be heeded by those developing policies.

ENHR is the first conference I’ve been to where papers are compulsory and submitted prior to the event. Unsure of the purpose of such an approach, I am now a convert since people at the sessions were much better informed of the research under discussion and in the sessions I attended, there were discussants identified prior to the conference to give feedback and lead discussions about each paper – this ensured that the often embarrassing silences were avoided and also that each presenter got some useful comments. Yet I was surprised by the nature of the research presented, and specifically the lack of critical social science. Perhaps it was just me, but I was certainly expecting much more in the way of conceptual discussions and reflections on how data that was collected might help us advance theories related to housing. I admit that my observations are only based on what I saw, and that other sessions may have been more critical (especially, I suspect, those around welfare reform), so perhaps it is unfair of me to dismiss the whole conference on this basis. Nevertheless it left me slightly disappointed about the nature of European housing research. I now look forward to the next conference I am due to attend, Behave, which I’m sure will be much more critical. Despite my concerns, ENHR was useful in helping me make some useful new contacts, as well as being an opportunity to catch up with colleagues near and far.

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