Confession time: I have never fantasised about one day being on a poster in the London Underground. It is not the kind of thing that normally happens if you do research. Having one’s face/voice/words on TV, radio, press has at least to some extent become part of the job, an occasional award may also be on the cards but a poster on the underground escalator between a West End musical and a mobile phone advert was definitely not.
So it is fair to say that it feels a bit awkward to be on one. Plus, I should add that the poster in question looks a bit like an Hollywood action-movie poster (just mentally add an explosion of some sort on the background), puts the only man in the team in the most prominent position (‘patriarchal’ said a couple of good friends, just like many Hollywood posters) and happens to use what some people (including friends and colleagues) feel is a taboo word: hero.
To be associated to the title ‘hero’ is especially strange, even if this is just a marketing campaign. But, beside my personal feelings (and I should add that in my household the word ‘hero’ is only used for the Marvel/DC comics type which made for some interesting conversations with my kids) I must confess I like the idea of a University unashamedly claiming the word ‘hero’ for research and researchers (including two non-UK born ones), especially in the current post-truth and pre-Brexit era where research and expertise are held in such low regard in the political and media discourse in the UK, EU researchers are no longer welcomed as advisers by UK government departments and evidence-free policy making is trending among decision-makers.
Nowadays we are used to see the title ‘hero’ applied to footballers, Olympians and Strictly-come-dancers, or to soldiers involved in military actions, reclaiming the term for rigorous, timely, engaged and peaceful research can’t be so bad.
So overall I am grateful to the University of Birmingham for showcasing research and in particular our research on migration and forced displacement in its latest ‘Birmingham Heroes’ poster. Posters can be spotted over the pre-Christmas period in London underground stations and online. There is also a resource page with links to key research outputs.
P.S. A former colleague tweeted that this is a case of ‘cheap self-publicity on other people’s misery’, as I replied to him I feel this is an unfair accusation. No doubt the refugee crisis is a timely and topical issue, and that this may have contributed to the University’s choice of producing a Birmingham Heroes poster on the topic, but the poster in no way fetishizes misery or exploits the image of refugees. Often colleagues complain that social sciences research doesn’t get close to the same attention than hard and medical sciences (and this is also the case for the BH campaign), for once that a university promotes its work on a current global humanitarian and political challenge I feel it should be commended.