HSE University and Garage Museum Wrap Up Joint Diversity Research Lab
On June 2, the HSE International Laboratory for Social Interaction Research and the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art successfully completed their joint Diversity Research Lab. The laboratory covered a number of topics related to social diversity, including interculturalism, life in a multinational country, ageism, poverty, and ableism. During the final online meeting of the project, the participants discussed universal design—a design which would allow for the creation of environments accessible to people regardless of their disability, age, or any other factors.
Diversity and Universal Design
Diversity of any kind—age, gender, sexual orientation, physical and mental conditions, ethnic identity—was the focus of the laboratory’s research. The final meeting of the laboratory was devoted to the ‘Universal Design’. Elena Iarskaia-Smirnova, Head of the International Laboratory for Social Interaction Research and a Tenured Professor of HSE University, spoke about the background of the concept and the inception of the rights movement for people with disabilities in the 1970s. The latter evolved from inclusion movements of the 1960s (movements of ethnic minorities, women, movements for desegregation of schools in the USA, etc.).
While taking part in social movements, people grew more and more aware of the fact that a disability is not just a health problem. This gave rise to the so-called social model. The social model of disability can vary from country to country. For instance, the model in Europe is different from that of America. In Great Britain, a weak ability to perform social functions was believed to depend on the structure of society, not only on the impairment itself,’ said Elena Iarskaia-Smirnova.
According to Professor Iarskaia-Smirnova, people with disabilities played the pivotal role in the movement of society for inclusion in 1970s. They became researchers, joined demonstrations, wrote books, and defended dissertations.
They emphasized the fact that environment—the man-made environment, the technical environment, social relationships—tends to incapacitate people
First laws were later adopted to guarantee an accessible environment, followed by the appearance of new terminology using the word ‘design’. Ronald Mace is believed to pioneer the ‘universal design’ concept. An architect and the founder of the Universal Design Centre in North Carolina, he himself used a wheelchair. The universal design describes any environment created by people—physical, social, or virtual. According to Mace, the principles of universal design are equitable use, flexibility, usability, and tolerance for error,’ says Professor Iarskaia-Smirnova.
Apart from the lectures, lab participants met in seminar groups during each online meeting and discussed various research and applied projects with their colleagues. At the last seminar, Alisa Mukhametzyanova, Senior Research Fellow of the Research Centre for Socioeconomic Monitoring, Saransk, presented a case on SNiPs, which do not always provide for accessibility or ‘speak’ about universal environments and inclusion. During the seminar, the participants discussed why meeting the rules of accessibility is not the same as universal design.
‘The course appears to be immensely interesting and varied because it focuses on diversity,’ says Alisa Mukhametzyanova. Different participants shared a wide number of opinions when discussing the cases, while the lecturers made all the lectures both informative and easy to understand thanks to the clear style of the presentation. I have wanted to take part in the event since the beginning of the first wave, and I am very happy to participate in the second wave. I hope the course will continue and one day I will be able to participate again.’
Nikita Bolshakov, Senior Lecturer of the Faculty of Social Sciences,
Junior Research Fellow of the International Laboratory for Social Integration Research, HSE University
Throughout the course, we never stopped thinking that all participants and organizers are ‘inside one bubble’—all of us are highly interested in the issues of diversity and inclusion and this is the topic that most concerns us. Incidentally, this made it quite difficult for us to discuss certain cases, as we had to analyze different situations from another angle, trying to understand the logic of those who are not yet ready for inclusion. Why are they not ready? What are their arguments? What if their arguments are reasonable enough? It would be great if this inclusion ‘bubble’ grew and encompassed all of society. We see that there are more and more of us (largely due to the efforts of HSE, Garage, and other similar institutions): this venue was attended by people from across Russia, as well as from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Germany. I would like to express my special thanks to colleagues from Garage for the hard work they did to organize all the seminars and for taking part in the discussions. I thank the museum for being our partner.
The Diversity Laboratory was divided into two parts, and each part lasted two months. The participants discussed the issues of poverty, ageism, gender research, and interculturalism. At one of the meetings, Maria Efremova, Leading Research Fellow of the HSE Centre for Sociocultural Research, presented her case on poverty attributes.
‘My task was to present the topic in a clear and engaging way, without any academese. Moreover, the live discussions and participant’s personal insights and observations allowed us to look at the problems from different perspectives while sharing our experience and raising new issues relevant for Russian society and research in general,’ says Maria Efremova.
Maria highlighted the benefits of the lectures and seminars for her research work. ‘As a researcher and a psychologist, I found participating in the lectures and seminars very important and helpful. It was also a challenge to some extent. I had to devise the right way of telling a wide audience about the problem of helping low socioeconomic status people and the perception of this group of population by high-income individuals.’
About 80 people took part in the laboratory, including students and young researchers from HSE University, their peers from other universities, and experts in inclusion practices in education and culture.
Maria Shchekochikhina, Manager of Inclusive Programmes, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art
An important objective of the laboratory was to combine theory and practice in the field of diversity and inclusion, which are yet to be synchronized. The laboratory brought together researchers and practitioners involved in different areas so that they could focus on the issues of diversity and inclusion. The first wave of the project saw quite a lot of students, who could gain insight into the topic in question while interacting with practitioners. The group discussions allowed us to analyze many cases and workable solutions. In our opinion, the cooperation between Garage Museum of Contemporary Art and HSE International Laboratory for Social Interaction Research is another step towards sustainable development of inclusion in Russian.