No Man is an Island
By Ruochan Liu, on 16 July 2021
Written by Ruochan Liu, Rachel Cobbinah, Di Hu, Celine Sola Gracia Lumban Gaol, Bayu Laksono Jati, Yuan Meng, Meerim Osmonalieva, Ricca Padyansari, Amich Kemala Damariyan, Nuzula Firda Sa’adhati, Xinran Zou
This blog was written for the Overseas Practice Engagement (OPE) 2021 for the module Social Development in Practice. In 2021, the OPE focused on the role of inclusive design and planning in supporting disabled people and older residents achieve their aspiration of inclusive public space and community participation in Solo, Indonesia.
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
——John Donne, MEDITATION XVII
Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, 1624
I was wearing several layers under my hoodie when we had our first group meeting. Two seasons later, the rest of us have finally caught up with Giligan’s everlasting summer and our outfits for Zoom finally look like we’ve got the same memo.
We begin this blogpost with this anecdote because upon reflection, this is perfectly symbolic of our experience as a group throughout this Overseas Practice Engagement (OPE). We set off on completely different pages, coming from a kaleidoscope of backgrounds with multiple understandings of disability research. Synchronization of workflow happens incrementally in much the same way as snowmelt precedes the budding green, and greenness is prologue to blossom. Effective communication and healthy dynamics within the group are hard-won fruits. Despite all the bad internet connections, lengthy video calls, long debates about every single detail of our methodology, we end up appreciating each other more than ever. We realized that this inseparable unit of like-minded researchers-to-be cannot function without the presence of every single member as part of the sum. For those of us from UCL, our lack of proficiency in Bahasa results in a heavy reliance on our UCA members as they make sure no data is lost in translation. For our UCA members, they are also gaining new experiences and knowledge on social rights, citizenship, inclusivity as well as empowerment, which help them as they interview our research participants. We become each other’s remedies, attending to our vulnerabilities, insecurities and frustrations through the whirlwinds of unexpectedness. We challenge each other on the falsity of our assumptions. We interrogate, together, each other’s takeaways from interviews. We scrutinize the language we’d use in interviews and discussions. We, as a team, have worked as a continent of pieces.
Our research diary entries are an intriguing read as we approach the end of OPE. We as a team have reached the consensus that our anticipation of disability research as students of urban planning and social development are significantly overturned. Research processes are much more complicated and nuanced. Working with people involves getting knee-deep into their daily experiences and acknowledging that they are complex beings full of intentions, struggles, strength and hopes. It is about building foundations of trust and rapport with gestures of mutual respect. It is about learning and producing knowledge on equal grounds. It is a practice of patience and resilience. The time spent sitting in classes and reading journal articles are only meaningful after fighting tooth and nail to bite into the realities. We, as students, have to sail off from our islands of books. It is then we will see how it is only one part of the main, and our islands are connected to millions of heartbeats.
The words in bold have emerged out of our reflective discussions. We collated them before sitting down to write this post, and it is only now we notice how they can encapsulate almost everything our research participants have said in the course of OPE. Community engagement, active participation and inclusive public spaces will be hard-won fruits. It needs bold and assured experimentation of new ways of working, the understanding of vulnerabilities in the most diverse ways, and constant outreach to the unheard and unnoticed. There needs to be a genuine respect of people’s complicated realities. Anyone who is interested to work towards promoting inclusive planning for people with disabilities must be prepared to fight a long battle.
There is really no such a binary between “us” and “them”.
It is time to start working as “We”, for no man is an island entire of itself.
About the SDP Reflection in Practice series.
The module social development in practice places emphasis on building a reflexive lens to co-learning, and research practice. This is captured through individual and collective reflections, which offer a space to develop an ethical practice attentive to the complexity of social identities, relationships, and power structures inherent in any social change programme.