Bringing Research to the City

Within its “University Open to the City” project HSE holds many different lectures and discussions at various city venues, such as Moscow museums and Cultural Centre ZIL. Following the successful experience of HSE Open Talks lectures at HSE Day in September for the last three years (see The HSE Look October 2015, September 2014), the university launched a regular English-speaking series of public lectures HSE Talks, held at a coworking café. From February to April five speakers from the Faculty of Social Sciences gave their public talks, and The HSE Look talked to one of them, Assistant Professor Ekim Arbatli,to learn more about the impressions from participation in the project.

Why did you decide to participate in HSE Talks?

I learned through our email list that the faculty was looking for volunteers, and I thought it was a good opportunity. I like talking to the public in general - it is a different atmosphere than presenting research in academic venues. With colleagues we mainly focus on the theoretical aspects of our work. Most of the “real” political stuff gets lost in the process. Whereas if you try to explain something to the public, you need to focus on the factual information, and that is the kind of details that I like. It makes me think differently about what I do.

Does it help you to reframe your research?

It does, actually, I got a couple of very interesting questions. I already started thinking about one of them: I was asked whether female or male presidents are more likely to get a coup attempt. And I have no idea, and I do not know of any research that explores it - but it seems like a very interesting question. It could go both ways: it could be that women get fewer coup attempts because they are not considered strong or resilient enough, that “it’s not worth” a coup. Or it might be they get more coup attempts because they are thought to be weak. I am trying to see if there is a way and enough data to find out more.

Does it differ from giving a lecture to the students? Do you get asked the same questions?

People who come to the public talks are more interested in a particular topic, while a student might be more interested in a different part of the course. The audience was younger than I expected. I was very pleasantly surprised that so many people knew details of the coup attempt in Turkey I was describing. They were even following the ‘gossip’ or speculation part of the story, which is pretty deep detail. I got a lot of really good questions - after the talk ended, I was crowded by people willing to know even more for about half an hour.

Why do you think such public talks are interesting to organize for the Faculty of Social Science and for HSE as a whole?

For one thing, I think it is an issue of social responsibility. We should be more open to the public. I have my doubts about keeping research behind closed doors, because most of the time if you want to read a published article, it is not free, and most people cannot pay for it. On that front, we should make research more available to everyone. Secondly, it also increases the visibility of HSE. People look at the building and probably wonder what are the professors doing inside, so such events give them a clue.

Do you think you would like to give another talk?

Probably in a year or so, once I have fresh ideas. Being Turkish and a political scientist interested in military coups means pushing yourself to talk about Turkey as an interesting case unfolding right before our eyes. Things change fast, so probably next year I will do a follow-up.

What topics would you be interested in learning more about in the public talk format?

My interests are close to economics and sociology, so I do follow their literature. I would like to hear more about protests and social movements in general - one of my colleagues is giving a talk on that soon. But outside that - I guess I would be interested in hearing more about Big Data. It is very much outside of what I do these days but I’d love to learn how different sciences are using Big Data nowadays.