Paul Chaney, is a Professor of Policy and Politics at Cardiff University
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
Untroubled by my lack of musical ability and football skills (childhood innocence, or, more likely plain foolishness I guess), I fervently wanted to be a footballer (Norwich City FC - if you’re asking) and a rock star (if you’re wondering - we’re talking Sex Pistols, Skids, The Motors, and The Damned) - possibly both. I’m a bit embarrassed about this today.
When did you first turn towards a social research career?
I did my undergraduate degree at what was then Saint David’s University College, Lampeter, (Llanbedr- Pont- Steffan), Wales. My tutors included Nigel Thrift and Paul Cloke. It was an inspirational setting to learn from such leading academics. In my final year, there were some bursaries to do a PhD. I was inclined to apply but, other considerations prevailed and I did not. Later, following a PGCE at Oxford University and a couple of years college teaching in a Romania recently liberated from the tyranny of Ceausescu I saw an advert for a Leicester University PhD scholarship based at Nene College, Northampton. With the expert guidance of my supervisors Dr Ken Sherwood and Prof Gareth Lewis I researched the social change implications of the ‘Right to Buy’ in the 1980 Housing Act. Introduced by the first Thatcher government it gave tenants the legal right to purchase their homes from the state and its implications were, and are, profound.
What was your first professional job? And first project there?
My first professional research job was as a research associate at Cardiff University in a project led by Professor Ralph Fevre. This study was a critical exploration of the early years of devolution in Wales. The political rhetoric associated with devolution was one advancing the idea of ‘inclusiveness’ - in other words, reaching out to hitherto marginalised groups in the pursuit of a ‘new politics’. This empirical study examined the subsequent institutional and policy developments and I loved it.
Where did your career go next? What motivated that/those moves?
When the Cardiff project came to an end I was encouraged to apply for a Welsh-medium lectureship at Aberystwyth University. I was extremely fortunate to get the post working with Professor Richard Wyn Jones at the Institute of Welsh Politics. In terms of motivations to apply for the post it was a combination of factors; the previous project had finished, I am, committed to researching devolution/ the pursuit of self-government for Wales (and other, so-called, ‘stateless nations’), and I welcomed the opportunity to work with Richard and colleagues in Aberystwyth, a friendly, engaging and talented group of people.
What has been your best professional moment?
Getting the Research Associate’s post in Cardiff with Ralph Fevre - it opened my eyes to the importance of critical policy studies. I subsequently returned to Cardiff and have been very happy here.
I can’t pick one but I’ve heard it argued that in recent years UK higher education has seen the undermining of academic professionalism as a result of the rise of New Public Management techniques and the commercialisation of academia. I think this has led to some ‘less than good’ experiences in the careers of some contemporary academics.
Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
Two - amongst many - come to mind: Iris Marion Young and Gwynalf Williams https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/obituary-gwyn-a-williams-1582475.html
Do you have a favourite quote?
Yes - “Dyfal donc a dyrr y garreg” - it’s Welsh, broadly, it translates as “Perseverance brings success”
What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
Stick at it. Prejudice (still, alas) lurks around some corners in academia (look at the under-representation of women in senior HE posts for example). If you think you can deliver excellence in a social research career, don’t be put off if you get knocked back - keep applying for posts and producing publications / delivering outputs that opponents cannot dismiss, that will show them and open doors: Dyfal donc a dyrr y garreg.