Opposites Attract Presentations

Our Opposites Attract Collaboration Challenge teamed up research students from different disciplines and invited them to work on a project of their choosing for seven weeks. The participants’ outputs were then presented to an audience at our Festival of Postgraduate Research in May 2017.

All entrants signed up for the competition with open minds, an eagerness to explore and a willingness to see what arose when they stepped outside of their individual discipline. The result was a fascinating and diverse range of approaches to the challenge. Find out more below.

Opposites Attract presentations
L-R: 1 – Omama Tariq, Lujain Mirza; 2 – Kate Monson, Majed Al-Jefri, Katie McCallum; 3 – Adam Talbot, Joanne Pilcher
Group 1: Lujain Mirza (School of Media) and Omama Tariq (School of Health Sciences)

Lujain Mirza is from the discipline of arts and humanities, and Omama Tariq is from health and social science discipline.

They say: “It was after we met and discussed our work that we realised that our projects both describe the lives of people living in an Islamic culture. Lujain’s work “Photographing Saudi Women: A critical collaborative exploration through images and narratives” seeks to describe the experiences of Saudi women living in Saudi Arabia, whereas Omama’s work “Family members and sociocultural influences on lifestyles changes of people living with type 2 diabetes in Pakistan” focuses on people living with type 2 diabetes in Pakistan. The methodologies differ, but both projects seek to give people the opportunity to clarify many of the stereotypes others may have of their lives and experiences in the Middle East and South Asia.”

In Lujain’s research project, photography presents a visual means through which women can make sense of their lives, and provides the central focus and method of this research. On the other hand, Omama’s project uses interviews to explore illness experiences of people living with type 2 diabetes (PLwD) in Pakistan, their family members and their health professionals. For Opposites Attract, Lujain and Omama designed a poster to represent the visual aspect of both disciplines, highlighting both the similarities and differences in their individual projects, and with the aim of communicating their research to a wide, non-specialist audience.



  • Lujain formed more of an understanding of diabetes. She thought that it was only a disease, but realised it is more than that. Lujain stated: “I never thought diabetes was connected to culture and family. I also realised how much middle eastern and south Asian culture are similar”.
  • Omama never took photography seriously but came to understand more about photography. Photography can be used as a method to understand more about people lives. Also, she plans to explore how photographic images can be used as a tool to express herself. She plans to consider how photography could be used to represent a problem or an issue.
  • The relationship developed into a friendship. We knew each other as PhD fellows and met in academic workshops. However, now we have become friends. We have enjoyed being a part of this project – discussing the project itself and also sharing our research experiences. Having an academic conversation with a researcher from a different discipline has given us a fresh perspective on our work. The experience of working with two different disciplines made us learn more about each other’s projects. Both of us appreciated this experience and would enjoy working together on projects in the future.
Group 2: Majed Al-Jefri (School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics), Katie McCallum (School of Humanities) and Kate Monson (School of Applied Social Science)

Fan Futures graphic

Kate, Majed and Katie say:

“We began this project by looking for ways to combine our interests, in communication, climate change and Artificial Intelligence. It struck us that, despite our diverse backgrounds, skills, interests and PhD projects, a linking theme throughout our work was how humans make meaning with and through ‘others’ – and how ‘others’ make meaning with and through us. Whether it’s chalk and blackboard, computers and programming, or rivers and insects, humans are entangled in a complex assemblage of more-than-human elements with which we build and understand our worlds.

With this in mind, we were keen to start working with Majed’s computer programming interests to find an innovative set of methods to investigate how humans think about the world around them, as well as some novel ways to present our findings. After some pondering and discussion, we decided that we wanted to ask a computer to dream about possible futures by trying to imitate the dreams of humans, and began thinking about possible text inputs we could use to make that happen…”

See projections of our fever dream films
See what stories our programme dreams into being
Interact and add your own imaginings of the future to our dataset
Discuss the project with its makers



“The main thing that our group learned was how creativity, enquiry and technical thought can work together to deal with tricky and fluid topics. With three different sets of interests to accommodate we wondered whether a project could be found that could really relate to all of them; of course, with the introduction of a new technology like AI with a complex relationship to thought and persons, and our settling on a subject matter that was similarly new and speculative, the connections became very clear.” Read more here.

Looking ahead, the team say: “Majed is looking into seeking funding for all of us to pursue this research project further, with a wider timeframe to work on the programme and improve our dataset. We are also planning to publish a paper out of this work soon.”

Group 3: Joanne Pilcher (School of Humanities) and Adam Talbot (School of Sport and Service Management)

Joanne is in the early stages of her PhD, focusing on oral history interviews with Aboriginal Australian textile designers and printers about their work at art and craft centres in the Northern Territory.

Adam is in the closing stages of his PhD, an ethnographic study of resistance at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. His thesis focuses on the space and place of favelas in the Olympic city through one favela’s resistance to evictions.

They say: “This collaborative project between a sociologist and design historian engages with three different methods (focus groups/object analysis/literature review) to investigate how the inclusion of culture from marginalised groups in the Sydney and Rio Olympic ceremonies shaped international audiences’ perceptions of Brazil and Australia. The project crosses both sociology and arts research as we are considering both the experiences of marginalised groups as well as their cultural products.”

Joanne and Adam’s project consisted of a seminar and a paper which was presented at the University of York’s Traversing Boundaries: Interdisciplinary Social Research conference on 25th May.

Seminar: “The Indigenous Moment”: Symbolic Inclusion of the ‘Other’ in the Sydney and Rio Olympic Ceremonies.

11th May 14:00-­‐16:00, Grand Parade, Room 204


“As a Design and Fashion historian, Joanne approached the ceremonies as designed objects and noted how stigmatised groups formed a structural part of the ceremonies. As her research focuses on putting the opinions of individuals at the centre of the study, we were keen to incorporate the individual into our work in some way. Due to time constraints and ethical clearance limitations we were not able to collect oral history interviews from Australian and Brazilian individuals on their responses to the ceremonies. We instead took a more international approach by looking at newspaper British and American newspaper reviews of the opening ceremonies, written at the time of the ceremonies. Thus, alongside Joanne’s object-­‐based analysis the project uses the sociological method of content analysis to read media portrayals of national identity through Olympic ceremonies, an approach that Adam was able to introduce.

Adam says: This project has opened my eyes to the breath of research in the arts and the use of performances as objects of analysis. Through this research, we have explored some of the differences and similarities of our respective fields, allowing us to better understand both the weaknesses and strengths of our own disciplines. This will prove useful knowledge going forward with our respective doctoral projects. On a purely functional level, we can both add an additional conference presentation to our CVs from our participation in this project, and had we had more time for the project, this may well have evolved into a co-­authored journal article. Beyond this, Opposites Attract has allowed me to break out of the bubble of my own research project and provided an important change of pace through the sometime tortuous writing up process.

Joanne says: As a student in the early stages of my PhD, it was an exciting opportunity to collaborate with a colleague who is further along in his research career. It was exciting to understand how the shadows of colonialism can be seen in similar iterations internationally and how highly publicised events such as Olympic Ceremonies can embody the troubling history of the host countries. By working closely with Adam I was able to learn more about more formal sociological approaches that would perhaps not have used in my more multidisciplinary design based research. Having our project abstract accepted for the Traversing Boundaries: Interdisciplinary Social Research conference in May has also provided me with my first opportunity to present research in a conference setting. This project has been particularly timely for me as the Commonwealth Games are being hosted at Gold Coast in Australia this year, I will be able to use some of the methodologies Adam and I have used in this project in discussion of that opening ceremony.”


The winning collaboration

In judging, the panel considered two factors:

  1. Communication of ideas: i) structure and delivery of submission in relation to the type of submission; ii) content – ideas/information being conveyed
  2. Learning from the exercise demonstrated by pairs

The David Arnold Memorial Prize of £500 was awarded to Kate, Majed and Katie for their Fan Futures project.

The judges, Associate Prof Anne Mandy and Dr Angela Benson, said of the winning project: “This was a fascinating submission which included presentation of some very complex ideas using different media. It was clear that there were a number of challenges bringing the three different disciplinary areas together which were comprehensively discussed including suggestions of strategies to solve them. The panel very much enjoyed viewing the fan futures videos and hope that [the project team] will be successful in procuring future funding to take this work forward.”


Thank you to all participants for engaging so enthusiastically with the challenge and producing such a high standard of work. Congratulations to you all, and particularly to Kate, Majed and Katie!

The winning team celebrate! L-R, Kate, Katie and Majed