Category: Research

Atlas of Transitions – New Geographies for a Cross-Cultural Europe (2017-2020)

Atlas of Transitions – New Geographies for a Cross-Cultural Europe is one of the 15 large-scale projects of the 2017 Creative Europe programme (2017-2020). It promotes cross-cultural dialogue between European citizens and newcomers – migrants, refugees, asylum seekers – by bringing local communities closer together through culture and performing arts. The project looks at the potentialities arising from the contemporary migration phenomenon and seeks new ways of experiencing public space and cohabitation through art. Its aim is to counter radicalism and anxiety towards migration within society by developing strategies of co-creation and interaction between citizens and migrants, with the participation of people with diverse cultural backgrounds in traditional as well as non-conventional public spaces such as squares, neighbourhoods, and suburbs. To achieve this result, Atlas of Transitions promotes workshops, creative productions, festivals and academic research, thanks to the collaborations of cultural institutions and universities in seven European countries: Italy, Albania, Belgium, Poland, France, Greece, and Sweden. Together with national and local theatres and associations and artists from Europe and abroad, Atlas of Transitions supports academic research to promote strategies of emancipation and participatory knowledge and practice by involving universities and scholars from its seven partner countries. Researchers’ findings will be disseminated on our website in the Action Research section, where they can be downloaded without restrictions. To boost the practical knowledge that academic research will put together during this three-year project, in the last semester of Atlas of Transitions, a Summer School will host and provide training opportunities for scholars, social workers, and artists who perform in cross-cultural and migration-related contexts. Here, artists’ knowledge and experience will be shared and creative forms of active participation for social cohesion will be practiced together to teach and disseminate their potentialities in daily work and life.

Moroccan Intangible Heritage

In the first iteration of what aims to be a wider research project on the elicitation of culturally diverse memes through the use of digital technologies, Alda Terracciano focused on the rich cultural heritage of Moroccan communities in West London. In the course of her work with members of the Al-Hasaniya Moroccan Women’s Centre and Making Communities Work and Grow, Alda further developed the ‘Memory Session’ practice research methodology, which collectively connects sensory experiences of migrant community members to their own cultural heritage and makes it accessible to the wider public. This unique approach is the outcome of previous memory sessions with 70 members of migrant communities in London, where participants were asked to share feelings, thoughts and memories through video elicitation. This approach led participants to share traditions, daily rituals, urban life, as well as personal notions of home and cultural identity (Terracciano 2016). The Moroccan Intangible Heritage project saw the collaboration of a HCI designer and two olfactory engineers to develop a multisensory digital interface in the field of critical heritage studies and urban planning (Terracciano et al. 2017).  Collective curatorial experiences and democratization of decision making in urban planning are at the centre of this creative and participatory inquiry. The ensuing community-curated digital interactive interface is able to mobilise the senses to uncover the embodied experiences of both the communities represented in the interface and the wider public when using the sensory audio-visual installation. This work highlights the importance of supporting autonomy, identity and ownership when engaging migrant communities. In addition to this, the inclusion of local authorities in the design of the multisensory interface contributed to create a space where technologies can support a bottom-up and community-led civic engagement.

Researcher: Alda Terracciano (independent researcher and artist)

Digital Storytelling with the Portuguese-speaking Community in Stockwell

In 2017 sociologist Elena Vacchelli and Digital Storytelling facilitator Tricia Jenkins conducted a pilot study with the Portuguese-speaking community in Stockwell. The workshop deployed the creative and collaborative method of Digital Storytelling (DS) to look at the life experiences of the Portuguese speaking community in gentrifying Stockwell and see how they connect to broader issues identified in Stockwell. A recent report by Nogueira, Porteous and Guerreiro (2015) suggests that the roughly 35,000 Portuguese speaking migrants in Stockwell (South London) span across different generations of migration and across different continents including Europe, Africa, South America and Asia. The report identified key areas of concern affecting the Portuguese speaking community ranging from immigration status for extra-European Portuguese speaking migrants; poor English; unsuitable housing; isolated elderly people and mental health; substance misuse; domestic violence. Whilst the community remains concentrated in and around the area known as Little Portugal in Stockwell, where we held the DS workshop, both the census and the growing number of cafes and bars ran by Portuguese Speakers indicate that members of the community now live throughout the borough. The Stockwell Partnership played a major role in facilitating the recruitment of the research participants for this pilot project.

The ‘social encounter’ of the DS workshop encourages participants to reflect on and share personal narratives which are borne out of a dialogical relationship amongst the group. DS aims for the realisation of a two to five minutes audio-visual clip whose imaginary is built on the recording of the workshop participants’ voice reading the story s/he wrote. The resulting clip is a combination of principally still images complementing the recording of the participant’s voice telling the story that s/he has developed through a series of creative writing type of activities. Digital Storytelling is achieved through a dynamic rapport of mutual support and co-production during the workshop aimed at helping participants to find their voice and tell a story which is important to them. Participants are also supported in transforming their story into an audio-visual clip that can be shared with the immediate group and disseminated further.

Researchers: Elena Vacchelli (University of Greenwich) and Tricia Jenkins (Goldsmiths, University of London)


Constructing multimodal narratives: Exploring life stories in East London and Calais refugee camp

In 2012 and 2016, Cigdem Esin and Corinne Squire, together with a number of colleagues, ran two interconnected projects in East London and Calais refugee camp using multimodal narrative methodology. The aim of these projects was to facilitate the creation of visual, written, verbal and process narratives of participants’ lives, to open up a space for storytellers to explore the interrelations between personal and cultural resources. Similar methods were used in both projects but the processes differentiated in response to the context and group of participants.

The first study was conducted in 2012 with a small group of young British Muslim women in a community school in East London. The study team ran weekly workshops over a few months in which the participants were asked to create visual images about any aspect of their lives. Participants were provided with a range of image making resources such as acrylic paint, coloured pencils, crayons and craft material. The study team facilitated the workshops by engaging in conversations with the group about various aspects of everyday life such as life at school/university, families and friends. The participants were then interviewed about their images, their participation in the workshops and their interaction with other workshop participants/study team. An article by Cigdem Esin analyzing some of the narratives from this study could be viewed here.

The second project was carried out in 2016 with the residents of Calais refugee camp as an impact project. The aim was to use multimodal narrative methodology in order to constitute a space for refugee storytellers to tell their individual and collective life stories with links to their past, to their membership in refugee communities and to broader socio-cultural contexts in which their stories were circulated for various purposes. The project involved visual storytelling workshops in which participants were asked to create visual stories about themselves, their journey or their life in the refugee camp. These were one-off workshops due to the material conditions of the camp. The project team was engaged in conversations with the participants and asked them to produce short narratives about their images where possible. Some of the images from one of the visual storytelling workshops in the camp can be viewed here.

Researchers: Cigdem Esin and Corinne Squire, University of East London, Centre for Narrative Research

Creating Hackney as Home: Five Reflections on a London Borough

Creating Hackney as Home (CHASH) used participatory video production to explore how young people experience a sense of home and belonging under conditions of rapid urban change; how they negotiate and manage these changes in order to maintain their sense of home; and to evaluate the effectiveness of visual research methods in portraying affective relationships within, and with, the city. Facilitated by cultural geographer, Dr Melissa Butcher, a team of five peer researchers from the neighbourhood spent a summer creating short films that captured their experience of living in the east London Borough of Hackney. From journeys through the city came reflections on the impact of gentrification, using fashion to demarcate belonging and being different, growing up and out of space, and managing everyday cultural diversity. Following the completion of filming, the videos were made publically available, via screenings, the website and social media, to invite a wider audience into dialogue on the issues raised. The research also collated ethnographic description of particular sites within the borough and incorporated the research team’s critical reflections recorded on flipcams throughout the project. Key findings included that while demolition of the built environment and existing social networks was evident, there was also an ambivalence expressed towards change. Crucially, young people were found not to be necessarily averse to change in itself but to those changes that they felt left them, and other residents, marginalised. Particular concerns centred on inequality, displacement and the speed of change. The transformation in the physical and socio-economic character of Hackney has led some young people to question whether they fit into the emerging urban landscape. Adapting to this context was for some at times seen as an opportunity but for others it was a more challenging process. Maintaining a sense of home did not necessarily require learning new ways of doing things, but instead required coming to terms with change emotionally.

Researcher: Melissa Butcher, Birkbeck, University of London

United We Stand: Using Digital and Verbatim Methods in Poetry to Explore Expressions of Identity and Community in the 2011 Riots in Birmingham

Conducted between 2013 and 2016, this research project uses creative and digital verbatim methods in poetry in order to explore expressions of identity and ideas of community in existence during the 2011 riots in Birmingham. Located in this context, United We Stand is a poetry collection (and the creative outcome from my PhD thesis) that explores both individual and group experiences of the events that took place in Birmingham. As a series of verbatim poems, this collection draws on data extracted from 25 semi-structured, life-story interviews with participants who lived or worked in the city during these incidents. As a collection, United We Stand (alongside the thesis it is taken from) critiques Benedict Anderson’s model of the nation as an imagined community (1983; 1991; 2006) by providing evidence for the existence of shifting imagined communities across various geographical, social and cultural scales within the context of the riots. Not only do the poems within the collection demonstrate that digital, verbatim methods are suitable for (re)presenting expressions of identity and ideas of imagined community in this context, but the collection (as a whole) transforms the voice(s) of ordinary people in Birmingham and is a direct engagement with the same fluid and emergent imagined communities that the research argues existed. You can read some example drafts of the poems featured in United We Stand and see a little more about the project here.

Researcher: Sophie-Louise Hyde, Loughborough University

Rhizomatic Assemblage

Spending several years in various departments enabled me a long-term development of research on the human body and mind in relation to the environment we inhabit. By responding to thematics that regard drastic shifts in the era of the Anthropocene I propose models of living in a balance with new developments in technology and culture. I analyze the permeable relation between the Self and the Group on historical and anthropological examples of isolation and group behavior. My work is influenced by my German, Polish and Lithuanian roots that were marked by the trauma of sociopolitical events. As my grandfather and father both had to flee their countries of origin due to political problems, I was particularly compelled to dedicate myself further to sociopolitics and the recent refugee crisis. My dissertation Reclaiming the alienated Self (2017), published on LABS, elaborates on the importance of rhizomatic and creative actions for the well-being of the ever changing society. This experimental research is activated through, among others, my workshops with performers at Tate Exchange (2017, 2018) and the upcoming Refugee Week Berlin, which is related to the ongoing project that was started by Counter Point Artsin 1998. These creative projects allow room for new constellations between participants and the audience, to acknowledge similarities, instead of differences, and to understand the relation between hierarchical systems in the body, mind and society.

Researcher: Monika Dorniak

Migration, Moral Panics and Meanings: Examining Historical Representations of Immigrants and Their Post-Brexit Impacts in Three Welsh ‘Remain’ Regions

The Brexit vote engendered a sense of fractured nationhood in Wales. Wales voted to leave the European Union, however, the regions of Ceredigion, Cardiff and Gwynedd voted to remain. A key point of persuasion in the media and Brexit campaign was migration. This project explored representations of migration in Wales, both historically and in the current climate, in these three remain regions. There was an analysis of local print press media around migration to examine the positioning of migrants and the dominant competing discourses. Interviews with migrants explored how they felt they were positioned by wider Welsh society and how the temporal shift between pre- and post-Brexit have impacted on their everyday experiences. Interviews involved pre-tasks where participants worked with a pictorial timeline to reflect on these shifts and created a metaphor to represent their experiences. There was also a photo elicitation activity where images from recent media reports leading up to Brexit were introduced and explored. The findings from the study are presented in multi-modal forms, including an animated short film and two posters, to increase their accessibility and address issues of impact and engagement. You can see an animated film reflecting on the project here.

Researchers: Dawn Mannay, Cardiff University; Rhys Dafydd Jones, Aberystwyth University; Gillian Jein, Bangor University; Sioned Pearce, Cardiff University; Angharad Saunders, University of South Wales

Migrant mothers caring for the future: creative interventions in making new citizens

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK, in 2013-2015, this network brings together academics, practitioners and users to improve our understanding of how migrant mothers bring up their children. When migrant mothers raise children in a new society, they bring with them bedtime stories, nursery rhymes and games from their country of origin, but combine these with those in the new country. Migrant mothers are often seen as guardians of an ethnic tradition, but they are also important in enabling their family members to make a home for themselves in a new country. In this way, mothers bring up future citizens who can relate to the country of residence, the country of their parents and their own neighbourhood. Crucially, through their work of caring for their children and negotiating cultural difference, as well as the social changes involved in migrating, migrant mothers make themselves as citizens. Public debates and policy often present migrant mothers as near the margins or boundaries of the nation they live in; they are seen as recipients of social services, in need of integration. This network brings together contributions of academics, artists, family and migration practitioners. On this website we present some of the key work on these issues through videos of academic presentations, practitioners’ roundtable discussions and migrant mothers’ theatrical enactments. We hope this will be of use to teachers, students, policy makers and practitioners working with migrant families, and all who are interested in these issues.

PI: Umut Erel, The Open University; CIs: Tracey Reynolds, University of Greenwich; Consultant: Erene Kaptani, The Open University

PASAR: Participatory Arts and Social Action Research

Funded by National Centre for Research Methods/ Economic and Social Research Council, UK, this 2015-2016 research project addresses the UK social science community’s need to gain a better understanding of how participatory action research approaches engage marginalized groups in research as co-producers of knowledge. Funded by the National Centre for Research Methods/ Economic and Social Research Council, it combines walking methods and participatory theater to create a space for exploring, sharing and documenting processes of belonging and place-making that are crucial to understanding and enacting citizenship. Participatory Action Research, based on the principles of inclusion, valuing all voices and action-oriented interventions allows for engaging marginalized groups into research as a citizenship practice. The project creates a model for bringing together practitioners and marginalized groups to engage with each other through creative methods and innovates by developing a toolkit for training social researchers in participatory methods, specifically walking stories and theatre.

PI: Umut Erel, The Open University; CIs: Tracey Reynolds, University of Greenwich, Maggie O’Neill, University of York; Research Fellow: Erene Kaptani, The Open University