Category: Research

Mapping Refugees’ Experiences // Images of Immigrants in Media: Thought-Provoking Effects (IM2MEDIATE)

IM2MEDIATE is a research project investigating the dynamic interplay between media representations of recent non-EU immigrants in the EU, with specific emphasis on the situation of refugees and the governmental and societal (re)actionsto it. Within this large project funded by Belspo, our study engages with the experiences of refugees. Taking a voice-centered approach, we have worked with 44 participants of Syrian, Afghan, and Iraqi descent, who came to Belgium after 2015. The study included ethnographic conversations, focus group interviews, and visual workshops with photo elicitation and photovoice exercises. These different methods were used to elicit participants’ stories about their journeys and experiences, but also to explore their responses to mainstream visual representations of migration and refugees. Our analysis included an inquiry into negotiations of victimization in everyday life contexts, the meanings and difficulties of visual representations of suffering, and critiques of the Western gaze in media representations of migration. During a part of our study, we presented participants with a representative sample of mainstream representations of refugees and asked them to “give voice” to one or more of the persons being depicted. Some participants used this exercise to problematize the way in which refugees are portrayed and used this opportunity to address “all Belgians” or politicians. The images thus functioned as a helpful springboard to address broader issues related to migration, politics, and culture.

Researchers: Kevin Smets (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Jacinthe Mazzocchetti (Université catholique de Louvain), Lorraine Gerstmans (Université catholique de Louvain), Lien Mostmans (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Leen d’Haenens (KU Leuven)

 

 

 

Methods on the Move: experiencing and imagining borders, risk, and belonging

The subjective realities of migrants are at the centre of Maggie O’Neill’s approach which is articulated through the practice of walking. As part of her Leverhulme Research Fellowship with a specific focus on borders, risk and belonging, the project aims to explore migrants’ journeys, mapping out their pathways to becoming long-term residents of the area. In this project, walking is a platform for sensing the surrounding environment and being in touch with personal emotions and memories. The performative act of walking in space and time is relational and plays a role in the definition of belonging to a place, which is particularly important in the definition of migrants’ identities. Walking is a useful methodology when studying borders, risk, and belonging, as it can involve physically crossing borders, going into areas perceived as ‘risky,’ or, literally walking on a border. The project makes use of participatory action research (PAR) and arts practice (ethno-mimesis) when investigating the sense of belonging negotiated by migrants. Arts practice can include performance and public displays such as maps, whilst ethno-mimesis focuses on imitating the representations of the reality of migrants. The intention of the research is to produce a web resource including maps from the walks, images and sound files.

Researcher: Maggie O’Neill (University of York)

The Verbatim Formula

The Verbatim Formula is a participatory performance-based research project which works with young people in the social care system including a high proportion of refugee children, unaccompanied minor, and young asylum-seeking migrants. This project is carried out in partnership with the Greater London Authority Peer Outreach Team, and has been primarily created by Maggie Inchley, Sylvan Baker, and Sadhvi Dar, in collaboration with Mita Pujara (Artist/Evaluator) and is produced by People’s Palace Projects. Using an earpiece, performers relay the exact words of a previously conducted interview to the audience. In this portable testimony service, listening is made visible through a performance illustrating sections of interviews which have been edited together into an audio file. These performances help people to listen, create open and meaningful dialogue, as well as share and take action. The Verbatim Formula allows participants to be co-researchers on the project and places their voices at the centre of the research; the young people ask the questions, gather data by interviewing, and disseminate the findings through performance.This research aims to create an environment where a diverse number of children and young people can express themselves freely and anonymously, giving those working in social care an insight into the lived experiences of the system, the concerns children may have, and their overall livelihood in the care system. This participatory project illustrates the different experiences of migrant children in social care, as well as ethnic and gender differences where worldviews of participants are examined, then shared through drama performance. Drama allows for a diverse interpretation of life in social care from individuals who experience the system in diverse ways.

Researchers: Maggie Inchley (Queen Mary, University of London), Sylvan Baker (Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London), and Sadhvi Dar (Queen Mary, University of London), in collaboration with Mita Pujara (Artist/Evaluator)

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