Tag Archives: arts based research

The reassuring knowledge of the HGV driver: how schools could benefit. Number 4 in the series: Knowledge, traffic and arts based research.

There’s a lot to be certain about when you’re driving a truck. You know you’re more imposing than pretty much else on the road. You can see more, anticipate more and from the elevated position of your cab, can reflect more on the foolishness and antics of lesser road mortals. Your philosophical reach matches the miles measured on your tachograph.

You know it will take you a good half mile to stop should you decide to break: you’d be better off making an appointment with your gear box to slow down, rather than rely on acting in the instant. You know you are carrying out some vital economic, social or cultural function: moving widgets by the million or self build furniture to homes bracing themselves for the arguments that will leap out of the box the moment they slit open the cardboard with a stanley knife.

Safe in this knowledge, the HGV driver reflects many schools approach to teaching children. They know the curriculum and navigate it with confidence; they will take a long time to slow down and change direction and are secure in the belief they are undertaking vital economic tasks: training the youth of today to be the economic generators of tomorrow.

However, HGV drivers have their achilles heels too. Their inability to see very much behind them and their innate inertia means they cannot respond easily when faced with an immediate accident in front of them on the Euston Road. They can easily jack-knife and cause hours of disruption for hundreds of fellow travellers if they spill their widget load over the Queens Highway. Their security in their knowledge is fine in times of certainty and if no-one else is on the road. These days however, nothing is certain and traffic is an inevitable consequence of venturing out on the road for everyone. “Don’t blame the traffic – you are traffic” as some bright spark in the automotive industry recently wrote.

HGV drivers, like cyclists and taxi drivers, could benefit from a course in art based research: the understanding and knowledge this would generate would help them become more nimble movers, respond more effectively to the needs of other members of the traffic stream and give them a sense of humanity when it comes to carving up a motorbike on the inside lane.

More travel knowledge here.

The transgressive knowledge of the cyclist: who the f#!? do they think they are? Number 3 in an the series: Knowledge, traffic and arts based research.

Whilst the knowledge of the taxi driver is in a state of crisis, and the knowledge capacities of the bus driver under-exploited, the knowledge of the cyclist is both stable and fulfilled. Stable  in the sense that they know how to get where they want to go (ie sit on saddle and peddle like crazy) and fulfilled in that there are unlikely to be any surprise passengers on the bicycle, hiding in the pannier bags ready to spring a few narrative surprises…

The cyclist knowledge is also trangressive and reflective of some problematic identity resolutions. One minute they are a law abiding traveller on the nation’s roads, the next they have become pedestrians on wheels, oblivious to the demands made by red traffic lights or pelican crossings. This transgressive performativity (identity is not who you are, it’s what you do) may provide them with additional epidemiological insights, but it also causes wider concerns amongst fellow travellers. ‘who the f#!#do they think they are?’ being a common rhetorical question posed by car drivers, relatively ignorant of the knowledge capacities of the cyclist when witnessing their delight in swopping identities.

This is the cyclist’s dilemma.  Their transgressive capabilities, whilst providing them with new insights into contemporary travelling insights is generated at a price: existential questions of who do they fundamentally think they are.

Arts based researchers would help them resolve these questions through the suitable application of a course of graffiti, bricolage and spoke-art. The nation’s roads would become safer as a result.

More travel knowledge here.

The benefits of the bus driver, epistemiologically speaking. Number 2 in an the series: Knowledge, traffic and arts based research.

The double decker bus driver has the resources of at least 11 on board CCTV cameras on their bus.

This gives them the benefit of knowing where he or she is going. They know too, pretty much, how they’re gonna get there, how long it will take and these days, with the added value of GPS, know what the conditions are going to be like ahead of them. They will also know that in large cities especially, the traffic lights will be rigged in their favour.  They may not know however why they’re going where they’re going – but that kind of existential question is also beyond pretty much every taxi driver too so they’re both in the same boat in that respect (NB boat – not taxi or bus).

The main significant advantage of the bus drivers knowledge however is the fact that should he or she wish, they have access to upto 56 other people’s knowledge about the reasons for their journeys. This would give them a superior knowledge of the traveller and their lived experiences: adding to the ongoing epistemiological crisis of the taxi driver who these days neither knows nor cares why they’re going somewhere, how much it costs or even how to get there.

Of course, the bus driver may not have the time or skill to elicit those knowledges from their passengers. This is where arts based research can play a major role in making the bus journey a much more enriching experience for everyone. They will make living the good life, an even more likely proposition.

More travel knowledge here.

The London Black Cab and an epistemiological crisis in the making. Number 1 in the series: Knowledge, traffic and arts based research.

What’s up with London cabbies? Yesterday I wanted to go to the annual BERA conference at the fabulous Institute of Education.  Its such an obvious drive from Euston, no-one on earth who was working as a taxi driver would have claimed ignorance of its existence.

But not the taxi driver who picked me up.  He claimed he’d never been to the Institute of Education in Bedford Way, that he’d never heard of it and had no idea how to get there.   Apparently,  black taxis no longer know everything about London’s streets. There is no longer such a thing as ‘The Knowledge‘ apparently: the collective wisdom and skills supposedly held by all Black Taxi cabs since time began.

This is alarming in the short term – what will they all do during the Olympics? The idea of London full of black cabs perpetually getting lost is dire. You expect it of the minicabs – they’re full of guys who have a satnav with attitude and have seen too many de Niro films – but the loss of the knowledge by these seemingly unchanging parts of London’s make-up is more worrying in its implications for the rest of us.

What if we all found that the knowledge we learnt 24 years ago was useless?  That whilst we might have taught particular subjects one way, we were to  just throw up our hands, shrug our shoulders and say, well, that’s the way it was, and I have no idea what we should be teaching any longer. What if we were civil engineers and took the view that because bridges were once built on stilts, that any new technologies were now beyond us?  We’d all resort to the SatNav equivalents of our trade – and we know what that leads to when it comes to trying to get anywhere in the world.

The knowledge-less taxi driver is of course a problem when it comes to negotiating the streets of London; but the knowledge-free zone that teachers are turning into, that doctors are becoming and rocket scientists seem to be blindly accepting is a poor state of affairs for all of us.

The question is of course, what kind of knowledge really matters?  We’re working within the relatively new research field of arts based research and are working within BERA to establish new ways of understanding the world, and using the arts to develop new forms of knowledge.  The next BERA conference in Manchester will see the results of our next endeavours: we may even be able to help taxi drivers find their way around the capital cities of the world!

Number 1 in an the series: Knowledge, traffic and how arts based research can help the modern driver.

More travel knowledge here.

Lifelines – how to use arts based research to help improve local health services

We’ve all been ill at some point in our lives and many of us may have called on the help of the NHS to help us through those difficult times.  Even if we’ve been lucky enough not to have to needed their help, we’re all too well aware these days of the importance of staying fit, keeping healthy and doing the right thing for our health and wellbeing for ourselves and our families.

But sometimes this is more difficult than it sounds. Sometimes the services  we need are difficult to access; sometimes it seems that health professionals aren’t listening to what we’re saying; sometimes we know more about our health than those professionals do and it can be frustrating for our experiences not to be heard and acted upon.

Lifelines was a  South Liverpool research project has a made a modest contribution to changing all that.  Working with artists from the Aspire Trust and health professionals from Liverpool Primary Care Trust, we ran an arts based research programme across South Liverpool which listened to residents’ experiences of  local health care services: and are now using those experiences to improve the health for future generations in the community.

We generated story telling, poetry and arts techniques  to  understand critical moments in the health experiences of South Liverpool residents. We produced into a book, audio recording and exhibition which toured South Liverpool and went onto the Bluecoat Arts Gallery in Liverpool, as well as a formal research technical report for the policy makers.

As well as some important findings which have been reported back to the PCT, GPs and other health professionals in the region, the project identified some important aspects of why arts based research is useful in health contexts: its non-invasiveness, its ability to generate responses from participants rather than interrogate – and its ability to co-construct data with research participants rather than mine it from their souls.

The Mars Bar model of research: a state of work, rest and play

Conference kicks off this week with a motley gathering of arts based researchers at BERA, the international education conference at the Institute of Education, London. But what’s arts based research? Surely that’s an oxymoron?

ABER: early moments and awakenings

The foundations for arguing that arts practice contributes in new and valuable ways to research methodologies can be traced to Elliot Eisner amongst many significant others. His presence at the first ABER conference in Queens University Belfast in 2005 marked perhaps a ‘Spring Awakening’ moment for many young researchers who had started to  explore this area of research which had challenged and inspired many of their more mature colleagues over recent years.  It led, amongst other intended and unintended consequences, to the establishment of the BERA ABER SIG in 2010, convened by Dr. Nick Owen of the Aspire Trust, the Merseyside based Arts Education specialists. Lesley Saunders summarised the arguments for Arts based research in 2009 thus:

  • ethics:  the researcher gives up claims to objectivity and the particular kind of expropriation of others’ identity and experiences to which that leads  and lays claim instead to imaginative sensuousness or to passion as more plausible forms of authenticity;
  • life-likeness: narrative, images, evocations, recollected memories, dance, group drama and so forth are much more like the lives people lead than are purely rational prose accounts or numerical data;
  • epistemology: we need representations of knowledge which themselves enact and make manifest – through ‘bricoleurship’ – the provisionality and ‘fuzziness’ of knowledge in the social sciences;  and we also need to recognise that the arts create a different kind of knowledge – ‘not the goal of curiosity but the fruit of experience’[1] perhaps – with which we can enrich social, particularly educational, research;
  • expression: the language of academic research should divest itself of the ‘managerialist’ and ‘performative’ discourse which has infected it, and be more like poetry in its sensuousness and felt emotion;
  • the unconscious: the gifts of the non-rational mind – memories, dreams, reflections – should be welcomed as part of the cognitive project of inquiry for understanding
  • education: these modes of engaging in inquiry are in themselves educative, artistically and socially

The BERA ABER SIG: 3 acronyms upon we rest our work

The BERA ABER SIG (or British Educational Research Association’s Arts Based Educational Research Special Interest Group for the unitiated) aims to provide new opportunities in Arts Based Educational Research  by supporting and advocating rigorous,  and inter-disciplinary arts research practice which connects theory, research, practice and policy on local, regional and international stages.  We aim to provide connections within and across these constituencies in order to:

* Provide expertise and guidance in arts based research, practice and theory for universities, teacher training and arts organisations;

* Develop, lobby and advocate for practice which is built on principles of social justice, innovation, challenge, collaboration, rigour, scholarship, excellence and purpose;

* Encourage new conversations and dialogues between diverse agencies and organisations.

* Provide a platform for  theoreticians and practitioners working in arts, education and other fields to discuss, share and reflect on research practice and outcomes, both illuminating and problematical.

Whilst these aims are necessarily aspirational in nature, they are also presented within an overall spirit of ongoing challenge and enquiry:  ‘inclusiveness’, ‘rigour’ and ‘social justice’ are all terms for example which the field constantly contests and this dialogue will be encouraged and stimulated through the activities of the SIG.

THE ABER BERA SIG: playing for influence, change and recognition

Whilst the work of ABER is variously playful, challenging and sometimes bewildering, we are highly serious in our intentWe have been working together to

* Explore, support develop and critique  arts-based educational research theory and practice across differing educational contexts through a series of annual seminars which are held inbetween annual BERA conference;

* Co-ordinating and lobbying for publication in significant educational journals, presentation at international conferences;

* Advising on training and developmental opportunities for artists, researchers and other practitioners who wish to extend their expertise in the field.

For further information on arts based research and how it relates to other research disciplines please have a look here: http://content.yudu.com/Library/A1szjh/BERASummer2011/resources/index.htm?referrerUrl=http%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.yudu.com%25252Fitem%25252Fdetails%25252F364631%25252FBERA-Summer-2011

Watch out for those shaking research foundations!

(Adapted from Research Intelligence, Summer 2011)

The gaze in classrooms and performance spaces: 8 questions of gaze and power

I’ve been thinking about the concept of the gaze in the classroom and the performance space, having previously encountered the concept with the domain of cinematic studies. The concept of the ‘male gaze’ was developed by Mulvey in 1975  and in broader terms, gaze depends on who is doing the looking and what is being looked at.

In watching artists and teacher working together, I’ve been thinking about glaze in two vertices: direction and depth of field.  Direction of gaze can be classified as either vertical or horizontal.  The Vertical Gaze (VG) was evident when the looking of children was directed either at their teacher or to other source of authority in the room such as a whiteboard or other instructional materials.

The Horizontal Gaze (HG) was evident when children were either looking at each other or to others who were  working together with them.  Shifts from vertical to horizontal gaze could be detected as relationships developed in the session and reflected moments in which the authority in the classroom was  diverted from its usual site, the teacher, towards  other agents in the classroom.

Depth of field can also be classified into three types: short, medium and long. A short depth of field gaze was only possible when a child was unable to look much beyond their immediate environment; their desk or beyond the walls of their classroom for example.

A typical classroom wall, with its myriad of learning instructions and exhortations for example is influential in maintaining a short depth of field  gaze, irrespective of any aspirational advice it may offer in terms of how children might wish to envision their future horizons.    On the other hand, a medium depth of field gaze allows views out of the immediate classroom to perhaps other classrooms, school fields or other school premises such as the kitchen or library.  Finally,  a long depth of field gaze is possible if the view from the classroom can  reach to the wider physical community and in which longer vistas and further horizons are observable.

When thinking about the gaze in performance, and particularly that of ‘integrated’ performances of disabled and nondisabled performers, the concept of gaze leads to some critical questions:

Who are we being asked to look at?

Who are we being asked to listen to?

How are we being asked to look?

Are we being asked to look at everyone through the same conventions?

Who drives the action, who tells the story?

To whom does the story happen?

Who could be almost passive observers watching the action pass them by?


Who in the performance could be replaced by puppets?

(extract from The Puppet Question revisited: movements, models and manipulations)


How not to close a school.

Whilst the logic of school closures is portrayed in communications from the British Government and English local authorities as an act of logic and rationality, school closure invariably generates press stories of incensed parents, irate communities and exhausted teachers. What is frequently lost amongst the sturm und drang of closure however are the tiny stories (Denzin, 1991) of loss: of professional expertise, of collective memory, of shared hopes and fears.

This paper introduces a research programme which asks what is lost from a school community once the programme of closure has been agreed and a school moves inexorably towards its final days. In counterpoint to the national Building Schools for the Future programme, this project is informed by earlier work conducted by Whitefield (1980) Molinero (1988), Schmidt (2007) and Picard (2003). This study is thus both timely and of significance to future policy developments: the lived experiences of the community of teachers, families and children during school closure is rarely researched and a great deal of understanding and knowledge remains uncaptured, analysed or assessed.

This study begun as an ethnographic study of the closing months of a single primary school, Centenary Primary School on the Wirral which celebrated its 100th birthday with its imminent closure just months away. It adopts a multi-method research strategy, using both quantitative and qualitative research methods, the latter of which involves a traditional ethnographic approach coupled to an arts based educational research methodology.

One methodological consequence of adopting an arts based approach to the research has been to engage a team of artist researchers. This means that knowledge of the lived experience (van Manen, 1997) of school users can be developed from different perspectives which privilege not only linguistic forms of communication but spatial, musical, and visual: a method we believe is important to the school given its diverse mix of users and participants. It thus may be of use to schools in similar circumstances who wish to effect positive political outcomes during periods of future rationalisations: and in doing so, transform their tiny stories into noisy histories.

A Waiting Story: Closing Schools’ Death Partners

One morning, waiting at some traffic lights on a motorway junction, I suddenly saw next to me, a travelling companion: my death. He was a well dressed fellow, politely sat looking out the car window, occasionally looking at his wrist watch and smiling. Not a big ogre figure but a patient, well mannered sort of chap who’s biding his time: because it will come, that time, at some point. It seems we all carry our deaths around with us but it takes time to see them in their fruition and in all their glory. There aren’t figures with scythes and black hoods but every day workalong guys with wives and kids to go home to.

The closing school is just that: a real live school which has been living alongside its death partner since it first opened its doors to its staff, its children, their parents and the many other landowners and stakeholders who have something at stake in that community. Its death partner, like mine, has been looking at it askance for some time, tapping its wrist watch and smiling.

The closing school, the dying school is not one that is somehow fading away out of its own volition. It is one that is being killed off: it is being put down and there are no mechanisms in place to help people through that – no bereavement counselling for those inhabiting it or any advisory measures for those who took the decision to put it down.

An Identity is being phased out and obliterated and the one thing that might help those going through this painful process would be the recognition that it was happening to this organism, the community, the school community. This is not an industrial plant that is being decommissioned, but an organism that is being laid to rest, having its life blood and oxygen slowly being sucked out of it.

Slowly and surely the school death partners take their places in the classroom and within the corridors, and in reversal of the processes which build towards creative relationships divide people, break up relationships, cause a loss of interest, stultify curiosity, and unalign people and places and things. They separate rather than bind. They deinstall rather than install. They cause the pulse to slow, the breathing to flutter and the skin of the school to take on a pallid hue. They effect inertia, stasis and once in a while you can see them in the wind blowing across the playground and see their reflections in the puddles which have stopped draining away as there’s no- one around to unblock the drains anymore.