Lockdown is a strange time. It is both productive and non-productive, creating a strange in-between space of anxiety, combining time-wasting, and uncertainty together with occasional moments of coming together and solidarity. It is in this spirit that I write this blog post.
One of the highlights of my lockdown life is my weekly discussion on a Friday afternoon with Lalitha Vasudevan from Teachers College and Richard Steadman-Jones from the University of Sheffield. Together we are writing a book called Collaborative Research in Theory and Practice: the Poetics of Letting Go for Bristol University Press.
In our weekly conversations, we discuss what we are going to write about, and how we can write about our projects. One of the key things we discuss is form. What was the form of these projects, and what made them different?
The Connected Communities programme was a very different kind of research programme. It asked researchers to construct research funding bids with not on communities. It required arts and humanities researchers to do research that was explicitly social. It demanded a kind of rigour that was unusual – a rigour around collaboration.
I worked on Connected Communities funded projects from 2010 until 2017, and became part of the community of activists, artists, researchers and community partners that it generated and supported. Here, I trace some of my thoughts about the projects I was involved with, and how they developed.
Our projects had unusual names. They were called things like ‘Language as Talisman’, ‘Writing in the Home and in the Street’, ‘Co-producing Legacy’, and ‘Communicating Wisdom: Fishing and Youth Work’. The question or problem in the project lay in the process by which they had been developed with the communities. Many of our projects emerged through discussions with our community research partners, sitting in youth centres, homes, parks and over cups of tea and coffee. Out of these conversations came the projects.
In our lockdown conversations for the book, Lalitha, Richard and I are trying to identify the key features of these projects. Here are some of the lessons we learned that we think are essential to collaborative interdisciplinary work:
Friendship as method, as Tillman-Healey talked about here. In our discussions we thought there was something philosophical about the way friendship was entwined with the projects.
Research was conducted by everybody. People did research in different ways, and the forms of the research varied, from blogs to hypertexts to images and poetry and art work. These forms were not ‘outputs’ but were the research, entwined with the thinking. This approach was very different from social science research, which tended to think that words contained the thinking in the projects.
Some people in universities found the projects hard to understand. They didn’t necessarily have a disciplinary focus or make sense to one particular department or school of thought. Instead, they straddled disciplines and muddled up tidy boundaries, like the REF.
One of the things the projects did was to ‘let the real breathe’. This expression, from Lalitha, seemed to exemplify how the projects worked, in that their form followed the cadences of everyday life.
It is a utopian form of research, generating ideas about the ‘not yet’ and moving into idea structures that were unfamiliar to all.
It is layered. Over time, the project team became entwined. Even now, we call each other to make sure we are ok. Just this weekend Zahir Rafiq, the artist on the Imagine project called me. He is still working on artistic digital projects.
It produces a pedagogy of collegiality, one that stretches over time and continues to yield ideas and collaborations, beyond the stretch of the projects.
We hope that, out of our conversations, a book will emerge that captures the form and structure of these projects in all their everyday complexity. Working as we are from home, perhaps being at home, also generates these hand-made pedagogies and ways of knowing and thinking that are less instrumental but more located in the everyday, in the real, in the temporal cadences of the everyday.
Kate Pahl is the co-editor of three books in this series: Coproducing Research; Reimagining Contested Communities; Valuing Interdisciplinary Collaborative Research and co-author of the upcoming book ‘Collaborative Research in Theory and Practice: The Poetics of Letting Go’ with Lalitha Vasudevan and Richard Steadman-Jones.
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