The Collaborative Poetics project: developing methodological resources for collaborative arts-based research
In 2016, I travelled to Montreal to work with Claudia Mitchell and the Participatory Cultures Lab at McGill University. My visit was funded by NCRM’s International Visitor Exchange Scheme. During my 8-week visit, I worked intensively with a group of young spoken word artists to experiment with different ways in which poetry could be harnessed as a research tool1, 2. The immediate aim of this study was to use poetry to explore and communicate coresearchers’ lived experiences of discrimination. The broader aim was to develop an innovative new method of arts-based research, ‘collaborative poetics’ (CP).
Arts-based research is an incredibly diverse and dynamic area. Broadly, however, it refers to research where the arts is used as a tool for data collection, data analysis and/or data dissemination. During the Montreal study, we used poetry in all these ways, studying poems for insights into discrimination, writing poetry as a means to understand, analyse and explore discrimination experiences, and communicating our learning through a spoken word show (‘The Struggle Is Real’) and poetry chapbook (‘You Kind of Have to Listen to Me’)3.
Arts-based research is exciting and important, because it enables us to explore aspects of lived experience which are problematic for mainstream research methods, embracing ambiguity, fluidity, multiplicity, emotionality, and the unspoken. Working with the arts can also help us to attract new audiences (and participants) to research, engaging them with research findings on an emotive, visceral level. This can inspire action, strengthen communities and result in both individual and social transformations. Besides being arts-based, then, CP is also framed by a concern with social justice and community engagement. It speaks to participatory research approaches, which seek to empower and work with co-researchers.
Accordingly, this pilot research saw the group sharing our artistic, academic and personal expertise in an equal status ‘research collective.’ On my return to the UK, I hosted several workshops and talks on CP. These were attended by artists, community organisations, and academics representing a range of disciplines, from occupational therapy, to human geography, to business. The success of these events led to a call for freely-available resources which would allow people from all of these sectors/disciplines to apply the CP method. A small group of artists, consultants, community partners and academics cohered around this call to form the Collaborative Poetics Network. This network is framed by a concern with critical or social justice-based resilience, which seeks to build resilience amongst individuals and communities while simultaneously drawing attention to, and fighting against, the inequalities which help create the need for such resilience in the first place4.
Since 2017, the group have worked together to host a transdisciplinary, cross-sector conference, The Carnival of Invention, and to develop a CP resource pack. Our work on the pack is funded by the Independent Social Research Foundation and supported by the University of Brighton. The pack includes guidance on core considerations in participatory, arts-based research, such as how to set up and manage a research collective, how to instil your group’s ideology and aims in a manifesto, and how to manage ethical issues in this kind of research. These guidance notes are supported by a range of teaching materials, stimulus resources and creative activities. The activities reflect CP’s roots by focusing predominantly on poetry and creative writing, but they also speak to the subsequent development of this method, by incorporating tools and techniques from the visual arts.
To find out more about the CP Network and method, to download the pack and supporting resources, or to leave feedback, please visit: http://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/collaborativepoetics/
Submitted by Helen Johnson, University of Brighton on Thursday, 27th June 2019