Participatory arts as a creative space for young people’s social explorations
This participatory arts pilot-study focused on young people, primarily from BAME and marginalized communities, and was funded by the University of Greenwich in 2015-16.
The project originated from, and extends upon, an earlier ESRC seminar series of youth identities - led by Tracey Reynolds from the University of Greenwich and Elisbetta Zontini from the University of Nottingham - by exploring the use of creative, theatre and arts based practices in order to understand young people’s constructions of identity, place, space and belonging in the broader sociological debate.
A consultant dramatherapist, Erene Kaptani (Open University), led and facilitated the workshops and a student intern on the Drama programme, Selina Rose, assisted.
Weekly workshop sessions took place with a group of young people (age 18 to 24) between January and April 2016 at Bathway Theatre. These sessions were filmed in order to create audio-visual materials. Video extracts of the workshops produced serve:
as a methodological resource to reflect on the process of the workshops;
as a research method to engage with young people in social research;
to identify the key social themes and relationships that impact on young people’s everyday lives.
The pilot project gave us the opportunity to experiment and co-create a methodology for social studies where the different practices of physical theatre, drama therapy, forum theatre and sociological investigations came together.
Workshops explored movement through physical theatre practice and relations with others in the group through body movement, sounds, rhythms, spatial arrangements and the construction of characters.
Participants used their body to create ‘images’ of public spaces, asking questions such as: how does the body move in these spaces? How does the body feel in these spaces? What are the shapes and qualities of the bodies in these spaces? How does the body place itself and relates to itself and other bodies?
The young people observed 'the body' in both public spaces, and private spaces of family, using the same methodology, exploring both the 'unrealistic' and the 'personal'.
A key aspect of the workshops was the use of image-work to reflect on the young people’s experience of taking part.
The final session allowed for a ‘talking to the panel exercise’, where the participants took turns to discuss issues that affect their everyday lives and asked for policy changes.
Participants were encouraged to visualise themselves and their bodies - leaving their home and walking through public spaces on a journey to their desired destination.
Following this experience they drew maps of their ‘route’. Maps included their dreams, wishes and aspirations, as well as everyday aspects of a familiar journey through public spaces.
Common barriers and restrictions in public spaces faced by young people due to increased security, the rise of living costs and lack of public spaces in local communities were explored through image and performance.
There was a particular focus on how black, male, youth bodies have become controlled and excluded from certain gentrified places in London, especially compared to other groups of young people.
Erene Kaptani is a member of Playback South Theatre Company and devises performances at Studio Upstairs arts community. She produced and performed in Suspended Lives, a play with refugee groups at Tara Arts and Rich Mix. She is an Associate Artist with the University of East London and a registered Drama Therapist. She uses theatre to question constructions of identities, institutional and public communications.
She has been working with different refugee and migrant communities, as well as BAME youth, using applied arts as research method and as citizenship practice. She has been a research fellow and consultant for ESRC and AHRC funded major research projects since 2005 and works with different organisations as applied arts practitioner and researcher. Currently she is Research Fellow at Open University, investigating participatory theatre as social research method funded by National Centre for Research Methods.
Elisabetta Zontini is Associate Professor in Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Nottingham.
She has a Laurea degree in Political Sciences from the University of Bologna and an MA in Contemporary European Studies from Sussex University. Her doctoral thesis was transformed into a book: 'Transnational Families, Gender and Local Contexts. The Experiences of Moroccan and Filipino Women in Bologna and Barcelona' by Berghahn.
Before joining the University of Nottingham in 2007 she was a Research Fellow for the Families and Social Capital ESRC Research Group at London South Bank University where she conducted research on Italian transnational families.
In 2006 she was also visiting Research Fellow at the International Gender Studies Centre at Oxford University.
Selina Rose recently graduated from her BA Hons in Drama at the University of Greenwich. She was able to obtain a variety of skills that have led her onto a future career track of becoming a drama therapist.
Being able to do her work-placement with Tracey Reynolds and Erene Kaptani on the Youth Matters Project has been a significant development. It has allowed her to use her knowledge and skills coming from a drama background and gain new skills that can be applied to her future training as a drama therapist.
Tracey Reynolds is a Research Professor and Professor of Social Sciences at the University of Greenwich. Tracey’s teaching and research interests focus on transnational families and kinship networks; constructions of motherhood and parenting & youth studies, and she has established international recognition within these fields of expertise. She has conducted extensive empirical research in the UK across a range of social issues including black and minority families living in disadvantaged communities, and the study of families in the Caribbean and North America. Research awards include Economic Social Research Council on Caribbean youths and transnational identities (with Elisabetta Zontini); Big Lottery on care planning among BAME older people in London (with Age UK Lewisham and Southwark); migrant mothers’ citizenship, awarded by the Arts Humanities Research Council. She is currently working on: Participatory Theatre and Walking Methods' Potential for Co-producing knowledge’ (with Umut Erel, Open University and Maggie O’Neill, University of York) 2016 -2018, funded by the ESRC ‘Participatory Action Research (PAR). Further project information here.
She is Guest editor of ‘Young People, Ethnicity and Social Capital’ in the Journal of Ethnic and Racial Studies (May 2010). Also ‘Transnational and diasporic youth identities: exploring conceptual themes and future research agendas, Identities; Global Studies in Power and Culture (with Elisabetta Zontini) (2015)