Category Archives: Qualitative Research

How my relationship with my disabled identity influences my research methods.

Anneka Owens
To mark the end of Disability History Month, I have written this blog on my relationship with my disabled identity and my research methods. It maps the road to acceptance and how that has brought my research methods closer to the person being researched.

A bit about me
I am a third year 1+3 ESRC funded PhD student at Cardiff studying equality and access to justice in Wales. I was diagnosed with a limiting health condition the day before starting the SSRM. Interestingly, as my relationship with my new disabled identity changed, so did my research methods. This was subconscious at first but became more conscious as my identity strengthened. This blog takes you on the journey that I’ve faced from denial and detachment to pride and full incorporation.

The Social Science Research Methods Dissertation
During the SSRM, I hadn’t fully embraced my identity as a disabled person and instead focused upon somehow returning to the ‘norm’. My desire to keep pace with the standards set for people with no limiting health conditions was because I was still ableist in my views. My health condition was the problem that had to be overcome and I just had to somehow achieve the same standards and timescales as everyone else no matter what – my illness would not deter me from my goals. This was an attempt to detach my illness from my sense of self.


Distancing of illness from the person was also subconsciously reflected in my chosen research methods for my SSRM dissertation. I chose to study equality and access to justice in Wales by undertaking a secondary analyse on a leading legal needs survey from an equality perspective. This is arguably one of the most detached method for analysing equality.


My research found that representation of vulnerable groups was too small for accurate analysis and even pooling surveys did not substantially improve the situation. What did become known was that disabled people in Wales face legal disadvantages at a disproportionate rate compared to their English counterparts. Despite these findings for disabled people in Wales, I still didn’t identify as belonging to this group.
The findings from my Masters dissertation helped shape my PhD research design. The initial research proposal detailed a mixed methods approach – more secondary quantitative analysis followed up with a small number of interviews to provide case studies on the experiences of disabled people in Wales.


At this point, my disabled status was still separate from my identity but I was more accepting of my condition and the limitations I was experiencing. However, Covid changed my research method and my relationship with my disabled status…

The unexpected impact of Covid
The challenges that came with Covid were extreme and hastened my acceptance of my disability but it also exemplified more than ever that my health was not the only disabling factor. People’s attitudes towards reasonable accommodations magnified any limitations that I had and truly left me feeling isolated from society and disabled in an insurmountable manner. My experience during Covid was an exemplar of the social model of disability. I have an impairment as a result of my health condition but I am disabled by societal structures. This realisation, and frustration with the system, embedded my identity as a disabled person and became a source of strength and pride. I no longer wanted to detach myself from the community I was researching as it is my community and disabled people deserve a voice and control over their lives, including research conducted in their name.


The strong belief that my community (disabled people) deserve a voice meant that when I had to alter my research proposal to compensate for lost time due to Covid, the disuse of quantitative methods was a natural choice. At the time I felt that the method was too detached from disabled people and treated disability as homogenous. Nor did the homogenous approach reflect lived experience and the social model of disability.
As my research progressed it became clear that there was no need to be conducting the interviews with disabled people in Wales. However, my identity as a disabled person and the conviction that disabled people need to be included in decisions that affect them, resulted in interviews remaining and instead of case studies on a few people, interpretative phenomenological analysis would be undertaken to provide a deep dive into the experiences of disabled people in Wales and the disabling barriers they face by society. I also want their feedback on the framework that I am designing to analyse equality in Wales so that I could include the people who the framework is designed to help. Co-production could not be achieved, but I could achieve a deep level of engagement with my participants.

ESRC DTP Wales Welsh Government Internship



Just when I had begun to reject the utility of quantitative methods for analysing disability, an internship was posted that was a replica of my SSRM dissertation but this time involving secondary analysis using the National Survey for Wales. Part of the internship’s remit was to produce recommendations for the improvement of how equality data is captured and presented for the newly established Equality, Race, and Disability Evidence Units (the Units). I was fortunate enough to secure the internship and I have just one week left in the 6 month placement.


I honestly thought that the National Survey data would not provide any new avenues for exploration of disabled people in Wales. Like nearly all household surveys, disability is treated as a binary output so provides limited scope for change or innovation, or so I thought!


The National Survey recorded respondents’ illnesses, allowing up to six to be detailed. The National Survey groups these illnesses based on the chapters of international diseases. Forty-one variables are created from these illnesses that relate to various parts of the body. This approach does not reflect how I identify as a disabled person nor does it reflect the social model of disability.


Luckily, the National Survey team and the Disability Disparity Evidence Unit let me experiment with a novel approach that matched my beliefs and reflected the lessons learnt from lived experience. The illnesses listed by respondents could be recoded into impairment categories. People who had physical, mental health, cognitive including neurodiverse, and sensory and communication impairments could be analysed in the National Survey data offering brand new insight on existing data. This approach better reflects the social model of disability and evidence how much society disables people with different types of impairment. The findings were illuminating and have been passed on to the Disability Rights Taskforce.

Where I currently stand
Over the course of my PhD journey, my identity has influenced my methods multiple times and the internship is another example of this. No method need be dismissed for researching disability as long as it is not constructed through a complete detachment of the subject matter especially if the researcher does not have lived experience because this knowledge matters when constructing questions and categories. Co-production is a key part of including lived experience, even within the most detached of methods. Achieving this level is difficult but it is an aim I work towards as it closely aligns my methodological choices with my strong identity as a disabled person and the commitment to full inclusion that stems from this identity.


Currently I proudly identify as a disabled person and use this as a source of inspiration, but as I’ve explored, my identity constantly evolves and this may result in a further evolution of my research methods.













Poetry in Practice- Catrin Edwards-Greaves

Uses for poetry in research: communicating research findings and aiding reflexivity.

Hello, I’m the new editor of the Methods blog, and in this post I give some insight into the types of methods that I like to use in my own research work.

I may have dropped out of an English degree years ago, but in this blog, I provide some insight into how I’ve kept up my passion for creative writing despite my little detour into social sciences…

I’m an ESRC DTP funded PhD student who has completed the MSc in Social Science Research Methods ( quite a task under lockdown!). My MSc dissertation research explored women’s experiences of community participation during the pandemic, and how they might shed light on policy surrounding the new curriculum for Wales: being an ‘ethical, informed citizen of Wales and the World’ (Welsh Government 2020).

 I used focus groups facilitated through mind-mapping and zine-making, as well as interviews to uncover participants’ meaning making around curriculum policy and their experiences of community participation. I found that the idea of being ‘ethical’ was particularly significant for participants, and they drew on a range of resources such as social identity and global citizenship in making meaning of their experiences in community settings, contradicting the economic focus and sense of national citizenship presented by Welsh Government curriculum policy.

Most of my participants, recruited through organisations involved in volunteering, were unfamiliar with academic research. I wanted to convey my findings in an accessible and exciting way. On way in which I did this was through using visual ways of gathering and presenting data, as it is an accessible format: Visual data should be ‘multivocal’ and therefore able to speak to a range of audiences (Banks 2011:94). I worked with an illustrator to create a zine to distribute to participants, reporting research findings. This meant that the zine was constructed by multiple voices: myself, the illustrator, and participants. Zines can be used to ‘curate ideas and thoughts’, leading to deeper reflection (Vong 2016:63), which was very useful for me in paying attention to my own position within the research process and commenting on my reflexivity in my methods chapter. Within the zine format, I used poetry to serve different purposes over the course of my research, including reflecting on the research process, getting to know my data, and presenting findings to participants.

 Here’s an extract showing how my poetry was incorporated into the zine distributed to participants.

Zine distributed to research participants. The zine was made by myself, Catrin Greaves, and illustrator Gemma Williams, with contributions from research participants.

The zine included two poems which I wrote in response to my research. The first poem, ‘Connections’, conveys my research findings, such as identities that participants drew on (‘feminist, activist’) as well as the significance that they ascribed to connecting with others, reflected in my choice of title, ‘Connections’. To construct this poem, I used data from my interview and focus group transcripts, as a way of including participants’ voices. This was also very useful for me in getting to know my data more deeply. I wrote the second poem, ‘Reflections from a Zoom screen’, as a tool to aid my own reflexivity and learning from this research experience, by incorporating my own words from the data as a way to reflect on how I had conducted the research.

Two poems: ‘Connections’, and ‘Reflections from a Zoom screen’. Data from my research is highlighted in bold.

Connections

Community, connection,

helping

supporting,

belonging

It’s a heart thing.

Informing, working,

learning, caring,

It’s a seesaw

On which we balance

Actions,

Always thinking,

Wanting

 to create change.

A compass to guide us

Into the new and unknown.

Headlines blaring,

Adapting, changing,

Risk taking

Knitting a net

Of conversation,

connecting

Feeling

For family, neighbours,

Friends,

Through fast wires and flickering screens

Part of a whole.

Feminist

Climate Activist

Neighbour, daughter, carer

Acting a role

In our communities, country,

continent

A globe

feverish with crises

But we are wanting

To create change.

It fueled my passion,

I will persist

I realised the power

Of transcending boundaries

Of geography

Through the patchwork squares of a screen-

Words are threads,

Weaving the warm glow

of windows to

 Wales and the world.

It’s great to see you all,

And I feel so happy today.

But,

put your own oxygen mask on first.

Be creative, take care of yourself.

Take time.

Travel back through tides

Reflect,

 learn from those who came

 before us,

Connect

The quiet streets of your hometown

With the wider seas of change

Reflect

On how you belong

How you are part of something bigger.

(Catrin Greaves and research participants, July to August 2021)

Communicating Findings

This poem provides a summary of research findings, including the prominent themes of emotion (‘a heart thing’) and connection, and participants’ references to ‘ethical’ decision making and community participation across areas of social life, including family and community. The use of verbs (‘thinking’, ‘adapting’, ‘changing’) reflects participants’ emphasis on action and active citizenship, including in formal volunteering contexts or in terms of lifestyle (for example, Kayleigh*’s ‘ethical’ shopping for chocolate). I have also included references to identities which were significant for participants: ‘feminist, activist’, which was interesting, as policy focused more strongly on ‘national’ identity. Incorporating metaphors including that of a ‘seesaw’ and a ‘compass’ reflects participants’ awareness of the complexities of ‘ethical’ citizenship including difficulties of decision making. Using the first person, I hoped to elevate participants’ voices within my research, which was significant for my feminist approach, focusing on women, who have arguably been ignored in terms of citizenship research (Lister 2007:53). Ending the poem with the line ‘part of something bigger’, taken from Rachel*’s zine, I hoped to communicate how participants connected their experiences to wider global issues, for example, Angharad* connected her social media volunteering with a gender equality charity to wider issues of gender inequality and violence against women, which had featured prominently in the news around the time of her participation. I next examine how writing poetry helped me in my reflexivity as a researcher.

Reflexivity

Reflections from a Zoom screen

I have been looking at this idea from the curriculum of being an ethical and informed citizen of Wales and the world.

During the pandemic, I got more involved in my community.

 I packed lunches,

 waited in queues for someone else’s medicines,

 added their groceries to my shopping list….

Why did I do this?

I wondered what this purpose could mean

 in our new world of

Lockdown, empty streets,

Thursday clapping for carers,

 Drum beats.

A time of change.

And what has happened to those

Who beat a weekly path?

to charity shops,

 group meetings?

And what is already known about this?

And what does the government say?

But they are still busy

they’ve just found a new way…

So, what I was going to ask you to do was for 5 minutes, make a mind map about what you think about this idea of being an ethical or informed citizen of Wales and the world.  it’s just your initial reactions…. 

Do you think of the headlines blaring from a laptop screen?

Or that press conference from a screen obscuring

the untidy living room

Of a Welsh Senedd member?

Do you think of the warm lights?

of your own home?

Or of clashing cries from

The distant past…

Do you think of a world that’s yet unknown?

Like the reports flashing from the government website?

And what does it mean to be a citizen?

And what kind of participation

Is important to you?

There is no right or wrong way of doing it.  it’s up to you how you organise the words on the page…  if something is particularly important to you, you might want to write more about it…

And I will write down my thoughts

 I want you to have a choice,

 a voice,

But I know it can be hard

to know what to do,

Across the distance of a screen.

When you make a zine, you can include what you want. 

 You can write, or draw, or…

I’m not very good at drawing,

but I want to try something new.

Are you ok, you cut out a bit there…? 

(No response). 

This process has been

Challenging

I’m expanding

My ways of

Constructing

Producing

I’ve found new ways of

Thinking, reflecting,

And

 The time has gone quickly. 

And there’s so much more to say,

It can’t fit into the squares of a Zoom call

But

 If you want, you can send me photos of what you made,

 And I really appreciate your time.  

This process has helped me

in recognising

Empathising

It’s been

Surprising

And I’ve learnt about

History and homes, and creativity and care,

And connecting

the harmonising chords

Between community, country, continent

Between Wales and the World.

(Catrin Greaves, November 2021)

In this poem, I reflected on the research process. I acknowledged difficulties of researching online, using extracts from what I had said to participants during data collection (‘you cut out a bit there’). I considered my learning from this process (‘new ways of thinking’), and how my own experiences steered the directions of the research (‘I packed lunches… why did I do this?’).

 Using a range of tools (such as poetry) to aid reflexivity may be particularly significant to feminist and collaborative research, through taking into account ethical considerations such as attention to power dynamics within the research process (Linabary et al 2021: 720). I hoped to demonstrate to participants how I felt about the research as a form of transparency as an ethical obligation of working with young participants who may not be familiar with research processes. Mutual emotions and experiences may be a way of creating connections between researchers and participants (McDowell 1992:405), which was important to me in making participating in the research a fun and rewarding experience for participants. I also hoped that sharing my experience of the research with participants through poetry was a form of transparency, which could also increase engagement with research (Moravcsik 2019). This was important to me because of my research topic of exploring everyday experiences in relation to policy.

I am now in the first year of my PhD. I hope to continue to use poetry or other creative writing to communicate research findings and aid my reflection. I hope to build on this and further embed creative writing into my PhD research. I have started to do this by writing a poem for every chapter of my thesis, as a way of focusing on my structure and communicating the key messages of each chapter. As editor of this blog, I am looking forward to learning about a wide range of methods used across the DTP. Diolch!

If you are interested in contributing to the Methods Blog, please email me: greavescm1@Cardiff.ac.uk.

Reference list

Banks, M 2011. Using Visual Data in Qualitative Research. [no date]. Available at: https://methods.sagepub.com/book/using-visual-data-in-qualitative-research [Accessed: 31 January 2022].

Cahnmann, M. 2003. The Craft, Practice, and Possibility of Poetry in Educational Research. Educational researcher 32(3), pp. 29–36. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X032003029.

Lister, R. 2007. Inclusive Citizenship: Realizing the Potential. Citizenship Studies 11(1), pp. 49–61. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/13621020601099856.

McDowell, L. 1992. Doing Gender: Feminism, Feminists and Research Methods in Human Geography. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 17(4), p. 399. doi: 10.2307/622707.

Moravcsik, A. 2019. Transparency in Qualitative Research. Available at: https://methods-sagepub-com.abc.cardiff.ac.uk/base/download/FoundationEntry/transparency-in-qualitative-research.

Vong, S. 2016. Reporting or Reconstructing? The Zine as a Medium for Reflecting on Research Experiences. Communications in Information Literacy 10(1), p. 3. Available at: https://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/comminfolit/vol10/iss1/3/ [Accessed: 31 January 2022].

Welsh Government 2020. Curriculum for Wales: overview | GOV.WALES. Available at: https://gov.wales/curriculum-wales-overview.

Home in 27 Exposures: reflections on the use of photo diaries with young migrants living in Swansea

With my mum she was born [in Iraq] but she left when she was a baby. She came to Britain but she still has that feeling that it’s her home. You don’t have to have just one home there can be multiple homes… I think that home isn’t where you live, it’s how you live in a way.

(Mouna, 18, 12/07/2019)

In my master’s research I explored the multiple ways that home is expressed and understood by young, Asian migrants living in Swansea. As the above quote demonstrates, home can be something more-than the ‘four walls’ you live in. Home can be where you are from, where you are, and where you are going. Home can be felt, sensed, and experienced in a complicated and messy way.

As home can be difficult to represent, to pinpoint on a map, or to contain in a structure, I chose to adopt a research method which allowed for expressions of home as dynamic, fluid and emerging. Using photo diaries allowed for incomplete and flexible examples of home to emerge for young migrants, exploring home as beyond ‘four walls’ and opening up novel ways to approach home.

Through this blog post I will show the usefulness of photo diaries as a way to articulate things that sometimes escape representation, such as feelings and affects. Reflecting upon the pros and cons of this research method, I will also outline future hopes for building upon the photo diary method in my PhD research.

Photo Diary Method

Using photos in social research is not a new concept. For the past few decades, photography has been used to understand, evidence and document phenomena. In recent years, however, the photo method has slowly shifted away from professionals, or researchers, behind the camera (Kolb, 2008). There are more and more examples of research participants being trained and taking ownership of taking photographs (Bignante, 2010; Lykes, et al., 1999; Prins, 2010), particularly within participatory action research methodology. The participant generated photo-elicitation method is utilised by researchers to “engage people in processes that enable their participation and personal growth” (Olsen, 2012, p. 99).

My study engaged with 20 research participants utilising two research methods: interviews and photo diaries. Of the participants, 12 were interviewed, and the remaining 8 were asked to produce photo diaries.

Photo diary process

What did they produce?

Eight research participants produced a total of 136 photos. Each participant created their own paper A5 booklet showcasing their stories of home. The only criteria was to annotate each photo with a few words, or sentences, linking to themes, such as how they felt when taking the image. The flexibility that they were given resulted in a wide array of photo diaries, some with annotations, drawings, front cover designs, as well as carefully constructed chronologies of photos to show their stories of home.

Concepts for photo diary brief

Once complete, I arranged a mutual day and time to meet with participants, in a one-to-one setting, so they could talk through their photo diaries with me. Having already briefly seen some photos when I took them to get developed, I felt excited to know more about their rationale for taking these images in relation to home. There were many images that, out of context, really intrigued me to know more – everything from Teletubbies to cups of coffee and Shisha pipes!

Photo diary image examples

Reflection

Unexpected routes and conversations

This flexible and participant-led approach enabled me to build upon my initial concepts and ideas, especially the concept of ‘home as emerging’. Home was photographed as something spiritual, using landscapes such as beaches, which allowed me to develop my analysis in this area, which was unexpected at the outset of my data collection.

Challenging power dynamics of researcher/researched

A key strength to using this method was in its ability to shift power to the participants in sharing their stories. Many of those involved with the study voiced their doubts at the outset about whether they could actively contribute, whether they could answer my questions, whether they were able to articulate what they wanted to say – particularly in the case of those who spoke English as an additional language. Through inviting participants to take their own photos in their own time, to construct their photo diaries by putting them together, and to take a lead in explaining the images to me, I felt this process not only encouraged investment, but also encouraged participants to use their voice to shape their narratives of home.

Opposed to more established, and traditional research methods, such as structured interviewing, this approach allowed a conversation to explore the meanings and understand anything that wasn’t clear. It also posed opportunities for myself as a researcher to be challenged by the participant, and to begin the process of analysis by working through the photo diary together, at the same time.

Challenges

Aside from the depth and richness of data that was produced from the process, there were, of course, many challenges when using the method. Namely, time, logistics, and the sheer amount of data that was produced – 136 photos in total! It was the first time I had used this research method and some aspects provided unnecessary delays:

Using disposable cameras

Disposable cameras are a fantastic tool to encourage participants to think about photos before taking them. With only 27 exposures, participants know the value in taking each shot. The downside was issues arising from faulty disposable cameras, many of which you didn’t know were faulty until photos were processed. Some photos were sadly lost in this process. As the art of film processing declines steadily due to the rise of digital cameras and smartphones, it was very difficult to find independent photo shops in Swansea with efficient turnaround times – most took just under two weeks to develop photos.

Flexible, but not too flexible deadlines

It was difficult to find a balance of being prescriptive with the timeframe with the freedom to create images that were meaningful for the participant. The initial brief provided to each participant allowed two weeks to take images, meaning there was a few days of flexibility, such as if the participant didn’t feel like taking an image on one day they could skip it and make it up later on. It is important to note, however, that sometimes ‘life happens’, and participants needed more time to complete their tasks. Sometimes procrastination, as with many of us, can result in delays for participants to provide their photo diaries. I found that by ensuring good communication with participants it was helpful to check in once after a week to see whether they were facing any challenges which may delay the final photo diary.

Photo diaries and participant retention

In particular, I think due to its time intensity, this research method is not going to be appropriate for all research settings. Due to my prior relationships with young people, I felt able to use my skills, knowledge, and connections to develop this method. I didn’t feel concerned about losing retention of participants once they had started the process. Upon reflection, however, I can see many more issues that could have arisen which would have resulted in lost, unfinished, or a lack of data from participants.

Future plans

ESRC PhD Project with Swansea University and EYST Wales

I intend to take away key advantages and disadvantages of using the photo diary method, in order to build upon this approach within my PhD research study, called ‘Sensing Wales’. In a TED talk, the writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warned of the ‘Danger of the single story’. With this in mind, this project will hopefully provide a diversity of ways for young people to express their complex and multifaceted experiences, to overcome stereotypes of ethnicity, religion, gender and migration experience.

Please feel free to get in touch if you would like to have a chat about using this approach or more broadly about this upcoming PhD project. I am more than happy to share ideas and resources 🙂

Bibliography

Bignante, E. (2010). The use of photo-elicitation in field research: Exploring Massai representations and use of natural resources. EchoGéo, 11, 1-20.
https://doi.org/10.4000/echogeo.11622

Kolb, B. (2008). Involving, Sharing, Analysing – Potential of the Participatory Photo Interview. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 9(3), Art. 12.
https://doi.org/10.17169/fqs-9.3.1155

Lykes, M.B., Mateo, A.C., Anay, J.C., Caba, A.L., Ruiz, U. & Williams, J.W. (1999). Telling stories-rethreading lives: community education, women’s development and social change amongh the Maya Ixil. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 2(3), 207-227.
https://doi.org/10.1080/136031299293039

Olsen, W. (2012). Data Collection: Key Debates and Methods in Social Research. Sage Publications Ltd.
https://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781473914230.n17

Prins, E. (2010). Participatory photography: A tool for empowerment or surveillance. Action Research, 8(4), 426-443.
https://doi.org/10.1177/1476750310374502

Rose, G. (2016). Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials (4th edition.). SAGE Publications.

Van Liempt, I. & Bilger, V. (2009) The Ethics of Migration Research Methodology: Dealing with vulnerable immigrants, Sussex Academic Press.

Creative practices of research and practices of welcome for refugees and asylum seekers in rural Wales.

 

I am researching practices of welcome for refugees and asylum seekers in rural Wales – which often centre on activities such as cooking, walking, dancing, events, and outings. It looks at how people encountering each other through these groups, connect across very different experiences of migration and of language, and very different senses of familiarity with being in rural Wales, and how they make meaning and tell stories around migration, welcome and belonging through the activities they participate in.

I am exploring the idea of seeing these activities as ‘literacies of doing’ and how this relates to language understood by Pennycook, Simpson and others as a social participation. I’m interested in how communicative repertoires of both spoken and unspoken language, are assembled in improvised and creative ways and how this can shift away from the dominance of English language seen as a fixed entity, and competence in it used as signifier of belonging and test for citizenship. As the study progresses, ideas around language seem to be as significant in the research practices as they are in the encounters of welcome themselves, and so I’ve become interested in the interplay between the two.

For one case study I re-connected with some participants for a project based on their experiences of staying in a domestic, home environment here in a village in rural Wales.  As we couldn’t meet, we created and exchanged postcards.  Postcards worked as small, easily available, mobile objects carrying meaning through a combination of image and a short chunk of text, enabling people with a wide range of language and literacy skills in English to participate. I was struck by Pennycook (2010) using the example of writing a postcard to elaborate on the idea of language as a social practice, as ‘a set of bundled activities There is the obvious moment of writing the card – but it’s also about images, feelings, knowledges, memories, anticipations, connections between people and ‘multifaceted relations to place’ (Pennycook 2010 p3).

Other communicative practices grew around the postcard exchange – a WhatsApp group and a creative card making Zoom session enriched the repertoire of resources available for a shared language of participation. Boundaries between spoken, written and visual language, working with technology and with paper, being in physical and digital space, were broken down as people seemed to combine and switch frequently and easily between them. The card I made was of the Zoom screen. 

There was something, for me, particularly affecting about the material aspect of the postcards, the textures, the mark making, the packing and unpacking and the unexpected intimacy of handwritten text. As these objects moved between us they narrated our experience in a different mode to the immediacy of spoken dialogue. There were pauses while we waited for a reply, time to dwell on cards received and consider our response. We had a chance to say things that we didn’t say at the time of the encounters we shared. 

The current phase of research is with a local Town of Sanctuary group I’m involved with. Conversation Café is a weekly meet up originally organised as a space for families resettled here to practice their English. Two of these sessions were used to do some making  with images and text, based around people’s experiences of the Town of Sanctuary activities. I guess I was mistakenly hooked on what would be produced, while actually, what was happening in the room around the making was what I needed to pay more attention to. As Hawkins puts it – ‘sitting with the process rather than the output’. 

The collage on the left shows pics of the making and some of the finished work, but threaded between the images, I’ve noted the live conversations and actions running through the practice as, rather than incidental, these seem just as significant as the images that we were aiming to produce. 

Without trying to make it fit too neatly, I would say that some of the creative research methods and experiences echo what happens in the interactions of welcome which are the focus of the research. The assembling of improvised communicative repertoires of spoken and unspoken language through creative practices of ‘doing’ takes place in both. Some of the ideas that circulate around both are to do with the way connections and meanings are formed through a mix of deliberate and improvised activities and the significance of the incidental as well as the planned. This links to questions around how stories emerge from practices that are more organised, controlled, and reflective or more chaotic, immediate and spontaneous. So, when thinking about ways in which narratives about migration welcome and belonging are created through practices of welcome, it seems important to pay attention to what has come up through the process, not just the results.

Overall, I’m looking for ways to piece things all altogether. I’m drawn to using fragments, mosaics, patchwork; intersected or layered with language. I think this also reflects what happens more generally in the encounters of welcome themselves, not just this research context – the spaces where spoken and unspoken language practices blend in small scale, quite transient fragments of people’s lives. 

This collage is one I made from some of the material produced in the postcard project with fragments from the text overlaying the images. I’m hoping to assemble the collection of cards from this project into a small mobile exhibition, firstly here in the village hall in Llanvapley. I’ve found myself thinking ahead to how they could be arranged or assembled – thematically, or as conversations. I considered whether to indicate the authors of the cards as refugees, other transnational migrants, volunteers, workers, researcher, or combinations thereof or leave them completely uncategorised. This visual and spatial thinking has been helpful in considering how to talk and write about the project – to narrate the human stories circulating around the cards as artefacts. Trying to find ways to let the cards speak for themselves but also extend the conversation through engaging with theory and scholarship around mobilities, welcome, belonging, and rurality. But obviously I need to shape things into a PhD study too, so I guess I’m also looking for a suitable language practice and communicative repertoire myself, in order to do that, and to do justice to what participants have produced.

Bibliography

Hawkins, H. (2019) Geography’s creative (re)turn: Towards a critical framework. Progress in Human Geography 43(6) 963-984

Pennycook, A. (2010) Language as a Local Practice Routledge, Oxon, NY 

Pennycook, A. (2012) Language and mobility: Unexpected places. Multilingual Matters Bristol, Buffalo, Toronto

Simpson, J. (2015) English language learning for adult migrants in superdiverse Britain. In James Simpson & Anne Whiteside (Eds) Adult Language Education and Migration Challenging agendas in policy and practice Ch 15 200-2013 Routledge, NY and Oxon