Evoking Losing and Finding Community in Drama: A Methodology-in-Motion for Pandemic Times

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Our article explores the impact of the global health pandemic on our five-year, multi-sited, collaborative ethnographic study titled Global Youth (Digital) Citizen-Artists and their Publics: Performing for Socio-Ecological Justice (2019-2024). We illustrate how our arts-led, youth-driven ethnographic ”methodology-in-motion” responded to a destabilized world by planning, listening, and seeing differently across local and global research contexts through virtual fieldwork. By focusing on reciprocity and the relational, we examine how researchers, youth participants, and global collaborators, managed to ”lose” and ”find” each other through creative, artistic encounters.

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The widespread turn towards ‘collaboration’ in qualitative research methodologies warrants careful and continuous critique. This paper addresses the possibilities and the challenges of collaborative methodology, and in particular what happens when the line between pedagogy and methodology is blurred in classroom-based ethnographic research. Troubling the prized notion of collaboration, and decoupling the easy relationship drawn between collaborative, participatory methods and empowering, democratic research experiences, we draw upon empirical data from one site in a multi-site, international ethnographic project: Urban School Performances: The Interplay Through Live and Digital Drama, of Local–Global Knowledge About Student Engagement. In underscoring some tensions and conflict in the creation of a Verbatim Theatre unit, we analyse significant affective encounters that surfaced in the course of our research work. Mobilising feminist post-structuralism and current theories of affect, we question the privileging of voice as an unmediated and authentic phenomenon, while ultimately arguing for the importance of affect and emotion in ethnographic analysis and for persistent reflexivity in the negotiation of collaborative metho-pedagogical work.
This article explores the nature of ethnographic collaboration during the harrowing and unpredictable times of a global pandemic. Documenting Year Two of a five-year, multi-sited ethnographic study, which necessitated virtual fieldwork in global drama classrooms (in Canada, India, Colombia, Taiwan, England, Greece), we offer a theoretical picture and practical illustrations of the ‘metho-pedagogical’ adaptations and observations made by the Toronto site team. For our study of youth and the climate emergency, we use an arts-led and youth-driven research process to provoke ‘listening bodies’ and the co-emergence of youth, artists, researchers, and research projects towards a more relational climate consciousness, a future created in the now. The prominence of ‘presence’ in our project took on an urgent and surprisingly intimate quality owing to the global pandemic in which we all suddenly found ourselves.
Collaboration in qualitative research is increasingly encouraged and rewarded in many national and global funding schemes. Collaboration by scholars in (radically) different disciplines using different methods is becoming common, however less attention is given to collaboration using shared approaches across closely-related disciplines. This paper considers the ethnographic insights of four researchers from different (but related) disciplinary backgrounds who conducted collaborative fieldwork in one site—West Coast Park (WCP) in Singapore—over two periods of fieldwork. We conducted an experimental collaboration to study emotions, affect and mundane space through sharing and comparing our interpretations of everyday life in WCP. We ask, how do researchers capture or speak to the affective properties circulated during collaboration? Second, how should researchers approach the affective properties of mundane activities in space? Our paper develops a four-fold ‘affective inventory’ consisting of: a) multiple-attunements to the (un)familiar; b) attentiveness to affective affordances and their governing effects; c) attentiveness to involuntary affective charges, and; d) awareness of how our diverse affective biographies affect the (im)perceptibility of affect. We propose that such an inventory functions as a valuable guidepost in navigating collaborative ethnographies, especially when exploring emotions and affect.
This chapter grapples with the ethics of digital video analysis in a long-distance, multi-sited ethnography with young people. I joined the Radical Hope project in September 2017, months after the fieldwork for the Athens research site had reached its conclusion in March of that same year. Tasked with analyzing video data from a research site I had never personally visited, I encountered the unique ethical challenge of hearing and representing, compassionately, the voices of young people across vast geographic distances. Concerned with falling into the trap of what Tuck (Harvard Educ Rev 79(3):409–427, 2009) has called ‘damage-centered research’ in light of the stark realities of economic austerity and a refugee crisis coloring mainstream discourses on Greece as a whole, I sought to attune to what Deleuze, Guattari and Maclean (New Literary Hist 16(3):591–608, 1985) have called ‘the minor’—smaller disruptions or differentiations of molar or majoritarian narratives. I contend that the unique use of video research methods in Athens—via what I have called a ‘relational screen’—produced significant ‘minor’ events in the analysis process. Using Deleuzian (Cinema 1: The movement-image. Continuum, London, 1986, Cinema 2: The time image. Continuum, London, 1989) conceptual frameworks of cinema, and St. Pierre’s (Int J Qual Stud Educ 10(2):175–189, 1997) concept of ‘transgressive data,’ I argue that such minor events have ethical import in inviting more embodied and less objectifying encounters with distanced and unmet others via digital video data. By moving away from proceduralism in video analysis, and turning towards its affects—its residual, fleeting, ephemeral, sensory and emotional components—long-distance ethnography can invite startling new relationships with strangers in an increasingly global and socially atomized world.
In the fall of 2015, I joined the Radical Hope team as a research assistant, spending both that year and the next involved with our project as it unfolded in our Toronto site of Regal Heights (2015–2017). In the spring of 2016, I traveled to Coventry, England along with Kathleen Gallagher, Dirk Rodricks, and Andrew Kushnir, where we worked with our collaborator Dr. Rachel Turner-King from the University of Warwick and the Canley Youth Theatre Group. These intense experiences had a deep impact on me and the more I reflected on our Radical Hope methodology, the more I likened it to a daily practice, like an artistic practice that is deeply embodied, affective, performative and reflexive. Our methodology, and indeed the five-year project, spanned time and space across local and global communities in fascinating and demanding ways. As a result, our methodology was in constant motion, like a responsive choreography to ever-changing contexts and world events. Much of our methodological practice centered around relationships, those with our collaborators and participants, and the intimate relationships we built as a local research team. Our multiple commitments as researchers (witness, participant, and facilitator) demanded a “response-ability” Lehman (Postdramatic theatre. Routledge, London and New York, 2006) to our research communities that shaped both the data we gathered and its subsequent analysis. One of the most useful aspects of our practice was, and continues to be, what Myer’s (Vis Stud 25(1):59–68, 2010) calls a “conversive wayfinding”, a dynamic sense-making process based on collaborative discourse both in the moment and in the aftermath of research experiences. To illustrate methodology as a practice, this chapter relies heavily on primary sources (field notes, interviews, correspondence) that bring to life the immediacy, intimacy, and uncertainties we encountered within Radical Hope.
This article explores the psychological logics underpinning key perspectives in the ‘turn to affect’. Research on affect raises questions about the categorization of affective states, affective meaning-making, and the processes involved in the transmission of affect. I argue that current approaches risk depopulating affecting scenes, mystifying affective contagion, and authorizing questionable psychobiological arguments. I engage with the work of Sedgwick and Frank, Thrift, and Ahmed to explore these points and suggest that the concept of affective practice offers a more promising social psychological grounding. Notions of affective practice are more commensurate with trends in contemporary psychobiology, explain the limits on affective contagion, and emphasize relationality and negotiation, attentive to the flow of affecting episodes. A practice approach positions affect as a dynamic process, emergent from a polyphony of intersections and feedbacks, working across body states, registrations and categorizations, entangled with cultural meaning-making, and integrated with material and natural processes, social situations and social relationships.
This essay explores the act of touching as it takes place in physical matter, in theorizing, and in the productive spaces where the two are indistinguishable. First, the author considers how feminist theory goes about touching science and unpacks touch as an act that reveals the self within the other and the other within the self. The essay then offers a tutorial in quantum field theory to prepare the reader for an unexpected interlocutor on the topic of touching: the electron. As Barad demonstrates with descriptions of electrons and how they have troubled physicists to the point of being “normalized” and called “immoral,” these particles resist normative notions of physical contact; they are perverse. On the human scale, electrons trouble the notion of touch by making it impossible to close the distance between atoms: the sense of touch paradoxically relies on electric repulsion between neighboring objects. On the subatomic scale, each electron gleans its energy from touching itself as if undergoing an exchange with another. Not only does the presence of contact come from its absence but also the presence of electrons themselves relies on a void holding their virtual counterparts. On every level, one can never reach the other—even the other within oneself. This paradox on the micro scale that constitutes all macro-scale matter calls into question the spatial and temporal fixity of identity. Barad shows that the notion of a unified, autonomous self is problematic not just on the personal level but on the particle level as well, and she responds to this deconstruction of matter with an ethics of response-ability.
Scientific ecological knowledge (SEK) is a powerful discipline for diagnosing and analyzing environmental degradation, but has been far less successful in devising sustainable solutions which lie at the intersection of nature and culture. Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of indigenous and local peoples is rich in prescriptions for the philosophy and practice of reciprocal, mutualistic relationships with the earth. Scientists and policy makers all over the world are calling for incorporation of the wisdom of TEK into natural resource planning and environmental policy. TEK has a legitimate place in the education of the next generation of environmental scientists, yet this body of knowledge and the process by which it is generated are virtually absent from the environmental science classroom. Integrating TEK and SEK holds a great promise for broadening and deepening the teaching of environmental science, yet the challenges to such integration are significant in the mainstream classroom. I have found that key elements of this integration include fostering intellectual pluralism in a student population largely unaware of other epistemologies by: (1) clear and disciplined analysis of how TEK and SEK are grounded in different worldviews. Mutually respectful evaluation of the divergences and convergences of these epistemologies creates the foundation for critical examination of how synergy might be created between them; (2) engagement of the indigenous pedagogy of direct, experiential learning in which the land and its inhabitants are recognized as primary knowledge sources; (3) holistic engagement of multiple elements of human capacity: mind, body, emotion, and spirit, not just the intellect which is exclusively privileged in conventional environmental science education; (4) recognition that in indigenous approaches, knowledge and responsibility are inextricably linked, so the course content and approach simultaneously cultivate the responsibility that accompanies knowledge acquisition, including protection and appropriate use of cultural knowledge; and (5) recognition that the mutually exclusive duality between matter and spirit which is essential to the scientific worldview is bridged in TEK where material and spiritual explanations, the secular and the sacred, may simultaneously coexist.
In August 2010, dance artist Jess Allen undertook an eight-day journey on foot and public transport between the 10 wind farms of mid-Wales, talking to the people encountered about changing landscapes and changing values in a changing climate. The sound recordings of interviews and encounters conducted in this process were edited into a score that then formed the basis for a creative exchange with environmentalist and documentary film-maker Sara Penrhyn Jones. The resulting 15-minute film installation sits between the genres of dance and documentary. What we offer here is a reflexive account of the process of creating this work. We consider how walking, talking and being in landscape with greater attention to the senses can combine to foster a more deeply felt sense of embodiment in walker/researcher, respondents and film-maker alike. In pointing to the parallels between this and the application of somatic practices in dance training and performance, we ask if embodiment can be tangibly communicated from performer to audience to bring about greater ecological and social awareness. We also observe that, while coming from our seemingly disparate fields, the practices of somatics and of observational documentary are ultimately both about opening ‘space’. It is this we sought to amplify in the film: space for the subjects to speak in their own voices and, in limiting distracting visual images (unusually, the speakers themselves are not seen at all), greater space for the viewer to contemplate their message. We suggest that, in combining our fields of experience in this way, a practice is emerging which may represent an ‘activism by stealth’, stimulating debate and encouraging a more embodied and everyday engagement with the issues of climate change. We conclude with a discussion of the capacity of participative-collaborative arts projects to facilitate a move away from more traditional consumptive attitudes to the arts, counteracting passivity to re-frame our lives in the context of a changing climate.
This article discusses The Language of the Listening Body, a collaborative creative project between choreographer Hope Mohr and composer Michelle Nagai exploring an active listening and moving practice in the urban environment of New York City. Mohr discusses listening and moving practices in the studio and in ‘soundwalks’—walking meditations where participants are encouraged to maintain a high level of sonic awareness. The article discusses discoveries and questions that arose during a creative process with a focus on: (1) the relationship between listening-based movement research and public soundwalks, and (2) the unique issues involved in environmentally based creative process and performance.
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