Video Methods : Social Science Research in Motion

To celebrate the publication of Video Methods : Social Science Research in Motion (Routledge 2014),   Charlotte Bates has opened a new online space.

It was evident from the start that what would be missing from a book on video methods is the video. Its colour, sound, and movement resist the black and white pages of print. But something lingers in the words and stills within, a feeling of and for the vital, affective, fleeting, and sensuous intensities of video. And this is precisely why the authors of the chapters that encompass this volume have chosen to work with video as a research method. Placing video cameras between themselves and the worlds they are interested in, they have found new ways of recording and attending to the textures and rhythms of social life in motion. From video diaries and go-alongs to time-lapse video, multi-angle video recording, video ethnography, and documentary, with camera phones, minicams, handycams, and digital SLRs, as well as lapel and shotgun microphones, field recorders, batteries, tripods, and head mounts, and in homes and schools, at train stations, on bicycles and kayaks, and in the wilderness, the chapters in this volume provide an innovative and inventive inventory of the possibilities that video has opened up within the social sciences.

If you would like to contribute to the ‘more video projects’ collection please get in touch!

Charlotte Bates is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Sociology Department at Goldsmiths, University of London, where she also gained her PhD in visual sociology.

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Curating Community and the Value of Agonism by Alison Rooke


As an academic who has been working with arts organisations who do participatory and socially engaged art work with residents and ‘targeted populations’ (such as older people, young people, refugees and estate residents) for over a decade, I have become interested in the conflicting needs and desires which come to bear on these projects. I have carried out numerous evaluations of arts-based interventions, on a scale which spans the local to the global.

In evaluative research, the question of deciding on the criteria by which we might evaluate a project is more than a matter of identifying tools, indicators and producing evidence. Project evaluation is the moment at which the tensions and failures of a project can be either used as opportunities for reflection or ‘dirty secrets’ to be discussed later in informal settings where they are less dangerous and disruptive. However, it is these very tensions and failings which are indicative of the ethical and political dilemmas facing artists and arts organisations delivering participatory and socially engaged art practice.

I organised the AHRC Cultural Value Expert Workshop entitled Curating Community? out of an awareness of a body of literature concerned with the cultural politics surrounding regeneration and gentrification, debates in arts evaluation and my own research into the micro-politics of arts participation. The workshop brought together artists, commissioners, researchers, educationalists and practitioners from community development and range of arts practices including community, socially engaged art practice, participatory theatre and participatory arts with the aim of reflecting on the opportunities and dilemmas facing practitioners working with ‘communities’ in this context of urban regeneration and gentrification. The workshop asked the following questions:

How are forms of ‘community’ instantiated and negated through participatory arts?

Is there scope for making apparent the conflicting positions of stakeholders in arts participation projects?

What are the consequences of such an approach?

What is the ‘community impact’ of participatory arts?

What is its relational significance?

The use of the word ‘curation’ in the workshop title, rooted in the Latin ‘to care’, is an acknowledgement of the arduous and careful affective labour involved in much of this work and, in turn, its affective impact on the practitioners, (often working in precarious and exacting conditions). In London’s context of rapid regeneration some arts practitioners are working on self-initiated and ‘activist’ initiatives, working with, or as part of, communities in critical and creative responses to the effects of regeneration and gentrification such as displacement, the privatisation and securitisation of urban space. Here artists are often making apparent the uneven social consequences of urban development. The desire to ‘curate community’ bringing residents together through creative interventions, emerges from mixed motivations. Public, third and private sector bodies recognise the potential of participatory and socially engaged art as a means to ‘restore the social bond’ (Ranciere 2006; 57) and ‘tighten the space of social relations’ (Bourriaud 2002:15).

In this process ‘socially-engaged’ or ‘participatory’ art practice has become more professionalized (see Hope 2011). Other drivers here include arts organisation’s desire and need to enhance the traditional demographics of gallery audiences through ‘education’ ‘community’ or ‘local’ programming (in part driven by arts policy and accusations of elitism) and the targeting of ‘vulnerable’ groups (refugees, young people, older people, migrant groups, ex-offenders and LGBT groups for example), through participatory processes. Within this strategic approach to working with communities, arts practitioners negotiate complex circumstances, tasked with creating spaces of dialogue and exchange through participatory social programmes in a context of increased socio-economic inequality and population churn.

Due to its dialogical nature, socially engaged practice is particularly suited to agonistic (Mouffe 2007) circumstances. It has the capacity to reveal the on-going, unpredictable, and multiple dialectics between power and resistance. Rather than predictably reproducing an illusion of unity and a ‘cohesive’ and convivial community, socially engaged practice has the potential to mediate and negotiate and make apparent these social contexts and offer what Mouffe describes as an alternative ‘social imaginary’ in their creative response to them. On-going critical exchange and ‘dialogical aesthetic’ (Kester as 2004) between all ‘stakeholders’ often shape a projects’ eventual realisation. Community art projects, funded through agendas which seek to produce democratic outcomes (such as civic awareness, active citizenship, community cohesion, equality, or inclusion), are paradoxical in that these aims must be ‘deconstructed’, and sometimes disrupted in the course of the project if an agonistic approach is to be successful (Mouffe (2007).

An abundance of evidence has demonstrated that participatory art can address social problems, however, an agonistic approach recognises that this may not be in ways that bring about desired behavioural changes as defined by the state, the corporate world or other social bodies not directly involved in the day-to-day lives of those most impacted by, inequality and social injustice. Working creatively with the agonistic aspect of socially engaged and participatory processes art is not a case of merely solving conflict in order to get on with the work of produce a satisfactory output or outcome. Conflicts and problematic issues, or antagonisms are in Mouffe’s words essential ‘impurities’.

It is therefore more a case of finding cultural value in making and maintaining conflict and tension through a collective creative process. However, this flexible, iterative and critical approach is so often at odds with the demands of delivering and evaluating planned projects with predetermined aims, impacts and outputs. Those working in social practice can find themselves in difficult ethical positions, torn between the desire to ‘start from the middle’ navigating the labyrinth of the competing demands and desires of communities and their obligation to satisfy funders and commissioners predetermined aims and objectives of project ‘delivery’. The ability to juggle these demands, cope with periods of chaos, pull a project together and make sense of it critically is one of the under-recognised skills of the socially engaged artists. These complex situations are indicative of the uneasy fit between a tradition of arts participation, which has evolved out of radical practice, as a part of a project of social justice and societal change (Negri 2011; Bruyne and Gielen 2011) and the instrumental deployment of arts participation in urban development on a global scale. It is therefor not surprising that arts practitioners concerned with participative and socially engaged practice find themselves facing complex ethical and political dilemmas. In the ‘Curating Community’ workshop we discussed the viability of developing alternatives to orthodox evaluative frameworks and methodologies which are integral to arts the governmentality of culture. Evaluation could open up an opportunity to reflect on the value and significance of failures, differences and disagreements within a project. Generative and integral approaches to project evaluation, which incorporate the principles of ‘critical friendship’, triangulated peer review and participatory action research, offered ways of unpicking and recognising the cultural value of antagonism and heterogeneity in participatory arts.

Dr Alison Rooke is co-Director of Centre for Urban and Community Research, Goldsmiths College.

A longer report on the AHRC Cultural Value Curating Community Expert Workshop is available on the AHRC Cultural Value site at :

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Art on a Roundabout by Johannes Rigal

Redesign of a local photographic sculpture in Mautern, Austria

01 Status 2003 Gregor Kremser Design, Installation & Images; Photo G. Kremser Status 2003: Gregor Kremser: Design, Installation & Images; Photo: G. Kremser

Mautern is a small town (3494 inhabitants) near Austria´s capital Vienna. Urban life and the art scene are majorly influenced by nearby Vienna and Krems. However, in Mautern itself there has been substantial effort to get out of the shadow of these two cities by producing and offering art and arts education in Mautern itself. One of these efforts was to build a four-sided sculpture made of cubes to present the town in photographs in the middle of a roundabout at Mautern’s entrance. The sculpture was designed by local artist Gregor Kremser and put in place in 2003. The images on the installation were primarily historic images or generally speaking generic images intended to show Mautern.

I was first approached in 2012 by Kremser as plans were developed by the local government and city council to redesign the installation and primarily its photographic content. I had the idea to update the installation with contemporary photographic images showing the town and its citizens.

However, implementing this concept proved to be difficult as local decision makers wanted to use the sculpture for displaying pictures of their respective local groups (sports, music groups, folksy symbols of the region, etc.). Most inhabitants became more and more unhappy with this kind of use of the display. Finally, in 2013, I was commissioned to curate a new exhibit which whould finally implement the original idea, showing modern photography in Mautern, accessible for everyone.

Designing the project I realized quickly that I wasn’t happy as an outsider to come in, take photographs, put them up and leave afterwards, making the project a passive and “non-local” affair. I knew the area, but was far from being “local” as the original artist Kremser is.

A participatory approach, a more direct way to include Mautern and its people in the project was needed. The way to achieve this was to facilitate a VHS (adult education centre) workshop series inviting everyone interested in photography.

The group consisted of non-professional photographers from various backgrounds and ages (between 17 and 70 years) and different interests in photography (e.g. portraits, black and white, family pictures, architecture, macro-photography) which led interesting discussions and ideas among the group.

The most important elements of the workshops were:

- all participants were advised in technical photographic skills matching their respective skills and knowledge.

- participatory approach: an essential element of the project was that I invited everyone in the local community to work out the concept and take the photos themselves. I was merely there as their advisor.

- research on the qualities of a small town like Mautern and portray the edgy and contradictory aspects of a seemingly “wholesome” community.

- walks through the town, each with a special focus (history, movement, built environment, nature, agriculture) which was central for finding the images for the sculpture

Over a series of four 6 hour days, the participants were invited to share their histories of the town and come up with the routes of the walks themselves. This led to interesting situations were the group’s members not only wanted to show me a special corner or their favourite place in the town but started to show each other places that the others were not aware of.

Finally, the group came up with four themes, one for each side of the cube, which were: the Danube, the Romans, landmarks, wine. These themes were developed in a discussion in which it became clear that it was important for the group to have certain things on display – such as the landmarks of Mautern or the wine as the typical product of the region – but that they also had certain ideas in terms of colour, style and aesthetic of the images. They should be representative and of a certain “value”.


 The Roman Wall, Photo: C. Bamberger

03 Wine, Photo K. BrennerWine, Photo: K. Brenner

04 Landmarks, Photo L. MessererLandmarks, Photo: L. Messerer

05 The Danube, Photo M. Kranister The Danube, Photo: M. Kranister

After a pre-selection of the images throughout the workshops, I put together a series of about 30 potential layouts according to the themes:

06 Potential layout �Various 4�, Johannes RigalPotential layout “Various 4”, Johannes Rigal

It was originally intended that the group would choose four of those layouts but in the end, the layouts were cut and the images mixed together from the various layout – a positive outcome not originally intended.

The workshops were held in spring 2013, the new images were put up in 2014.

07 The new images on the installation. Photo Karl RederThe new images on the installation. Photo: Karl Reder

08 Participants in front of the completed sculpture; Photo Karl RederParticipants in front of the completed sculpture; Photo: Karl Reder

The participants not only improved their photographic skills, but also developed more consciousness for the space they live in. The sculpture will have a long-term effect on the community, emphasising its status as a place for modern art and thereby fostering the community´s self confidence in the shadow of Vienna and Krems. Also the inhabitants´ability for critical thinking and analysis were enhanced. Also, this project has shown how important it is to implement participatory approaches in projects like this as it ensures that the former participants feel connected to and responsible for the sculpture long after the project has finished. Another effect that the project had was on a more political level. The sculpture has had its critics from the very first design in 2003. Some people wanted to either use the sculpture for advertisement or commercial display or remove it from its prominent spot altogether. Because the sculpture was redesigned by Mautern’s citizens in our project, these voices of criticism almost had to disappear because now it was a sculpture of public and civic participation.

09 The completed sculpture North Side; Photo Karl RederThe completed sculpture North Side; Photo: Karl Reder

Johannes Rigal is a Visiting Research Fellow at CUCR     

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In search of Edgelands Urban PhotoFest walk by Peter Coles

20131006-_1050082     carolinefraser.02   IMG_8777 resized   As part Urban PhotoFest, a group of nine photographers and I walked south-eastwards along the Greenway – a raised footpath that covers the Northern Outfall sewer – from Stratford to the Thames. Well, that was the plan. In fact, to get anywhere near the Thames in the three hours we had (officially) it was necessary to turn off the Greenway about two-thirds of the way to its end and follow the Capital Ring path to Beckton Park, London City Airport and the Royal Albert Dock. Two of the group did exactly that, as, after a few hours, the end of the Greenway didn’t seem anywhere in sight, while time was passing and feet were getting tired. One of the group turned back at Plaistow, as she’d left her car at Stratford station in a cripplingly expensive car park, and also wanted to enjoy the pleasure of going back over the walk from the opposite direction, with new insights into what she’d already seen (or missed). Two others decided to catch a bus back to Stratford when their Achilles tendons started to complain. Meanwhile, four of us decided to trudge doggedly on the last couple of miles in search of the eastern end of the Greenway, and what the poets Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts aptly named ‘Edgelands’.

I’ve walked along the Greenway from the Abbey Mills Pumping Station – not far from Stratford High Street (or indeed West Ham tube) – many times, usually past the Olympic site and as far as the Lee Navigation canal, before following the canal to Hackney Wick, or more recently, to enter the Olympic site itself. In that direction, it’s an interesting, surprising and varied walk, with views over east London’s skyline, before dipping into the almost rural tranquillity of the canal. But the walk east from Stratford High Street is different.


The first couple of miles are fascinating, the jewel perhaps being the old Abbey Mills Pumping Station itself. Like several other buildings designed by an engineer – this one by Joseph Bazalgette – it seems to be the creation of a ‘nobody’ trying to rise above the crowd by leaving behind a wonder-of-the-Earth monument – like Simon Rodia’s 30-metre high Watts Towers in Los Angeles, made out of junk, glass, coke bottle tops and chipped pottery; or the Palais idéal of postman, Ferdinand Cheval (le Facteur Cheval) in the Drôme region of France. Bazalgette’s pumping station is more like a Byzantine church than a waterworks, with its bell tower, ornate brickwork and columns.

Before the Olympic development of 2012 it was possible to get quite close to the building and even walk around its perimeter along unofficial paths made by kids and dog walkers. But no longer. Spirals of razor wire cap 15-foot high mesh fences around the site, making it look like a nuclear power station, rather than a complex of Victorian hydraulic machinery to pump Londoners’ poo. Indeed, these fences and razor wire have become part of the signature of the Olympic site and its legacy. So much for inclusion.

This part of the Greenway is riddled with tributaries and creeks off the Lea river, like Abbey Creek, which was at low tide as we passed over the bridge. A few wading birds poked around in mud the colour of elephant hide, pocked with supermarket trolleys and rubber tyres. Walking southeast, the footpath offers fine far-off views of the glass and concrete of Canary Wharf and Bankertown. And in the foreground, unusual rooftop views over a disappearing part of east London. A Victorian school, workers’ houses from the time when there were still factories (and work) here. On the right, we looked down over the East London cemetery, and the Memorial Recreation Ground. A muscle-bound young man did pull-ups from the crossbar of a rugby goalpost to impress his equally fit-looking girlfriend, while the Voice of God bellowed through loudspeakers as an evangelical priest addressed an increasingly fervent congregation in what looked like the sports pavilion.


Just after Newham Hospital the two fellow walkers who had decided to take the Capital Ring path peeled off. The Greenway by now had become rather boring, at least close up. It was straight, manicured and featureless, rather like a Dutch tramway. Or at least the features hadn’t changed much for an hour or so, even if the middle ground and foreground still looked interesting. But you needed a telephoto lens to capture anything interesting. Even so, four of us decided to carry on, spurred by an iPhone map that promised a sewage works, gasometers and the Thames, not far away.



Indeed, a big change came as soon as we crossed under Newham Way and picked up the last leg of the Greenway on the other side of a vast traffic interchange. For the first time in three hours we had to wait for a green light to cross a road. The previously monotonous gravelled path took on the character of a narrow country lane, with high brambles on either side. To the right, the surreal Beckton Alps ski slopes. And then, coming towards us at a lick, was a pony and trap with two young men perched on a low-slung bench behind the horse. An instant change of pace. The skyline became more industrial, with new boxlike factories next to the defunct ironmongery of far-off gasworks. Giant hogweed mimicked the skeletal industrial towers.



Finally, we reached the end of the Greenway. But it wasn’t the end I’d anticipated – a theme park of sewage works and gas storage tanks next to the Thames. Instead, the path just petered out, with two main filaments – one going left towards a superstore and the other, right, beside a soft drinks bottling plant. Straight ahead, a dingy litter-strewn track through the scrub under the motorway, that led nowhere.

We backtracked, past a bench festooned with hamburger cartons and coke cans, looking for a way above ground to cross the dual carriageway. As electricity pylons strode overhead we finally came out onto the road. There, in the distance, was the sewage works and a few bits of industrial architecture, but still too far for tired legs to reach now. And no sign of the river. We crossed back and into the undergrowth. A bit further on, a cycle path led off to Beckton housing estate and what promised to be the quick way home, while a disused spiral footpath suggested another way out. We decided to take the long, uncertain route, and not be cheated of the river view at least. But the path led only to an abandoned bridge, flanked with Soviet-style street lighting. It seemed to go nowhere, yet an occasional car careered around a hidden corner, as if we were on a Frankenheimer film set. From this one-sided bridge, we could see a scrap of salt marsh meadow, the Gallions Reach Docklands Light Railway station and glimpses of City Airport running beside the monotonous remnant of the once glorious Royal Albert Docks.


This wasn’t the romantic, derelict industrial scene I’d imagined. But it was, nonetheless an Edgeland: “…where the city’s dirty secrets are laid bare, and successive human utilities scar the earth or stand cheek by jowl with one another; complicated, unexamined places that thrive on disregard, if we could only put aside our nostalgia for places we’ve never really known and see them afresh.” 1

Images by Peter Coles, Catherine Dupuy, Caroline Fraser, Sabine Thoele.

Peter Coles is a Visiting Fellow at CUCR, Goldsmiths College.

‘In Search of Edgelands’ is published in the CUCR magazine Streetsigns. You can find other articles here :

This year’s Urban Photo Fest includes the Urban Encounters Conference at Tate Britain on Friday 24th October.

1 Farley, P. and Symmons Roberts, M. (2011). Edgelands. Journeys into England’s true wilderness. London: Jonathan Cape.

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Marcus Coates’ School Of The Imagination and Sociological Imagination(s) By Claire Levy and Harriet Smith

…imagination is the capacity to shift from one perspective to another from the political to the psychological; from the examination of a single family to comparative assessment of national budgets of the world… It is the capacity to range from the most impersonal and remote transformations to the most intimate features of the human self and to see the relations between the two.” (7: 1959)

C. Wright Mills : 1959: The Sociological Imagination :Oxford University Press


I’m sitting with my eyes closed. I can hear Marcus describing how I’m in a room – it’ s a room I know, my parent’s living room. There’s a hole in the floor under a chair. I move the chair and jump down the hole. In order for this journey to work, I must concentrate on my imagination, letting my mind’s eye wander to familiar places. Marcus tells me I’m at a tree. Again I see one I’ve seen before – I’m mining my memory bank for images to create this story. And then he leaves me – I must continue this journey without him – I walk along a mossy bank, next to a stream, I sit in the water and it feels cool – the sun is strong, no need to worry about getting chilly… I meander like this for a while, feeling very relaxed, but it’s not quite like dreaming – then Marcus says I must go back to the tree and he leads me back up through the hole and back into the living room. What follows is a sharing session with my fellow journeyers – we’ve all been sitting in a circle, each reaching into our imaginations for a journey which we try to compare notes on. Marcus leads us through this conversation and is helpful and reassuring. It’s slightly bewildering, like waking up from a massage..”

Claire’s journey

During the summer of 2013 we embarked on a journey with performance artist Marcus Coates and his team to research and evaluate his new project: The School of the Imagination.

Marcus Coates and Nomad were the 2013 winners of an annual award for a participative art project, commissioned by Create London on behalf of Bank of America. ‘The School of the Imagination’ aimed to draw on Coates’ shamanic techniques, and used the imagination to find new ways of solving problems and answering questions in the material world. As researchers, we were new recruits to the CUCR, commissioned by Create to evaluate several projects taking place over the summer months.

The CUCR approach to evaluation is – like much of its work – thoughtful, evolving and emphasising a reactivity throughout the process. There is no form filling at the end of a project, rather researchers are implicated from the beginning and work with project organisers to embed the evaluation into the practice. CUCR’s approach comes from a recognition, following Savage et al 2011 ithat research methods have a social life. As such, methods are fully of the world that they are also active in constituting. Taking this proposal seriously allows us to reconsider the ways we go about evaluative research. This is a field which has been heavily criticized historically for its role in instrumentality and governmentality. Rather than being an instrument of governmentality, evaluation can also be can also be a form of criticality and action research. The research we undertake, which is integral to the project ‘delivery’ is shaped by a number social actors contributing to it on an on-going basis, well before the research can be framed as a ‘product’ or as an ‘outcome’.

At our initial meeting, Coates explained that they were drawing on the work of Augusto Boal and his ‘Theatre of the Oppressed,’iiwhich works along the principles of the audience being allowed to intervene in performance and direct and participate in it. Boal in turn was greatly influenced by Friere’s ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’iiiwhich emphasises a dialogic learning between teacher and student: the lines of power being horizontal rather than vertical. We were to find that these theories tap directly into the participative nature of Create’s original brief and were manifested throughout the Coate’s project.

The East London theatre group Cardboard Citizens, who work with homeless people, helped to recruit participants. Their approach also draws on Boalian techniques and this had fed into Coates’ early research into the project.


The School of the Imagination consisted of a week of workshop sessions. Participants worked in groups and individually; utilising journeying techniques used by shamans; using subconscious imagining to address external questions and issues. These sessions were facilitated by Marcus and filmed by a crew from production company Nomad. The director of Nomad is Michael Smythe who has worked with Marcus for many years.

The venue for the work was Teesdale Community Centre in Bethnal Green, which is a small hall with a beautiful community garden, surrounded by brick council blocks. The heat of July meant all windows were open in the surrounding flats and sounds echoed through the garden. The journeying vocal call, collectively termed ‘Yoike’ filtered around the garden each day, and sometimes people would hang out of their windows to watch and comment when the group were working in the garden.

The workshops sessions followed a strict time pattern, the importance of the schedule made a potentially destabilizing process easier to cope with, giving the participants parameters for the work and regularity to the rhythm of the week. As well as the regularity of the scheduling, the journeying took on a pattern which offered reassurance and contributed to the sense of authority amongst the participants that emerged later. The structure for the journeys – warm up exercises and precursor activities to the journey itself – was mapped out and stuck on the wall, thus reinforcing the ritual, the intention of the process, the client, and the sense of security within this.


Marcus adapts shamanic practices and ideas into rituals and processes that situate themselves firmly in the now: the urban present of our culture. For example the group made ‘Eye-curtains’ out of sunglasses and Tipp-Exiv; utilizing components of our throw away world that are around us rather than using traditional materials. Marcus explained that in his view, traditional shamanic tools operate as mystifying objects, and he therefore prefers to use objects relevant to our own culture.

We understood that we needed to become both immersed in the project, and at the same time utilise a methodology to hold our observations together; we therefore saw ourselves not as observer/ experts, but rather as forming a partnership, which was evolutionary and co-operative, allowing us to share back observations and theoretical understandings whilst absorbing what and how events took place.

Part of our integration into the group was to help serve lunch each workshop day, which helped us to find our place, while we also hung around with the group during breaks and joined them when they worked out on the street in Bethnal Green.

We participated in a rehearsal session the previous week, held in part for the film-crew to see the set up and for Marcus to try out some of his techniques. Having experience of shamanic journeying helped us to understand what was going on, and how the participants were feeling. We could relate to what they were going through and comprehend the problems of interpreting the journey messages – reading the meanings both individually and collectively.

We had our research questions, which related to the commissioning body’s concerns. However, the process of participating in the project opened up questions about Frierian practice and how horizontal lines fit into a view of evaluation which involves sharing experiences rather than expertly taking information and judging others. We also reflected upon how shamanic practice can speak to social research and we even wondered whether journeying could become a valid evaluation tool.

Involved in a shamanic journey is the idea of first setting an intention. This is very important, as it is easy to ask the wrong question or not to fully understand what one is asking. Once the group had worked with questions from each other, the team endeavoured to introduce external ‘clients’ who had questions or concerns for which they might want an answer. At this stage the group worked with the client to form a clear question: a journey intention, which was then answered through images produced during the imaginary state. There is always more than one answer and these answers are not always conjoined. For a shaman, or a group of shaman, learning how to interpret the journey is skilled and takes experience.

In journeying, getting the intention precise is a skill; in evaluation getting the questions right is also a skill, but one that can shift throughout the process as things become visible : concerns made apparent. Yet, just as the School of the Imagination required a very firm structure (formulated through the film routine, the journey process, and the daily timetable ) in order to evaluate in a participatory way we found we needed to have a clear working structure to enable our observations to be formulated within a meaningful methodological framework. And as researchers we also needed to be able to differentiate between observations as noise and observations as data.

Research Evaluators as Explainers?

There were moments when we were struck by our inside/outside position to the project. On the Thursday the group were taken onto the street to do spontaneous ‘mini-journeys’ for passers by. This felt quite exciting as members of the public stopped to ask us what we were doing. But as apparent team members, these questions came to us too. As researchers we found ourselves torn between our participation in the moment (helping the camera crew and finding participants,) and being asked directly by passersby what was going on. This had implications for us as well as Marcus and Michael : Should we have stepped up and given an account? Isn’t that what we were there to do after all? But to give account, suddenly on the spot without agreed permission to speak for the group, was not something we felt we had clearance to do. Finding the line then, between participation, ownership, permission, and explanation, in and outside of sociological practice proved a challenge, perhaps one that shifts on every occasion, or perhaps becomes clearer with experience.

The process had performative qualities that challenge mainstream notions of problem solving, and the dynamics and meaningfulness of community consultancy. This parallels some types of evaluation and could be viewed as playing with critiques of professional community consultation as a performative (PR) production. This type of consultation is sometimes seen as a tick box exercise providing evidence for pre-made ideas decided upon by experts and now it was being turned on its head by a community group answering the questions of professionals. In our own way we were attempting to usurp notions of evaluation as being a tick box ‘add-on': being performers in the project rather than observers after the event.

The final consultation involved the group visiting Department of Health researchers in City hall: the participants took on the role of experts advising experts. This evidenced a knowledge production practice turned on its head : where experts were put into the role of amateurs, and were given the answers without use of theoretical tools or statistical measurements. The tools now used involved the human imagination, but used in a specifically focussed and participatory collective way.

The work was both funny and serious: people were walking around in Tipp-Ex sunglasses making strange noises. But it also reminded us of the process of clowning where truth is often delivered as humour. It became apparent that people find the idea of this project funny, and yet there are deeply serious issues being addressed. The Department of Health researchers were very interested in the journey information and extended their consultation by over an hour.

Perhaps one of the most important elements to have become apparent is the relationship between self, group, and society. For example, one participant recounted meeting a zebra during one of the journeys, she explained that this was because she tends to see life in very black and white ways, and needs to be more aware of grey areas. However, this was read as both a personal message regarding herself, and also understood in relation to the journey question, which was focused upon the Syrian conflict which at the time was in a stalemate between sides. The group’s individual journeys showed many collectively shared symbols, which suggested an individual and collective imagination working in tandem. We gained an understanding of how subconscious symbols also reflect social ones and within the reach of the project experienced how people came together through this process.

This was a project which succeeded through the coherence of the close-knit group members – who quickly grew to trust each other and indeed us; which we concluded was due in part to experienced and sensitive project management, but also due to the nature of the imaginative journey work. The ability of individual members to ‘attune’ enabled the collectivity of the group sessions to manifest. We aimed as researchers to actively share the experience of the group in order to pick up on the collective ideas, concerns, and symbols. We were able to play with preset notions of evaluation, and pre-thought research questions with their imaginary or expected answers and to just ‘allow what happened’ within a structure of qualitative methodology which seeks to give account with as much accuracy as possible. The project found its strength in the opening up of perceived social hierarchies, listening to all and responding to their experiences. A lesson for us as evaluators and researchers.



Images by Michael Smythe and Claire Levy.

Claire Levy and Harriet Smith are researchers at CUCR, Goldsmiths College. Harriet is currently working on her PhD researching what participatory arts methods can bring to understanding how urban people develop environmental sensitivity, while Claire is a film-maker and lectures in documentary practice and production at Middlesex and Bristol University.
Marcus Coates’ School Of  The Imagination and Sociological Imagination(s)is published in Streetsigns, the journal of CUCR.
To see further articles from this edition go to : 

Notes :

i The Double Social Life of Methods,John Law, Evelyn Ruppert, Mike Savage,CRESC, Open University, CRESC Working Paper Series,Working Paper No. 95, March 2011

ii Freire, P. 1996. The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London. Penguin.

iii Boal, A, 1979 The Theatre of the Oppressed,London,Pluto Press

iv To help the shamanic practice by excluding most vision, leaving just enough for the body to find its way around.


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Gentrification Without Displacement in Shoreditch by Joon Ian Wong


First came the Young British Artists. Then it was Banksy and his cohorts. Now, it’s the million-dollar startups of Silicon Roundabout. Shoreditch and its brick-walled, Victorian warehouses, has been branded a cultural quarter since the Young British Artists moved into the hollowed out light-industrial area on the City’s edge in the early ’90s.

But even as the various cultural industries — first the artists, then the “brandals”, now the app-makers — briefly “shine and burn”i, they have proved to be essential tinder for property developers, as Pratt notes in his 2009 survey of the area.

Now Shoreditch is poised on the cusp of a new wave of development that will see the addition of 50-storey residential towers to its skyline for the first time, and an unprecedented amount of new, high-density housing. The new towers will be built on sites left fallow by their owners for decades. So just who is being affected by these developments? Is Shoreditch gentrifying without displacement?


Coming developments and local responses

Shoreditch has several large sites that have laid derelict for years. These brownfield sites, which include the former Bishopsgate railway goods yard, are finally being put to use. Developers have won planning approval from Hackney council for almost all the sites on the border of the City and Shoreditch. Sites that haven’t yet been approved, like the goods yard, are undergoing intensive public consultation driven largely by the developers, before planning permission is sought.


Together, these brownfield sites will account for up to 3,051 new residential units. For context, compare this to the Olympics athlete’s village in Stratford, just a few stops east on the Central Line. That complex accommodated 17,000 athletes and officials during the 2012 Games, and it was then converted into a residential complex with 2,800 units, or about 90% of the size of the planned developments in Shoreditch.

The planned increase in residential density is accompanied by millions of square feet of new office and retail space. One common response from nearby residents is similar to that voiced by Gary Sharkey, who rents in a newbuild near the goods yard site in Tower Hamlets. I interviewed him at a public consultation session of the goods yard set up by the developers’ consultancy in the summer of 2013:

I’ve never seen anything like this before,” he said, referring to the tent pitched on the goods yard site containing scale models and lined with information boards about the proposed project. “It seems effective [at consulting with the public]. I look forward to getting more from the site than I do now.”

Residents can hardly be faulted for expecting more from these massive brownfield sites. When a new elevated park and repaved throughways are promised, as in the case of the proposed goods yard plans, a positive response from local residents can only be expected. But this sets up a dichotomy between a mixed-use development aimed at the more affluent, with its attendant public realm improvements, and a wasteland that is left largely closed to the public.

As one local campaigner, the historian and broadcaster Dan Cruickshank, put it at the opening speech of a new pressure group called The East End Preservation Society, the goods yard is simply an example of developers “squatting on” important sites until market conditions suit them. Residents end up supporting developers’ proposals in the absence of more imaginative or inclusive alternatives.

A relative lack of existing residential density — particularly owner-occupied properties — means that there is less organised community action on development and planning issues. This is the sentiment expressed by Johnny Vercoutre, who owns a building on Shoreditch High Street. His home is an homage to the 1930s and the man himself is habitually clad in period dress. He has lived in the area for 20 years. He remarks on the difficulties of local lobbying in the area:

There are not that many homeowners [in Shoreditch],” he says. “We’re on our own.”

The gentrification argument


Andy Pratt points out that owners of light industrial spaces within the Shoreditch Triangle were often relieved when they disposed of their property in the area. Unlike the narrative of commercial or industrial gentrification, in this case, the displaced property owners welcomed the move out of the area. Again, this upsets the narrative of wealthier incoming gentrifiers displacing existing residents. In the case of Shoreditch there were no existing residents to displace.

Thus, the narrative of ‘commercial or industrial gentrification’ may not be one of forcing out, but willing flight,” Pratt writes of the area’s industrial landlords.

Andrew Harris in his 2012ii paper studying the links between the YBAs and Hoxton, suggests that gentrification scholars have failed to incorporate cultural landscapes and aesthetic registers in their analyses. He wants to bring the place-branding of Shoreditch into a dialogue with the socio-economic processes of gentrification. This is further problematised by the fact that the process of gentrification taking place in Shoreditch does not necessarily create displacement.

But as Harris notes, quoting Hackworth, “the production of urban space for progressively more affluent users” is taking place in Shoreditch. The areas “transformation” shows a kind of “class-based process of neighbourhood change” that takes place without displacementiii.

A short history of Shoreditch


Shoreditch rose to prominence as an artistic hub linked to the Young British Artists in the early 1990s, largely driven by the many parties, festivals and events initiated by the late art impresario Joshua Compston, with an explicit place-branding agenda, as Harris’ work tells us. The artists, many supplied by the East London Line from Goldsmiths in the south, were attracted by hollowed out Victorian light industrial spaces and cheap rent arising from the neighbourhood’s blighted reputation.

But by the 2000’s Shoreditch, and its synonym in the cultural imagination, Hoxton, had descended into self-parody. It was seen as emblematic of New Labour’s ‘Cool Britannia’ and spawned the satirical rag The Shoreditch Twat, which lampooned, among others, the incoming residents it labelled the ‘Marlyebone Tunnellers’, who could always pop back into their more salubrious West London environs as needed.

Perhaps it was fitting that during this period the area provided a canvas, quite literally, to the self-described “brandalist” Banksy, whose spray-painted stencils on the walls of the area critiqued consumer culture by mocking it in various ways. The Bristol vandal kick-started his international career with an ‘exhibition’ in the Rivington Street tunnel, white-washing the walls and then stencilling on them, pulling off the feat dressed as a builder on official business.


Today Shoreditch trades on both the contemporary art blooms of the YBAs and Banksy’s street-level critiques. It remains “on the edge”iv, as Pratt has written, but it has been branded part of ‘East London Tech City’, also known colloquially as ‘Silicon Roundabout’, a cluster of technology start-ups that are given state support to promote things such as ‘innovation’.

But the inter-weaving of borough-wide social deprivation with a brand of knowingly provocative artiness has produced a certain pervasive style associated with the area. Style is generated by certain “technologies of glamour”, as Thrift has noted, and Shoreditch itself has become a space “in which every surface communicates something”1v.


Joon Ian Wong is a journalist and graduate of MA Interactive Media: Critical Theory and Practice. 

Gentrification Without Displacement in Shoreditch is published in Streetsigns, the journal of CUCR.

To see further articles from this edition go to : 


i Pratt, A.C. (2009). Urban Regeneration: From the Arts `Feel Good’ Factor to the Cultural Economy: A Case Study of Hoxton, London. Urban Studies 46(5-6), p. 4.

ii Harris, A. (2012). Art and gentrification: pursuing the urban pastoral in Hoxton, London. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 37(2), pp. 226–241.

iii Ibid. p. 10.

iv Pratt, A.C. (2009). Urban Regeneration: From the Arts `Feel Good’ Factor to the Cultural Economy: A Case Study of Hoxton, London. Urban Studies 46(5-6), p. 8.

v Thrift, N. (2008). The Material Practices of Glamour. Journal of Cultural Economy 1(1). p. 17



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Fairytale of New Addington by Les Back

Derekpic White Stag

Alex Hopkinson has worked as a bus driver in south London for ten years. I visited him early in 2014 to talk about his father Derek’s Christmas lights. The Hopkinson’s family home on the corner of Homestead Way, New Addington is fabled for its electric Technicolor decorations – each December from the eighties the house was lit up like a giant beacon of festivity.


Derek Hopkinson grew up in Hoxton, East London and as a boy worked in the East London markets. Derek picked up the patter and brogue associated with that world. Alex, now in his thirties, explained: “My father was a real showman… Everyone that met him loved ‘im… he was like a magnet… he never turned anyone away.”


In 1997 the London Weekend Tonight TV show ran a festive competition for the best decorated London home. It was the second time they had run the competition and a neighbour nominated the Hopkinsons. They won and when the film crew visited with the good news and when Derek was asked why he did it he told the reporter – “It’s just pleasure, just pleasure”. The prize included a trip to Lapland but here was a small hitch, as Alex explained: “the conditions were it was Mum and Dad and two kids under the age of 16. I was already at college and my brother is six years older than me. So of course my Dad done his charm and rang them up and said ‘Oh we can’t afford to do it can you still let everyone go’ and they said ‘yeah’. That was one of the first times we had been on a plane, ski mobiles, skiing reindeer rides – it was great fun.”


I asked Alex whether he thought there was something unique about working-class men of his Dad’s generation. “There is yeah…” Alex replied. The larger than life local characters that ran Sunday football team and had a love of life. “Oh yeah, enjoying themselves. It’s all lost now people are too busy now, doing their own stuff now – not caring about no-one else”.


The family moved to New Addington in 1984. New Addington is home to 20,000 residents, many of them from working-class families that were allocated a council property here on the edge of London in the sixties and seventies. Seven miles from central Croydon it has always felt a bit remote. Early residents referred to it as ‘Little Siberia’ signaling that sense of cold isolation. John Grindrod documents how building estates like ‘Addo’ were actually part of a noble scheme of post war reconstruction that aimed to offer working people a healthier and better environment to live in.1


After a few years the Hopkinsons started to externally decorate their home at Christmas. Alex Hopkinson explains tells me it was his father Derek’s idea: “My mum’s birthday is the 3rd December. As a single parent in the 1960’s my nan always tried to make sure that mum had as much as the other children and worked every hour to make sure this happened…this included Xmas decorations up by her birthday. Dad just carried this tradition on but in an even bigger way!!”


The Hopkinson’s were not the only family to celebrate Christmas in this way. By the nineties there were numerous homes on the estate decorated in lavish colour, with glowing snowmen and Father Christmases shining out of the pitch darkness at night. Sukdev Sandhu writes that houses that stick out from timid suburban conformity appear both “heroic and lonely”.2 Christmas kitsch in ‘Addo‘ has that kind of exceptional boldness. Driving around this year there are fewer illuminated houses than in previous Decembers. Austerity is biting like the cold North Downs’ wind.


When I left home over thirty years ago almost no-one outside Croydon had heard of New Addington. Tia Sharp’s tragic murder, Emma West’s racist tram rant, the riots of 2011 and the episode of Secret Millionaire featuring computer mogul Bobby Dudani undercover on the estate changed all that.3 To outsiders New Addington became a short hand tag for the work-shy underclass, benefit scroungers and cultureless ‘Chavs’. In November 2013 The Croydon Advertiser published ‘well being scores’ for the borough and the New Addington and Fieldway estates came bottom: the worst places to live in Croydon.4


The estate was a place of improvement for many working people offering them a first real stable home, an escape from slum clearance and post-war austerity. During the seventies home ownership was very low, confined mainly to the oldest part of the estate built in the thirties named after Charles Boot who envisioned Addington as a ‘garden village’. Thatcherism changed this and the level of home ownership during the eighties increased rapidly, as residents took up the ‘right to buy’ their homes. Families like my own and the Hopkinson’s bought their council homes.


The estate is much more socially variegated than outsiders would have it. Home ownership on the estate is 38% in Fieldway known locally as the ‘New Estate’ and 55% for the older ‘red brick houses’ in New Addington ward. This is relative low when compared with 69% for Croydon as a whole.5 The homes decorated extravagantly at Christmas are often – although not exclusively – the red-brick ones. The festive illumination of these homes does not simply reflect their economic status or spending power, rather the Christmas lights are a seasonal gift to the estate as a whole.


Derek Hopkinson died in St Christopher’s hospice, Sydenham in 2004. Alex put up the Christmas lights that year and decided to “leave it at that”. They sold some of the ‘blow mould’ decorations that Derek had imported at considerable expense from the United States. In 2013 Alex wanted to rekindle the tradition in his Dad’s memory to mark the tenth anniversary of his passing.

Off King Henry's

I asked Alex what it takes to put on a show like this. “It’s tiring but worth it for the people’s faces. We started back in October.” The roof was first thing to tackle with the help of a couple of mates. Alex continued: “When we started doing it people came up to us and said ‘oh we remember when we brought our kids around.”


On Sunday 1st December the Hopkinson’s Christmas lights were ‘turned on’ and it was a truly extraordinary spectacle full of excitement and festive anticipation. A picture of Derek Hopkinson was mounted on the front of the house decorated by 10,000 lights, luminous reindeer, choirboys and of course Father Christmas himself. Four hundred people assembled in front of the house in expectation, news had spread through word of mouth and Facebook. A local grandmother asked via Facebook if her grandaughter – Ellie – could switch them on. When Ellie flicked the switch at 7 pm the Hopkinson’s treated their neighbours to a firework show launched from their back garden. One of Alex’s friends played Father Christmas and handed out 170 bags of sweets to children over the course of nearly two hours. They served teas and coffees from an urn in front of the house raising over £500 for charity on the night. Kids and parents from all over the estate came to witness the gloaming spectacle on a cold night.


I asked him if people think he is mad to invest so much. “It was something I thought he [Derek] would have wanted. Dad liked it so much, it was sort of like part of him. Next year it won’t cost me half the amount.” It has cost him £1,500 so far, not an inconsiderable amount for a man supporting a family on a bus driver’s salary. Then there will be the extra £150 on top of their winter electricity bill. “I done it for the local people,” explains Alex. He carries more of his father in him than he realizes.


It has been a tough time I say to Alex. “Yes, Tia Sharp and the riots [of 2011] I think it just needed another cause to start to enjoy themselves again. That’s why I put up the ‘Wishing Tree.’” In front of the house is a tree with tags and a Sharpie pen. It is smothered with scribbled messages to lost loved ones and messages to Father Christmas from kids.


Hard times have hit and unemployment is rising and local house prices are soaring. People cannot any longer afford to buy their council homes. In 2012 Croydon Council received 119 expressions of interest in ‘right to buy’ but the initiative resulted in just two sales.6 Elderly residents – many of whom are widowed – are being forced to remortgage their homes to private companies in order to avoid sliding into poverty. ‘Right to buy’ brought affordable council housing to an end and the risk now for low-income families is a return to the impoverishment of pre-war slums.7


You can do a class analysis of London with Christmas lights,” writes China Miéville astutely.8 In December class distinction can be discerned through peering through the window of most London homes. In poorer homes “the season is celebrated with chromatic surplus”; while the rich and middle-class “strive to distinguish themselves with White-lit Christmas trees”.9


Driving to New Addington seems to support Miéville thesis. In affluent Beckenham homes are bathed in subtle white light sometimes with a luminous electric stag grazing on the lawn. “Ah good taste, as Picasso may or may not have said, what a dreadful thing,” writes Miéville. I am sure he would approve of New Addington where entire houses are illuminated with multi-coloured electric excess.


I put this to Alex and ask him if there is a relationship between social class and Christmas decorations. He nods knowingly: “I think it’s people who have never had nothin’ who like to give back to people. You always find people who are poor always give and people that are rich don’t… and that’s the reason they stay rich for.” We laugh as he continues. “When you think about it a lot of the rich people they sort of don’t give to people and that is the reason why they’ve got money.” Is that why they’ve got their classy white lights, I ask? “Exactly” he concludes.


The money raised from the collection box in front of their house will be donated to St Christopher’s Hospice. “Up here obviously a lot of people go there either with cancer or other illness. They were fantastic and allowed my mum to sleep in the next bed during his last few days so that they could be together. The money we raise will be given to them to help enable their work to go on,” says Alex.


At the heart of this story is an ordinary miracle. In contrast to the glitzy consumerism of the supermarkets and shopping centres that profit from Christmas, this is a spectacle of community – a gift given for free in hard times by a family to the estate. You can see it reflected in the faces of the children as they laugh excitedly and come to admire the glowing colours of the Christmas lights. There is no better tribute to Derek’s memory, one of New Addington’s best-loved characters.


As a child Kirsty MacColl lived close to New Addington.10 In her famous collaboration with the Pogues, Fairy Tale of New York – the greatest Christmas song of all time – she sings with Shane MacGowan “And the bells are ringing out. For Christmas Day.” Somehow the Hopkinson’s festive decorations are reminiscent of that stirring refrain. Long may their electrified lights shine chromatically on the corner of Homestead Way at Christmas time.


Les Back is Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths College, London

Fairytale of New Addington is published in Streetsigns, the journal of CUCR.

To see further articles from this edition go to : 


1 Grindrod, J. (2013). Concretopia: A Journey Around the Rebuilding of Postwar Britain.Old Street Publishing. see pp. 432-433,

2 Sandhu, S. (2007). Night Haunts: A Journey Through the London Night. Verso & Artangel. p. 22.

4 Data Blog: Where is the best place to live in Croydon, Croydon Advertiser,

5 See Strategic Partnership Croydon (2009) Fieldway Ward Profile. and Strategic Partnership Croydon (2009) New Addington Ward Profile.

6 Bury, R. (2012). ‘Right to buy falls flat’, Inside Housing, 21st September.

 7 See Meek, J. (2014). ‘Where will we Live’, London Review of Books, 9th January.

8 Miéville, C. (2012). London’s Overthrow. The Westbourne Press. p. 29

9 Ibid. p. 30

10 see Back, L. (2003). ‘Flame Immune to Wind: The Songs of Kirsty MacColl, City, 7 (1). pp. 107-111.


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