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R:2025 – a contemporary exploration of ideas, people and places

R:2025 is an extended, fifteen year, creative programme of activities within a flexible framework, constructed from notions around: contemporary; writing in a range of styles, for a variety of purposes; cities and urban living; places, spaces, neighbourhoods and locations; construction of identities; learning and development; wellbeing and flourishing; evidence, research, knowledge and understandings;  emergence, complexity, uncertainty and contingency. The overall

Public and Private Issues

As with a number of other articles on this site, this is meant to be in the spirit of an exploration, bringing together a number of different aspects of a broad topic and seeing if any sense can be made of it all. At one level, it is a matter of simple semantics: whatever one understands words like ‘private’ and

Some lines of thought arising from being researcher-in-residence

During the researcher-in-residence sessions at Grand Union gallery’s Im Bau exhibition (Artist: Aideen Doran, 2015) a set of recurring threads of thinking were revisited over and over. Also thrown into the mix was a visit to New York, midway through the researcher-in-residence period. Although I had gone for other reasons, connections to the emerging thoughts from my sessions at Grand

R:2025 – An interim stocktake (Sept 2016)

R:2025 is an extended, fifteen year, creative programme of activities; a contemporary exploration (to 2025) of things linked to representations, ideas, people and places. It has a couple of overall intentions. One of these (To engage in a range of exploratory activities, making the outcomes from these activities freely available) is felt to be substantially being met.  There will now

How did all this come about and where might it be taking us?

There are a large number of things happening that seem unusual, unsettling and unpredictable – and it all appears to be taking place more rapidly and in more widespread ways. It seems that a set of disconnected events come rushing at us. This can simply be accepted as the way things are in contemporary society, part of the world we

R:2025 – a contemporary exploration of ideas, people and places

R:2025 is an extended, fifteen year, creative programme of activities within a flexible framework, constructed from notions around: contemporary; writing in a range of styles, for a variety of purposes; cities and urban living; places, spaces, neighbourhoods and locations; construction of identities; learning and development; wellbeing and flourishing; evidence, research, knowledge and understandings;  emergence, complexity, uncertainty and contingency.

The overall driving idea is:  To use creative activity to make demonstrable contributions to changing the ways in which people think, behave and interact, in order to better understand social processes and developments; and gain potential for some leverage on a number of shared social issues.

A fuller description follows, including

  • A more detailed  development prospectus
  • a flexible framework  which summarises the work is being carried forward
  • the range of social issues being thought about and worked on
  • a possible change model
  • A link to the ThinkingForwards blog, which shows background workings-out

Read more

Public and Private Issues

As with a number of other articles on this site, this is meant to be in the spirit of an exploration, bringing together a number of different aspects of a broad topic and seeing if any sense can be made of it all.

At one level, it is a matter of simple semantics: whatever one understands words like ‘private’ and ‘public’ to mean – but language matters as words shape an understanding of things, even things as tenuous as ideas – and those understandings can have everyday impacts on how people operate in the world – which, themselves, if repeated, begin to act as structurings within which things become taken as normal.

There are a number of elements around which understandings of public/private can be organised:

  • People designing things or doing things – in public/ in private
  • Things belonging to; consumed by people – as individuals (private); as society (public)
  • Organisational structures – private company/ public company – private/in common
  • Management of services to people – arranged as privately-purchased/ arranged as publicly funded
  • Different political conceptions around privatisation and nationalisation – the amount of control attributed to State processes or to market processes

It is the last two of these that will be taken as the starting point, if only because political debates around public/private still occur with some vigour.

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Some lines of thought arising from being researcher-in-residence

During the researcher-in-residence sessions at Grand Union gallery’s Im Bau exhibition (Artist: Aideen Doran, 2015) a set of recurring threads of thinking were revisited over and over.

Also thrown into the mix was a visit to New York, midway through the researcher-in-residence period. Although I had gone for other reasons, connections to the emerging thoughts from my sessions at Grand Union were uppermost in my mind as I wandered around that city so that the visit became yet another researcher session.

These interconnecting, and at times repeating, elements formed a loose framework that allowed for some reflexive thinking on cities, change, development, progress, decision-making, planning, style, art, the contemporary, memories etc.

Acting as researcher-in-residence took my thinking far and wide: moving across ideas, circling round and round (like some armature of connectivities), sometimes getting the wide overview and sometimes homing in on a detail.

The focus was always on the content of the Im Bau exhibition, and the lines of thought that could be spun out from that; and on my own interest in cities, urban issues and decision-making.

The sessions extended understandings, appropriated ideas from elsewhere and made links between previously separate considerations.

What follows is an attempt to corral some of those swirls of thought under a small number of relevant headings, knowing that not everything can be tidied up in that way.

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R:2025 – An interim stocktake (Sept 2016)

R:2025 is an extended, fifteen year, creative programme of activities; a contemporary exploration (to 2025) of things linked to representations, ideas, people and places.

It has a couple of overall intentions. One of these (To engage in a range of exploratory activities, making the outcomes from these activities freely available) is felt to be substantially being met.  There will now be a greater emphasis on developing the other strand (To explore how any insights gained can have real-world real-time impacts and value).

Activities underway since 2010 have been shaped within a loose and flexible framework constructed from a number of threads. Substantial progress has been made in exploring:

  • unfolding interpretations of ‘contemporary’, ‘progress’ etc
  • the pursuit of writing in a range of styles, for a variety of purposes
  • issues associated with cities and urban living
  • thoughts around places, spaces, neighbourhoods and locations
  • the construction of identities (of people; of places)
  • concerns with inequality, fairness and social change

More now needs to be done around:

  • aspects of learning and development
  • concerns with wellbeing, flourishing and sustainability
  • approaches to ‘value’ and ‘impact’(at personal, public and social levels)
  • the nature of evidence, research, knowledge and understandings
  • the characteristics and usefulness of art and creativity
  • aspects of emergence, complexity, uncertainty and contingency
  • public and private innovation and policy implementations

The website already holds a substantial amount of eclectic content from the first five years of activity. This content is meeting the original aims of being broad-based, interesting, responsible, thoughtful, and different. There have been a number of seminars, workshops and focused conversations in cities in UK, USA and Canada; as well as the use of a small number of related blogs, and the publication of several ebooks. The activity was intended to incorporate other outputs. These have included a photographic portfolio and a small number of paper/clay-based art objects: all based around the same framework listed earlier. There is more to be done to build up this stock of art objects. Links are being made with the broad ‘world of art’ – writings based on exhibitions; an outline framework for work on cities and public art; being Researcher in Residence attached to a 2015 exhibition.

The emphases within the work have ranged from quite personal concerns to recurring issues across an increasingly urbanised, globalised and uncertain world. The endeavour is still considered to be a contemporary undertaking since it reflects many of the themes of identities, change, ambiguities, relationships, fracturings and aggregations: locally, nationally, and globally.

The approach continues to be one of developmental and exploratory puzzling, and of purposeful development. Conversations with key contacts have confirmed that what has been achieved so far can be regarded as linked, curated content that forms an extended creative programme operating at a number of levels and in a variety of ways.

At the beginning of the activity a potential Vocabulary was set out. This was composed of words that would be expected to recur in articles, thinking and discussions. A review of these words has been undertaken. It is concluded that nothing additional needs to be incorporated and that any weak spots in usage of the vocabulary are highly likely to be addressed within the next set of developments.

Sitting behind the activity there is still a desire to impact on a number of social issues, and to explore the ways that creative activities can do this is the current context.  Although stress is put on flexibility and emergence, the overall driving idea remains clear:

To use creative activities to make demonstrable contributions to changing the ways in which people think, behave and interact; in order to reach better understandings of social processes and developments – with the hope of levering some practical impact on a number of significant issues.

This aspect of the work is seen as an integral part of the project’s development activities and is regarded as one of its greatest challenges. It is in its very early stages and will be a focus over the next three years and beyond. This will be interesting, but not straightforward. Emerging notions around usefulness, public value and social impact will increasingly be drawn on as the work continues. It is believed that continued, occasional reporting against this intention is important.

This is the first of such public reportings.

How did all this come about and where might it be taking us?

There are a large number of things happening that seem unusual, unsettling and unpredictable – and it all appears to be taking place more rapidly and in more widespread ways.

It seems that a set of disconnected events come rushing at us. This can simply be accepted as the way things are in contemporary society, part of the world we live in these days, but all these things can be traced backwards (uncertainly ie not in the sense that A caused B – just in the sense of the social world changing shape over time). The roots of these fast-moving current events lie somewhere in things that have been building up over time.

Attempting to understand what is going on, at the macro- and the micro-scale, is not straightforward. There are at least a couple of dozen shifting influences that feed into the changes in current society and these are interdependent and uncertain.

Thinking about recent events in UK politics and US politics throws up a number of things. Different people will have their own views about what has brought us to this point, and where it might be leading.

What follows are some simple musings to see if I can explain any of it to myself. These are a somewhat-disjointed (and no doubt over-simplified) surface skim over a few influences on the world I grew up in, and a loose application of these in order to try to get an understanding of recent political events in the UK. Read more

Some outline thoughts concerning everyday puzzles with understanding autism

This is a skate across some of the puzzles that arise for many people when trying to understand the common current thinking associated with autism. It is not written with any claim to expertise. It takes the view of the interested bystander. The aim is to explore rather than pin things down, and to look at things as a set of recurring puzzles. Some of these puzzles stem from there being a variety of descriptions of autism, which lead to a range of understandings and misunderstandings amongst the general population that, in turn, get in the way of society being structured in ways that support people with autism. It is deliberately rather wordy but, again, that is all part of taking an exploratory approach.

The first part of what follows is an outline drawn from various documents and websites of people and organisations actively involved with autism. The second part lists the many detailed behaviours that organisations and individuals consider as recurringly observable in the range of autistic people. These are set against the small number of features that are taken as defining autism, just to see what the overlap is. The third part tries to set out some of the difficulties that get in the way of everyday understanding of the issues around autism

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Researcher in Residence

In the period April-July 2015 I acted as Researcher in Residence attached to an exhibition (‘Im Bau’ by Aideen Doran) at the Grand Union Gallery in Birmingham, UK.

What follows is an exploration of the researcher-in-residence model; a description of what was undertaken in relation to this specific exhibition; and a listing of some of the headline thoughts that were outcomes from this activity. Read more

Plan with your enemies not your friends

OK, maybe ‘enemy’ is the wrong word – just something to get a good headline. Maybe we are talking about a particular kind of opponent: opponents in ways of thinking; those who see the world from a totally different, diametrically-opposed viewpoint. Read more

Some thoughts on identity and place

‘There are places, just as there are people and objects, whose relationship of parts creates a mystery’ – Paul Nash

Introductions: some puzzles

The previous article on Identity focused on a personal exploration of the identity of individuals in a social context. This article explores some ideas around Identity and Place. This has two aspects: The possible impact of place on the identity of residents, and the potential for specific locations to have identities of their own.

On the first of these aspects it has been suggested that Place is one of a number of constituents of identity for residents of that location; and that there are interconnections between histories, geographies and social structures that play out as a form of identity.

This raises the puzzle: If place can be thought of as an influence on identities of the individuals who live there, that there are spatialised subjectivities, how does this happen?

On the second aspect (Can places have their own identities?), at a simple level, identity can be seen in terms of a set of place-related bureaucratic statistics. From this perspective, metrics and indicators might define the identity of a place. When a locality is allocated an identity in this way, there may be consequences for that place.

Beyond that, if (as suggested in the previous article) individual identity can be seen as constructed in on-going ways from fragments, coming into existence and being sustained through structured social practices of residents, can we see places in the same ways? Do localities develop and sustain identities that are whole entities constructed from kaleidoscopic aspects; and do places develop their identities through distinct stages?

The same puzzle arises, again: If this is so then how does it happen?

Place, itself, can be thought of in varied ways. A place can be bounded by lines on maps, even if the map is not the place. Birmingham (UK) has its mapped boundaries and divisions but can also be represented as a set of populations; a set of institutions with the City Council holding centre-place; a set of relationships and networks; and as one relative in the regional West Midlands family of places; or as a brand image.

An urban entity can also be, for some, more than a population, or a geographical size, or a collection of buildings, or a centre of production – it can be viewed as a place where various aspects of capitalism intersect in space.  From this perspective, it is the process of gathering and dispersal of information and goods and people centred on some specific locus.

Whatever view one takes, a place like Birmingham can be referred to as a single, unique identity. It can also be characterised more as blocs of internal conflicts, or can just as easily be perceived as a complex set of fragmented sites of social-contested meanings.

Sometimes places may even be thought of as having multiple identities.

Much has been written about the ways global influences may be changing the nature of places, with trends towards globalisation threatening local identities and cultures, and threatening to eradicate differences between places.

Places might once have been identified largely in terms of single-communities but are increasingly being analysed in terms of superdiversities of population as higher volumes of people are increasingly mobile in very different ways and for very different purposes. Is this expanding the range of ways by which people locate themselves as members of place-based communities; and the ways the places promote their particular identity?

The identity of a place can become something narrowly-restricted as city-brand or, at the other extreme, can be open to so many interpretations as to be almost useless as an idea.

Within such complexities there will be those who seek to simplify: to create (and promote) a particular normalised identity associated with the place. This can be particularly true at the national level when, in the face of large-scale movements of peoples and cultures, there are calls for a fixed sense of national identity. Place-identity, then, becomes open to exploitation for political purposes

These aspects of identity and place are explored, predominantly in a UK context, in more detail below. Read more

Contemporary Identity of Individuals: a personal exploration

Why is the idea of identity worth exploring? Is contemporary identity any different from any past or common-sense understandings of identity?

What follows is a summary gained from reflecting on my own experiences and studies, up to and including the transition to retirement.

Identity is a complex and strategic notion that sits at the centre of many current events and discussions. Identity appears to be crucial, yet is contentious. Identity defines, differentiates and distinguishes. It is central to our individual being yet, for many people, identity is seen as structured by social processes beyond the individual.

In recent decades, it appears that identity has become more central, as accounts seek to explain events as culturally rooted in individual concerns. Identities, and processes of identifications, have become important again.

Contemporary views of identity sustain a number of puzzles that are worth exploring.

This is the first of a pair of linked articles on identity. It focuses on identity and people, whilst the next article focuses on identity and place. Read more

Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy has got a bad name. It is seen as a relatively recent disease in society, yet it has had a long history. Based on rationality and fixed procedures, it can be seen as having stemmed from very positive attempts to deal with variability, unpredictability and patronage – injecting transparency and fairness into social processes.

Bureaucracy has changed as society has changed. With the advent of mechanised mass production and the search for ever more efficiency, it became variously associated with totalitarian regimes, rule-based systems and a lack of humanity. As society continues to change new forms of bureaucracy are emerging. These can be viewed positively as adaptations to flexibility and creativity, or can be viewed more critically as the permeating of all social interaction by procedures and attitudes that are relatively meaningless yet which operate as a means of control. Read more