What Can He Know? What Can She Know? Who Needs to Know?

In 2015, MMU removed a homeless shelter underneath Mancunian Way. At this time, were selecting case studies sites for PARTISPACE. Starting from the assumption that there is a relationship between the apparent lack of participation among young people and the limitations of what is recognised, the project defines participatory action as those that are carried out by the public.

In this context, an action research project was conceived with the Men’s Room, an arts-based homeless charity in Manchester. To foreground participants’ voices, they were positioned as the lead creations. Lost and Found aimed to highlight issues facing the homeless community through a series of installations, culminating in walking tours. A documentary was made, ending with a discussion centred on recognition and advocacy.

When a perspective has been silenced, the clash between mainstream perspectives and those emerging through the research process can make it difficult for the researcher to bear witness, and to know how to proceed. The seminar will seek to provide an opportunity for colleagues to watch the film and to enter a process of accompaniment.

I presented my work with The Men’s Room as part of the Partispace project at a recent Arts-based Methods at MMU session. The project included the development of art installations around Manchester, walking tours delivered by members of The Men’s Room, and a film about the project.

As the title of the session reflects, I have been thinking about epistemological understandings of knowledge in this project, drawing on Code (1991) to ask ‘who can know?’ In addition, the role of the researcher as advocate in this kind of project is important – self advocacy is difficult for marginalised groups, whose members are treated as lacking in credibility. We also talked about relation based practice, how to build trust and relationships in this kind of research, whilst also acknowledging the temporariness of researcher’s presence in that space.

We watched the film made as part of the project and then discussed it afterwards, thinking in particular about

  • Reactions to the film
  • Ideas for further dissemination
  • Advocacy/self-advocacy and alliance building
  • Role of arts-based methods
  • Further development of theoretical considerations

We left reflecting on the potential for film as a visual method to afford advocacy particularly for marginalised groups and the role academic researchers may have in supporting this.

Who stories the film itself?

How can film account for complexity?

How are participants portrayed in visual outputs?

Dr Harriet Rowley

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