Gathering thoughts from the 1st network event

Before telling you all what we did during our second network event, the Critical Reflection workshop, I thought I would first gather together some of the key strands of thinking from the first event to remind us all of what we have so far. We have begun to analyse the material generated from our first event and present here some early ideas, roughly hewn, but useful to share nonetheless.

A reminder first of what we did:

We brought 13 researchers together to tackle our first question: How is participatory textile making being used as a new methodological approach to research? Each researcher ran a ‘taster’ workshop to demonstrate their participatory textile making methods. You can catch up on the event and the ‘taster’ workshops via the blog post and the film. You can also find out more about the researchers and their work via the members page.

We couldn’t reproduce the exact context of each workshop, but rather than just talking about we do, running the ‘taster’ workshops allowed us all to have a closer understanding of the materials, tools, physical sensations, technical challenges and group dynamics in order to be able to tackle the question from the specificity of each activity.

Discussion during the workshops focused on three key themesplanning; experience (for participants and researchers/facilitators); outcomes.

From this, we drew commonalities between our approaches, and, importantly, differences. Commonalities may indicate areas for good practice and may potentially also be shared with workshop methods outside textiles. But the differences afforded by the specificity of the multiple approaches to textile making are important in determining the contribution we can make to innovative research methods.

So, in summary and in brief, the key poles identified to gather this thinking around are:

  • relationships & roles: the people and institutions involved, leading to consideration of ethics
  • the textile making: the materials, tools and techniques of practice, leading to questions of innovation in research methods
  • (co)-production of knowledge: what happens when engaged in these workshop activities, leading to thoughts about impact

To flesh these out a bit more:

Relationships & roles

  • The significance of relationships – with funders and with participants, and the responsiveness of the researcher to these individuals and institutions.
  • The multiple roles of the researcher/facilitator – these can be complex, unwieldy projects. There is potentially a need for interdisciplinary teams. And the environment, or location of the workshop, also plays an important role.
  • Who are these workshops/activities for? It is important to consider the different priorities within the project.
  • There is a need for defining a framework for the workshop, even if it consists of open tasks as with a drop-in session.
  • The ethics and aesthetics of structured and unstructured participation: ‘having a go’ versus ‘getting it right’.

The textile making

  • Textile materials and processes have a low entry point. They are universally recognised techniques, can involve all sorts of people, and can therefore be inclusive and relevant. They hold potential for layers of meaning and interpretation, and this includes the form of knowledge generated. But they can also be divisive. Experimentation/play can be fun and can be used to explore complex ideas and concepts, but can also be uncomfortable for some. Skill and technical ability are important to consider. Some people are put off by skilled work, but for others it can be a way of welcoming them in to a project. There might be a need for some kind of quality control. You never know what participants bring with them. Some activities might push boundaries and have the potential to transform lives. Sometimes the familiarity of textile making can bring expectations difficult to transgress or subvert.
  • The making is a physical experience involving the body. It allows for immersion in the activity, where something ‘magical’ happens (that questionnaires, for example, couldn’t possibly reach).
  • The dynamics between participants whilst engaged in making and talking simultaneously creates a different quality of conversation.
  • The slowness of making is important to engage people and develop thinking, both for participants and the researcher. Slowness allows for close grained observation of interaction, problem solving and learning. It also creates space for the unexpected outcomes (which can, of course, be positive and/or negative experiences).

(Co)-production of knowledge

  • Co-production of knowledge includes a fluidity of learning between researcher and participants.
  • The capacity to create communities, as well as to be embedded within them.
  • Digital spaces allow for extended discussions involving more people, and for reflective space.
  • The responsibility to tell the stories of participation respectfully.
  • A need to be careful not to sanitise the experience through presentation.
  • The value and status of the artefact as an outcome and a form of knowledge. Textile crafts can suffer from inherited hierarchies of value. Participants, funders and the research may have different expectations.

The first event enabled a good mapping of the field in answer to the question: How is participatory textile making being used as a new methodological approach to research? And it has provided focus for further exploration around the considerations of ethics, the innovative quality of these ways of doing research, and their impact, which were taken up at the second event – more about that later.

BUT…. there were limitations and gaps, which gave rise to some tricky questions relating to the reach, the validity (in the wider research community) and the effectiveness of this approach. Our discussions were inevitably shaped by who was there and the projects presented. There are many more examples of participatory textile making activities that could and should be included. We were able to invite additional contributors to the second event, and we are using the project website as a platform to reach further, enabling the discussion to extend to a wider community through the opportunities to host guest blog posts and case studies (of both research and practice examples), as well as showcasing member profiles. If you would like to get involved, or know someone whose work should be included in the network, please get in touch and tell us about it.

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