13: Decolonising Participatory Research through Arts-Based Methods?

As calls for more egalitarian and democratic research practices are becoming more widespread, the relevance of participatory research is manifested through emerging concepts such as research partnership, co-creation and co-production of knowledge. It also connects to the growing popularity of arts-based research methods. While the potential of participatory and arts-based methods has been discussed widely, not yet enough attention has been paid to decolonial perspectives in this context. As such, discussion on decolonising practices that draw on arts-based methods is not a recent phenomenon – consider, for example, the iconic works of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (1981) on the role of the arts in decolonising the mind. However, the term ‘decolonise’ has later become a widely used term in Western academia, one that too often serves as a metaphor instead of contributing to concrete practices of decolonisation (Tuck & Yang 2012; Tuhiwai-Smith 1999). Premised on the necessity to challenge the ways in which colonial power relations and Eurocentric knowledges are (re)produced in Western epistemologies, this panel explores whether and how it is possible to use arts-based methods for creating more egalitarian and democratic practices in participatory research. In discussing both the transformative potential and limitations of arts-based methods, it asks: What can arts-based methods contribute to decolonising participatory research, its processes and practices? How can arts-based methods, for example, lower hierarchies, foster pluralism, increase multivocality, and facilitate dialogue? What kinds of tensions and challenges may arise when using arts-based methods in participatory research, and how can they be addressed? We invite both theoretical and empirical contributions across the disciplines. The panel is part of an ongoing book project, an edited volume to be offered to Routledge. Priority will be given to those participants, who will be able to present a full draft paper (max. 8,000 words). Abstracts (max. 300 words) should be emailed to both panel chairs.

Chaired by Tiina Seppälä (University of Lapland), tiina.seppala@ulapland.fi and Melanie Sarantou (University of Lapland), melanie.sarantou@ulapland.fi


Session 1. Room 401

CS Sharada Prasad (Azim Premji University, Bangalore, India)

Seeing Sanitation: Using photography to decolonize sanitation work

On the 2nd of October, Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, declared India to be free of open defecation. India’s flagship program on sanitation and hygiene — the Swachh Bharat Mission – boasts of building 100 million toilets in the last five years. Most of the toilets in India are connected to pits or septic tanks. For sanitation to be called sustainable, the emptying of toilet pits and the transport of waste are as important as access to toilets. In India, just as in most of the low- and middle-income countries, pits and septic tanks are either manually or with the help of mechanical means. I find that the physical and social mechanisms through which these services are organized are virtually invisible to the state or the society. The nature of the work falls under the definition of manual scavenging the practice of which is outlawed in India (but also persist in many countries around the world) Within India (and several other South Asian countries), the cleaning, emptying and management of human waste from pit latrines, septic tanks, sewers, drains and communal toilets is performed invariably by the Dalit communities and is a form of caste-based slavery and violation of fundamental human rights. India was colonized by the British only for few hundred years. However, for almost two millennia, India has colonized itself using its ingenious caste system. Nowhere is that self-colonization more apparent than in India’s sanitation system. Based on the visual ethnography of sanitation workers from six different cities in India, I demonstrate this self-colonization and argue that India’s sanitation system has transformed itself into a new mechanism to shift risks socially, spatially, and temporally. In my project – Seeing Sanitation, I use photography to decolonize sanitation work by capturing the realities of India’s sanitation system. My photography focuses on two things – the mechanics of the sanitation work in India and how and why the state and the society do not see it.

Marija Griniuk (University of Lapland)

Erasing the Memory? Lithuanian Participatory Art as an Action of Decolonisation

In this paper, I propose ‘decolonizing’ as a term describing art-based contributions to the practices of decolonization of memory and clarifying the meanings of post-traumatic symptoms of the post-Soviet Lithuanian society. I explore three case examples. First, how does Lithuanian participatory art activism align with the political changes in Lithuania from its time within the Soviet Union until independence in 1991? Art practices of the first participatory performances in Lithuania were presented at the AN festivals in 1988 (AN88) and 1989 (AN89). These early examples of live art activism evince the first attempts at practicing collaborative participatory and arts-based methods as the act of decolonizing art in Lithuania. Second, I discuss contemporary examples of socially engaged art projects by E. Šimkutė. She analyses community resistance against the postcolonial memory as well as the eco-friendly tendencies of the urban life in Soviet Lithuania and contemporary implementations of the phenomenon of urban gardening as a community-based activity inherited from the Soviet cultural tradition in the Šilainių district of Kaunas, Lithuania. Lastly, I present my project, Construction (2012), which traced the emotional load and different opinions of the community concerning the physical remains of Soviet architecture and monuments. From 1991, city planning decisions in Vilnius and Kaunas were aimed at the rapid demolition of architectural remains from the Soviet times and the establishment of, for example, new recreational zones in their place. My findings show that in the three cases, artists have proper proximity to the socio-cultural contexts of the sites of their performances. Particularly regarding contemporary performance art practices, it is important for artists to remember the colonial past and for the discussion in which contemporary art engages to activate this memory.

Caoimhe Isha Beaulé (University of Lapland), Solen Roth (Université de Montréal) and Anne Marchand (Université de Montréal)

Engaging in the (Pre)text through Art-Based Methods

In recent years, Design and Social Innovation practises have been criticized for participating in neocolonial practices. This is reflected, for instance, in the way traditional crafts are often set apart from modern design, how local forms of innovation go unacknowledged, and how western forms of innovation are portrayed as ideal. Thorough reflexions are needed regarding these issues. Indeed, participatory design, an emerging field in both practise and research, still has very few frameworks for designers engaging with indigenous communities. This paper investigates how community-based participatory action research projects, and more precisely ones involving both indigenous and non-indigenous participants, could benefit from integrating art-based methods in the very first stages of the process. In the perspective of decolonizing social design practices, what mindsets, skills, tools and methods are to be prioritized in this type of process? How can the designers and the participating communities get the desired outcomes from these collaborations? How do we define what is a “good” outcome? The paper relies on both practise and theory to explore this topic. On a practical level, it draws from the experience of the authors (design researchers) that have worked on several projects and workshops with Atikamekw communities in Quebec (Canada). Existing literature is also being used to speculate how and when art-based methods approaches are deemed relevant for designers who seek to build respectful and ethical practices. The paper argues that participatory action research design projects could benefit from using art-based methods at the very beginning of the design process. Experience on the field has given insights on the importance of including (pre)context work (i.e. engage in the pretext) in order to collaboratively build the design narrative. The importance of developing trust among participants is crucial as these relational dimensions set a common ground for collaborative work. These reflexions deepen our understandings on how art, design, and craft intersect in participatory projects involving indigenous communities. They also suggest that a more holistic perspective on the design activity opens doors to new types of cross-cultural collaborations and the inclusion of different ways of knowing.

Session 2, Room 405

Enni Mikkonen (University of Lapland)

Arts-based methods in social work research as decolonising approaches for challenging ‘cultural otherisation’

When cultural and ethnic diversity in Northern societies have increased via for example a growing number of asylum seekers and immigrants, the need to improve professional methods to support social integration processes and cultural encounters has increased. This need is closely linked to social work practice and research, increasingly taking place at the intersections of different cultures, ethnicities and nationalities. In developing new approaches for intercultural encounters, social workers are often encouraged to embrace culturally competent and sensitive working methods (Jönsson, 2013; Nadan, 2017). However, those approaches are criticised to be simplifying as they highlight the meaning of culture and tend to ignore intersecting and multiple power structures and diverse social identities in integration processes. This, in turn, can create stereotyping and otherness of ethnic and cultural minorities (Jönsson, 2013) and result in integration processes being defined by dominant discourses and from privileged positions. This presentation addresses the processes of widening the professional scope from cultural sensitivity to critically examine and deconstruct intersecting – such as racialised and feminised – power structures via arts-based methods in social work research. Empirically, the study builds on the participatory theatre project, ‘My Stage’, with women of immigrant backgrounds in Northern Finland (Hiltunen et al., 2018). Through ethnographic research methods (as participatory observation and reflective research discussions) and analysis of the social work researcher, the study brings forth approaches on how arts-based methods in social work research can create space and tools for emotional sensitivity, sensitivity to understand otherness and to recognise and renegotiate privileges, which can challenge cultural otherisation and parallelly function as decolonising research.

Maria Huhmarniemi (University of Lapland), Outi Kugapi (University of Lapland) and Laura Laivamaa (University of Lapland)

Art-Based Research on Creative Tourism in Lapland

We discuss the use of arts-based methods in developing creative tourism in Lapland. Arts-Based methods can be seen as vehicles for creative and sustainable tourism. We highlight that creative tourism is needed in Lapland for knowledge exchange between host and guest, but it has also a potential to support the revitalisation of local cultures and heritage, which can be seen to one aspect of decolonisation. Producing new interpretations and expressions of place, culture, and human-land relationships can lead to celebrations of diversity as well as eco-cultural civilisation. While co-designing creative experiences, pedagogical encounters should be attuned to local particularities and global concerns. Services must be driven by authentic cultures and map the place, community, heritage, and narratives. The future research in creative tourism should include aims to support empowerment, equality, agency, and participatory society for citizens. Arts based research call for the generation of strategies and methods that make it possible to live in more humble ways and decolonise nature and Arctic cultures.

Timo Jokela (University of Lapland)

Place-specific Art and Art-Based Action Research as Revitalization and Decolonization

The paper focuses on the potential of art-based research strategies when making place-specific art to foster revitalization and decolonizing in rabidly changing multiethnic communities in the North and the Arctic. Place-specific art is seen as transdisciplinary and participatory action where ecological, social, cultural and economic aspects of sustainability are linked. The paper aims to contribute philosophical and methodological basis of Art-based research, especially Art-based Action Research (ABAR), developed among researchers, artists and art educators in University of Lapland and in University of Arctic’s Thematic Network on Arctic Sustainable Arts and Design (ASAD). Besides methodological discussion the focus of the paper is on conceptualization of the basis of cultural revitalization, decolonization and ecocultural resilience in Northern Scandinavia and North-West Russia. Ethical principles and cultural-sensitive questions are highlighted when working with small multi-ethnic communities. Building on existing strengths of communities and focusing on the unique features of particular places ABAR methodologies can be seen as reaction to conventional top-down, single-sector, national-stage development projects. Thus place-based and ABAR can also be understood as an identity policy of remote, rural and peripheral places that are centres for their inhabitants. In this paper ABAR and placemaking are also understood as regional economic development strategy. It is the practice of using places and a community’s capacities to make progress in creative renewable economies and wellbeing for inhabitants. In that meaning revitalization and decolonisation is not about people only, its about places, regions and in post-humanism era about nature too. The paper is provided with numerous photo documents in order to introduce and illustrate 2 examples practices and results in Northern Scandinavia and in North-West Russia.