I write this blog at with images of community at the forefront of my mind, having watched the news of this week with tears in my eyes both with horror at the explosion and with admiration as the capacity of human kindness and of the immediate heartfelt love that Manchester as a city wide community has expressed.
The image on a recent album cover has inspired the title of this blog, moving forward through reading. The image is of some origami balancing out a grenade on some kitchen scales, the album is entitled The Counterweight, the artist Thea Gilmore.
I have been reflecting on the idea of moving forward through reading and of learning, engagement, dialogue and conversation having a fundamental role in social cohesion. Arts Methodologies in engaging creativity engage our mind but importantly also engage our hearts. We can express conflict, have uncomfortable conversations and address power differentials using creative and most importantly peaceful means. Poetry can express feelings of discontent, disaffection and of hope. The visual arts can offer images and reflections on the world that at once reflect both the complexity and the opportunity of a situation.
The Taking Yourselves Seriously project has been working across the three projects; women’s poetry group, creative work in Clifton School and the Adventure Playground during May to link the social cohesion in action within the project settings to the theoretical approaches. We have been considering the complexity of layered identities and belonging and of how those participating in the projects reflect on these. Conversations around multiple identities have considered how these ideas might be framed; as layers, nested or rhizomatic (a plant based metaphor around laying down roots) identities.
As the projects have progressed the importance of dialogue has been reinforced, we have considered what does co-production really mean for us as a Taking Yourself Seriously project team? Power is an important element here. Co-production as a term suggests equality and negotiation within the projects but other factors too hold power and control for the project process, the timing of both local and religious festivals, the school year and the weather all hold power and affect how the timings and project progression. Perhaps here we might consider boundaries; boundaried co-production sounds less equal but perhaps it is more honest? In laying out capacity for involvement we begin to have the more subtle conversations required for a social cohesion project that seeks to challenge through creative means? In reaching out to multi-disciplinary readings we discover boundary spanners are those that make links between communities, we discover too the importance of recognising power and trust within integrated projects.
If we recognise the nested identities of our projects perhaps we can too re-negotiate power within the boundaries of capacity and create an honest and fully creative approach to social cohesion?. There is optimism and hope, this can be found in creativity. To achieve power, people need to challenge and make change happen. This can happen as there is power in individual agency, this power can be found in creativity, in imagination, in love. Amartya Sen offers links freedom and capabilities. Resources are the means to achieve freedoms but freedoms have other determinants such as social provisions or political rights. For Sen freedoms are linked; transparency, trust and reciprocity are linked to social trust and social capital. Creativity is arguably a catalyst for individual agency, for in choosing to approach social cohesion with creativity, our heart is opened to trust, love and to the idea of taking risks in order to negotiate power.
Love can be used to create the potential to resist and to creatively respond with a proactive challenge. Indeed, as bell hooks states:
the moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.
Love and creativity as a creative response to social cohesion offers a unique way of understanding it. Love as a creative response to social cohesion offers optimism and hope. But to achieve this, we the taking yourselves seriously project team, need to use our agency to challenge and make change happen. Taking yourself seriously as I have said before, is a rather strong request … it means recognising that the way that you work is quite special and there is something to be valued in it. It also holds a responsibility to honesty which requires dialogue, reflection and a capacity to recognise our layered identities not just as individuals but as projects within the team.