5 From research to action: not always easy
The examples you have seen in this session have shown children and young people expressing a need for change, for things to be done differently, for more information. But what happens when adults impose their views and restrictions on how children’s contributions are shared? It is not always easy to implement change; challenges or obstacles imposed by adults or authorities may intervene.
Kanwal Mand offers an interesting case-study which highlights this issue: read the brief summary of her study in the box below, then answer the questions which follow.
Box 1: Mand’s research
Mand (2012) reports on a participatory arts-based project conducted with 9- and 10-year-old children of Bangladeshi origin attending two London schools. Part of a wider research study which sought to discover how children from South Asian families experience mobility across places, and, importantly, to develop innovative methods in migration research, the project involved the children in producing sketches of images they related to home and, separately, to being away. These were then used as raw material for the production of graffiti boards by a local ‘spiritual’ artist whose background was similar to those of the children. Although this participatory approach was intended by Mand to include children’s voices within the research, she reports her unhappiness when discovering that the children would take a passive role in the production of the graffiti. Due in part to the artist’s expressed need for consistency across the different panels this was also, and more significantly, because the artist ruled out some of the images the children had produced. These were, he considered, controversial.
Mand describes how this selection process, carried out by an artist whom she had chosen because of his apparent understanding of the project, ‘stifled’ some of the children’s voices and ‘felt like the antithesis of participatory practices’: children’s perspectives were ‘moulded to fit a particular version of Islam based on an "adult" perspective’. As part of the planned research output, the graffiti boards, along with banners produced using the children’s pictures, were displayed by a well-known museum. These, however, were hung according to strict display rules which stipulated that they were to be placed out of children’s reach. Their detail was thus rendered difficult to decipher. Other images were rejected by the museum as lacking visual impact. Moreover, it was a requirement of the museum that the text accompanying the exhibition be written by the researcher following strict museum-imposed criteria, a process, Mand states, of ‘re-inserting the authority of the researcher’. In spite of Mand’s participatory approach, children’s voices were subdued ‘at the point of representation in the public space of the museum’.
How were the children’s perspectives captured?
They produced sketches of ‘home’ and ‘away.’
How were the children’s perspectives represented through the research project?
They were to be used as raw material for a ‘graffiti board’ produced by a spiritual artist.
In what ways did the artist’s representation ‘stifle’ the children’s voices?
He selected the images and rejected some because he said they were controversial. He imposed his need for consistency across the different panels.
What other constraints were imposed on this project, and by whom?
The museum: the pictures were hung inappropriately; the accompanying texts were written by the researcher according to strict museum guidelines.
How else do you think this study might have been approached, so that the researcher’s intention of having the children’s voices heard was met? Can you think of two or three things that you would do, if you were the researcher here?
This example shows how as a researcher, you cannot assume that everyone you work with has the same understanding of children’s and young people’s ‘participation.’ Just as Alison Clark found a way to communicate with the architects in her project, in this case it would be necessary to work with the adults involved, so that the end result reflected the children’s views, that their voices were heard clearly and were not secondary to those set out by the artist and museum. You would need to find a way to communicate clearly the aims and purposes of your project, and to tackle any obstacles presented in a practical way. You might even find that you need to find a different venue for presenting the project, if you encounter too much intransigence.