Ways of Knowing Zine 1

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Our Ways of Knowing Zine 1 (draft for workshop participants)


Here is the zine of the Ways of Knowing – still a draft and posted here for our 15th January workshop participants to have a quick look at before we meet. We’ll probably do another final version after the workshop, so whether you coming to the workshop or not and have some comments – do let us know!


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Ways of Knowing workshop and public meeting – 15th January 2014

Ways of Knowing in Collaborative and Participatory Research:
How can we know together? How might knowing together and acting together be socially and politically useful?

Arts@Trinity in Holy Trinity Church, Boar Lane, Leeds
10am-4pm, 15th January 2014

Participatory Action Research projects gather up social critique and outrage, ambivalence and desire, as forms of knowledge. Inquiry is valued as oxygen for democratic
sustenance. Collaborations are forged as necessary for sustaining global
movements of resistance. Participatory action research is a strategic tool
anchored in some very untraditional formulations of some very traditional
notions of objectivity, validity, and generalizability. With innovation and a
proud legacy of activist social researchers, participatory research collectives
can interrupt the drip feed, engage critical questions, produce new knowledge,
provoke expanded audiences, and allow us to ask as scholars, in the
language of the poet Marge Piercy (1982), how can we “be of use?”

Michelle Fine (2008) ‘An Epilogue…of sorts’, in Julia Cammarota and Michelle Fine (2008) Youth Participatory Research in Motion. London and New York: Routledge, p. 231.

Collaborative and participatory action research has long focused on the link between collective development of knowledge and liberatory social and political change. Yet exactly how researching and knowing together might be ‘of use’ remains an open question.

Over the past twelve months a group of us have come together to work on a project called ‘Ways of Knowing’ because we wanted to experiment with what it means to know things through collaborative and participatory research. We experimented with methods drawn towards higher-order analysis, articulation and consensus, where the implication is that change comes through new understandings that might underpin collective action. We also experimented with methods which focus on embodied and emergent knowing, where the change is imagined as coming within the individual and in the spaces for ‘being with’ each other in new ways. There’s been multi-coloured knitting, wire animals, key words, post it notes on sticky walls and the slightly painful application of reason through a neo-Socratic Dialogue.

Rather than see these approaches as opposed, in this workshop we will explore how they might nourish each other. How they might help us ‘untraditionally’ imagine and practice validity, generalizability and usefulness? What might this mean for more nuanced imaginaries of how knowing together might relate to action which addresses inequalities and injustices?

We’d like to invite you to join us to explore these issues. In working through these questions, we are delighted to be joined by Michelle Fine, Distinguished Professor, CUNY Graduate Centre (New York) who has very clearly articulated and so carefully evoked the relationships between knowing together and political transformation.

Together we will have new experimental experiences which will open up the questions of how we know together and what this might mean. We will ask you to bring your stories of collaborative knowing, unknowing or not knowing. And by the end of the day, we’ll have – in the proud DIY and feminist tradition of the city of Leeds – made a ‘zine-in-a-day to evoke and/or articulate our insights.

If you’d like to hear more or to take part in the workshop then drop us a line with the 100 word story of collaboration you’d like to bring to the workshop by 9th December 2013:
How have you known something together and how was this useful?

We have three travel bursaries available for those travelling from overseas.

Helen Graham h.graham@leeds.ac.uk
School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies
University of Leeds

The workshop will be followed by a public meeting led by Professor Michelle Fine:

Evidence in Revolting Times: How can participatory research challenge inequality?
Arts@Trinity, Holy Trinity Church, Boar Lane, Leeds
5.00-6.30pm, 15th January 2014
Free tickets: http://bit.ly/1ehCUvn

We are living in a time of growing and revolting inequalities; a time when measurement, audit and surveillance threaten to constrain what counts as knowledge about us, our cities and our communities. We are also living in a time of resistance and revolt; where new modes of collaboration between researchers, practitioners, artists and activists are opening up new possibilities for knowing and acting. Drawing on insights which have developed through the New York-based Public Science Project, Michelle Fine, Distinguished Professor, CUNY Graduate Centre will open up for further discussion the role of evidence and knowledge in perpetuating and challenging these inequalities. We ask you bring with you your thoughts on the following questions:
• Which inequalities are you seeking to challenge?
• In challenging inequalities, what counts as ‘evidence’?
• How has/might collaboration create new possibilities for knowing and acting?


‘Ways of Knowing’ is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities programme.

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Can we know together? Part 2

I like ‘Can we know something together?’ as a question for our Socratic Dialogue too. It seems to create space for us to explore both knowing and togetherness. Steve’s example is very interesting and deliberately challenges both the notion of ‘knowing’ and ‘togetherness’. The 10 people he shared his knowing with were not there at the same time, he’s not even met most of them in person but what they did share was the experience of being in the shed and in the woods. So Steve seems to be positioning both knowing and togetherness as connected through discrete embodied experience. It’s value is not located either in the afterwards of its articulation and nor in it being articulated in a way which is collectively agreed. This is such a helpful example as it immediately takes us back to one of the key discussion points/differences in our first workshop and shows how this question might work in the context of the Socratic Dialogue.

To push the dimensions and potential uses of the question from the other direction, I’ll give the example of very much being in the same room with people, at the same time and trying to develop shared understandings about ‘how should decisions about heritage are made’ for the purposes of agreeing on a research design. A research design which (as we agreed as a group) explicitly aims to influence both museum and heritage practitioners and heritage studies as an academic discipline. One of the logics of the 14 of us working together to design a research project was precisely that we came from different types of organisations, groups and experiences – so the logic of our collaboration was that the different perspectives coming together might enable the generation of new, more responsive and more accountable ways of knowing.

We’re just moving into the research phase now but from the design phase which ran February – May, I was just really interested in how the two logics of our difference and our togetherness worked in practice. Sometimes it was like we were all carrying our worlds with us into the discussions, always checking the validity of our emerging questions and ideas by what our nearest colleagues, peers or comrades might say (like in the film Donnie Darko where the paths people have followed and where they are going stretches out visibly from their bellies). Others times it was like we entered the group fully. Probably to ‘know’ in a way which profited from our coming together we needed/need to both move into the new world of collaboration we were creating yet still feel that apartness, that tug back to the worlds we’d come from and would go back to. So what is ‘known’ through this type of togetherness might require adaptability – so our ‘knowing’ might also be able to stretch from the group back to our normal places, when we aren’t together, too. So I think the question might helps prise some of this stuff open.

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Can we know something together?

I’ll be attending the two days.

I prefer question 1.

Can we know something together?.

An interesting example of this I suppose was my involvement in a project by the artists Tyman and Rushton called “The Good Life”

The Good Life documents a project by Emma Rushton and Derek Tyman, realised over six months at two sites in the Lake District in 2011.

In association with Lanternhouse Arts Centre, a cabin – a copy of writer Henry David Thoreau’s – was constructed in Miterdale Forest and employed as a dwelling for artists, writers and musicians.

A counterpoint to the cabin, The Good Life Stage, occupied a space at Lanternhouse. Painted with quotations by philosophers, writers and typographers it hosted a series of events and talks.

I spent four days living in relative solitude in Thoreau’s cabin reading Jon Ruskins “Unto this last” A book by John Rusking to develop a project proposal. The point here is I shared this experience with around

10 other people only a couple of whome I have met but in some way I think we as the group of “Shed Alumi” which is what I call us perhaps “Know something together” about ourselves and the woods

Here is a film of the experience – sorry about the image of my arse.


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Workshop 2: Socratic Dialogue and other things

Our second Ways of Knowing workshop will be on the 18th and 19th September. On the agenda, among other topics and activities, will be Sarah Banks facilitating a Socratic Dialogue. In preparation for this we need to decide on a good question (one that gives us good scope for moving through the Socratic Dialogue process), so Sarah has asked the research team to consider either:

1. Can we know something together?
2. Can I know what you know?

To help us all decide, Sarah has suggested that we say which one we prefer and give an example you might use to illustrate it using a comment box below this blog post. (if you’re not on the team and you want to pitch in too, please do!)

And this is what Sarah wrote about Socratic Dialogue before…

Socratic Dialogue

Sarah Banks, Durham University

My substantive contribution to the Ways of Knowing project will be to facilitate a Socratic Dialogue at the second workshop in September 2013.

I will adopt an approach based on the model used by the Society for the Furtherance of Critical Philosophy (UK, http:/www.sfcp.org.uk) and Philosophisch Politische Academy (Germany: http://www.philosophisch-politische-akademie.de), with whom I trained as a facilitator. This approach is sometimes called ‘neo-Socratic dialogue’, which is derived from, but not the same as, the method used by Socrates (470-399 BCE) in ancient Greece. It was developed by a German philosopher, Leonard Nelson (1882-1927) (Nelson 1940) and subsequently modified by his pupils and later followers (for an accessible UK introduction, see Saran and Neisser, 2004)

Socratic Dialogue is a means of exploring complex philosophical or mathematical questions with a group of people. It is a method by which a group works together with a facilitator to find an answer to a well-formed question (such as: ‘What is justice?’ or ‘When is it right to lie?’). The procedure involves collecting concrete examples relevant to the question from the participants, choosing one example to work on, exploring the chosen example, articulating its core statement and agreeing on principles in answer to the general question. This approach is used to engage members of the public in ‘Socratic cafés’ or other arenas and in teaching practical ethics and critical thinking in schools and universities.

Although the focus is on reasoning, critical analysis and consensus-seeking, the process is very different from what we might usually associate with philosophical argument. While an abstract question is set or agreed upon, the starting point is with people offering examples from their own experience. Furthermore, one of the ‘rules’ of the dialogue is that participants should not refer to ‘outside authorities’ (i.e. no references to Plato, Karl Marx or yesterday’s Guardian). Participants are asked to ‘put themselves in the example-giver’s shoes’ (hence drawing on empathy), listen very carefully to other people, build on the ideas of others, seek points of agreement and from time to time they may reflect on how the group is working (‘meta-dialogue’). Although the process is consensus-seeking, the ultimate aim of a Socratic Dialogue may or may not be to reach ‘truth’ by consensus (this depends on the views and approach of facilitator and participants). Collaboration is at the heart of the process. It is a dialogue, not a debate (i.e it is not about one person seeking to persuade others or ‘win’ an argument). Hence participants do need to engage not only at the level of reason (logic, analysis), but also at an emotional and embodied level (empathy, managing frustration, performing as caring person or a rational expert).

The different ways of knowing identified by Heron and Reason (2008) in their ‘extended epistemology’ (theory of knowledge) developed in the context of collaborative research are all there in Socratic dialogue: propositional knowledge (intellectual knowing of ideas and theories, ‘knowing about’); experiential (gained through direct face-to-face contact with a person, place or object, based on empathy and resonance); presentational (grows out of experiential knowing, expressing it through story, movement, drawing, etc); and practical (knowing how to do something, a skill or competence – this brings together the other forms of knowing into action in the world). Although the overt focus may be more on propositional and experiential, nevertheless presentational knowledge is drawn upon in the offering of examples from experience (essentially short narratives or stories) and practical knowledge (through the skills in dialogic communication).

However, there is no doubt the dominant ‘register’ is cognitive, and the form of Socratic Dialogue lends itself to the valuing of reasoning, consensus and ‘objectivity’. So it will be interesting for us to explore the complex interplay of cognitive, affective and embodied ways of knowing in the process of a Socratic Dialogue. We will need to decide on a suitable question and agree about whether to audio-record and how to use any recordings made.

Links with co-inquiry action research (CAR) groups

Sarah Banks, with reflections from Tessa Holland and Ann McNulty

In earlier work with Beacon North East (the Newcastle-Durham Beacon for Public Engagement, 2008-12) and a previous Connected Communities project on ethics (2012), we used a co-inquiry approach to collaborative research between academics and community partners (drawing on the work of Heron and Reason, 2000).

We called our groups ‘co-inquiry action research’ (CAR) groups. In both these co-inquiry groups a key theme was how academics and community partners communicate with each other, value each other’s knowledge and experience, develop shared understandings and how participants recognise and handle difference.

The first CAR group used a co-inquiry group to study the process of co-inquiry research (Beacon NE, 2011a, 2011b). As facilitator, I was very much influenced by my Socratic Dialogue training, as well as methods derived from Paulo Freire and thinking in the field of community development (I have a background in community development). One interesting idea to come out of that group was the notion of ‘collaborative reflexivity’:

Participants were surprised at what they learnt from each other and about themselves. They reflected not just on the collaborative processes in their own current and recent research projects and evaluated their roles, strengths and weaknesses, but also studied themselves in the group and analysed the workings of the group. (Banks et al, 2013, forthcoming)

The second CAR group explored ethical issues in community-based participatory research, as part of a wider scoping study (Durham Community research Team, 2011). Tessa Holland and Ann McNulty were involved as community partners. Tessa Holland noticed a particular interchange between two other members of the group, which prompted us to go back and listen to the audio-recording and then we wrote it up in a case study. Here is an extract from the case study (Banks and Armstrong, 2012):

Whilst the group had identified the avoidance of academic jargon as an important ground rule, this was only one part of the story about how academics could dominate the proceedings. Academics are also very used to analysing, critiquing, summarising and interpreting the comments of others. This was highlighted in an exchange between a community partner (Carol) and academic (Alan) at the third meeting, when Alan was feeding back to the whole group what Carol and Alan had been discussing in a pair relating to details of an ethical dilemma told by Carol to Alan. Carol commented: ‘that is not what I told you!’ Alan explained he was trying to summarise, to which Carol responded:

  • Carol: This is what we’re getting down to: the judgement that you made upon my speech was not [my] judgement.
  • Alan: Probably not, I interpreted what you said.
  • Carol: Interpreted … you interpreted my speech with your values, your speak, your understanding of the world.

This gave an opportunity for all members of the group to acknowledge what had happened and what they could learn from it. The fact that it was handled amicably and discussed openly by Carol, Alan and the other participants was testimony to the levels of trust in the group by this point. Reflecting on this exchange later, Carol commented that the issue for her was that Alan took her story and ‘made it his own’.

Ann and Tessa were then involved in the follow-up to this project, which involved working with members of three other Connected Communities projects in 2012 to develop some ethical guidelines and cases for community-based participatory research. Ann McNulty reflected on that process in connection with thinking about the Ways of Knowing project:

The important thing for me about ethical guidelines group work was the preparation for and facilitation of the process. Maybe that’s something to get people to think about – how to do it – that is, working respectfully and collaboratively with people who you see as different to yourselves, and who are called a different thing (‘academic’ or ‘community’), which goes both ways. How to work at making co-production possible and positive? Doesn’t just happen by itself


Banks and Armstrong (2012) (eds) Ethics in community-based participatory research: case studies, case examples and commentaries, National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement, Bristol, www.dur.ac.uk/beacon/socialjustice/ethics_consultation/ or www.publicengagement.ac.uk/about/ethics/

Banks, S. & Armstrong, A. with Booth, M., Brown, G., Carter, K., Clarkson, M., Corner, L., Genus, A., Gilroy, R., Henfrey, T., Hudson, K., Jenner, A., Moss, R., Roddy, D. and Russell, A. (2013) Using co-inquiry to study co-inquiry: community-university perspectives on research collaboration, Journal of community engagement and scholarship, forthcoming

Beacon NE (2011a) Co-inquiry toolkit. Community-university participatory research partnerships: co-inquiry and related approaches. Newcastle, Beacon NE, www.dur.ac.uk/beacon/socialjustice/toolkits/ or www.publicengagement.ac.uk/how/methods/co-inquiry

Beacon NE (2011b) Beacon NE Co-inquiry Action Research Project, www.dur.ac.uk/beacon/socialjustice/toolkits/ or www.publicengagement.ac.uk/how/case-studies/car-project

Durham Community Research Team (2011). Community-based participatory research: ethical challenges (Arts and Humanities Research Council Discussion Paper). Durham, Durham University, http://www.dur.ac.uk/beacon/socialjustice/researchprojects/cbpr/

Nelson, L. (1940) Socratic Method and Critical Philosophy, New Haven, USA: Yale University Press.

Philosophisch Politische Academy, http://www.philosophisch-politische-akademie.de

Saran, R. and Neisser, B. (2004) (eds) Enquiring minds: Socratic dialogue in education, Stoke-on-Trent, Trentham.

Society for the Furtherance of the Critical Philosophy, http://www.sfcp.org.uk/

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Tacit knowledge


I keep thinking about saying “I know a lot about tacit knowledge but don’t like to talk about it.” at the ways of knowing meeting. I’m thinking a lot about the idea of Co-produced knowledge for a project I’m working on and at the back of my mind is a very big question about value.

Is tacit knowledge tacit because talking about it or making it visible is a bit pointless unless you want to study it as an object?

I was talking to my long time collaborator Kate Genever in the car the other day she says that her dad who is a farmer says she is a Fartist (Artist farmer) based on lincolnshires Parmers who were parson farmers.

The point is that her dad has so much knowledge about so much stuff to do with the farm and the land and how to manage it which is unspoken and held within his hands. Perhaps we should call it meta-knowledge rather than tacit knowledge.

Perhaps he has things to pass down – things which could be lost to the next generation things which need to be preserved. I don’t think this is what we are talking about when we consider co-produced knowledge I think it is more about “Self knowing” and this is perhaps the thing where the academic world and the world outside has different ideas of value.

I’m reading Tim Ingolds “Been Alive ” book at the moment – I love Ingolds he is an artists Academic – he knows how our mind set works.

The chapter I have just read is a fantastic piece of writing about why we should consider calling “Things” materials in the world rather than “Materialities” as somebody who hovers around the edges of reading – a short sighted dyslectic who lost his glasses a month ago and hasn’t bothered to find them, I have probably said Materiality to try and impress but for most people a brick is a brick and a hammer is a hammer. The idea of a materiality brings nothing new to the discussion – Ingolds explains this really well and it needs to be said and I enjoyed reading it but the big question is – “What do the academies have to offer in terms of co-produced knowledge” or is this a meta-question.

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Becoming the Imagined Other

For me the point of the Ways of Knowing project is to think about the concept of the ‘Imagined

Other’ ImageNick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson (Artist newsletter http://www.croweandrawlinson.net/)

and then flip that back onto oneself, to as it were recognise the process of becoming the subject as well as the object of research. When I do ethnography the beginning of it appears to be about a focus on the Imagined Other, for example, Marcus and I will plan our projects in relation to our shared objectives, that is, to raise young people’s aspirations

or to combat the rise of the BNP. The work is about our entwining and that process working out in various sites, such as with the Youth Group I talked about.

With the Ways of Knowing group however, we are also confronting our own Imagined Other and thinking through what it means to do research across a number of complex sites and spaces.

So I have to go back to my practice. For me, that resides in fieldnotes. Here are some fieldnotes from a day with Marcus,

On a cold night in January, I pick up Marcus, the youth worker, and drive from Dalton, in Thrybergh, to the Manor Farm estate in Rawmarsh. We park on a bend. When we get out, we notice the community building is lit up and men are there working. We settle our stuff and then go out. Marcus says that youth work is about walking the estates, hunting for young people. Detached youth work even more is about looking within and outside the spaces of the estate and finding out, almost by sensory methodologies, what is going on. He told a story I had heard before, because I asked him to, about a bag of clothes hung up on a tree and how this alerted him to problems with one particular family. We move into the small central precinct of the estate and go into the shop. Just outside the shop are several of the young people Marcus wanted to find hanging out. They greet him and say they will be along soon. We go into the shop and browse the shelves, finding snacks, sweets, crisps, hot chocolate. On the way back I ask Marcus to demonstrate his practice. He stops two younger teenagers, both girls and asks them if they are OK and they chat, with Marcus checking that they are safe and asking them what they want to do when they grow up. One wanted to be a teacher, the other didn’t know. He nodded and wished them good night. We traversed the snowy path that led onto the main road and to the community centre. (Fieldnotes January 7th 2013).

For me, the Ways of Knowing event was like a fieldnote, a reflective process of othering our practice. 

I liked the way Steve’s storying was slightly uncomfortable and thought it interesting that some people related strongly to the craft activities and others

found it something that they had to work through and learn. The concept of the ‘craft of practice’ is an idea that Steve had with a colleague called Amanda Ravetz and I think that this project has the potential to map some of that practice in quite interesting, multi disciplinary ways. By being alive to the possibilities of becoming the subject we can also work towards de-reifying the imagined other, the object of research. 

In that sense, ethnography is useful as a methodology that both draws near and distances, reflexively turning back on itself as a process of encounter, provocation, entanglement and entwinement. 


Kate Pahl 2nd June 2013


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I tried to describe what we talked about

I tried to describe what we talked about over the two days to my friend Tim he said that I should have a look at this


In sum, the primary purpose of phronetic social science is not to develop theory, but to contribute to society’s practical rationality in elucidating where we are, where we want to go, and what is desirable according to diverse sets of valueshttp://www.google.co.uky for value-rational deliberation and action.

I also thought of this quote from Bloch’s traces as I keep thinking it is a useful metaphor for community university partnerships

A horse and a dog who were friends in which the dog saved the best bones for the horse, and the horse put the most fragrant bunches of hay before the dog; each wanted to do his best for the other, and neither one was fed” (Bloch, Ernst, “Traces”, p. 10).

One of the most interesting things so far in the project is how we will all make sense of the past two days experience – how or if it will sediment into our relationships to the world. I liked reading the blog this morning on my phone it felt like Sarah picked out the important bits but they were different sorts of important bits – the knitting as a form as excepted transgression Helen’s irritation with this but then the saying of it at the end – after the formal session was over. I liked the bit when I was asked to define Tacit Knowledge and I said I didn’t like talking about it. Perhaps we are becoming knowledging hedgehogs rooting around in the twigs looking for worms or hay or straw and not really knowing what will sustain us.

Birdland is everywhere

Birdland is everywhere

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Knitting and knowledging: between metaphor and reality

Knitting, front view

Reflections from the first ‘Ways of knowing’ workshop in Sheffield, 22-23 May 2013 

Sarah Banks


Ac-knowledgements: Steve Pool coined the term ‘knowledging’. He likes verbing nouns. Ann McNulty started the knitting. Katie Hill and Tessa Holland introduced and explained the metaphor of complementary colours.  Michelle Bastian introduced more than human participants and left before the the knitting answered back. Niamh Moore facilitated the consensus wall, enabling collaboration in the face of small-scale resistance. Helen Graham created the holding form and promoted ‘polyvocality’. Kate Pahl and Steve Pool introduced entanglements and entwining and first mentioned the ‘holding form’ (which I don’t mention here as it held me so well I forgot about it).


Our workshop was about exploring different ways of knowing in the context of collaborative research between ‘academics’ and ‘community partners’.

We worked together doing various activities designed to encourage us to feel and reflect on different ways of knowing individually and collectively.   

Katie facilitated a session on ‘making’. She produced a typical maker’s bag full of stuff and we all created things using paper, pens, glue, wool, string ….  Ann picked up some knitting needles  and started knitting – incorporating several different coloured and textured wools. 

When feeding back their reflections, Katie and Tessa talked about complementary colours. Katie explained that these colours don’t mix to create a new colour (like red and green produce brown). When juxtaposed, they enhance the intensity of each other’s colour. When mixed they all produce grey.     

This really struck me as a good metaphor for the way different ways of knowing (coloured wools) are knitted together into some kind of piece. They retain their disinctiveness, their unique contribution, without loosing something in translation or ‘dumbing down’ (that is, they aren’t mixed to produce a shade of grey).

Katie took over the knitting and added more colours. This meant there were strands of wool hanging down at the side. Some of the wool was bobbly. When Ann took it over again she added string. On the second day I took it over from Katie. At this point it was quite messy. The different wools hanging down at the side had become tangled. I half-heartedly tried to disentangle them – but then just started knitting. I hadn’t knitted for a long time. Katie and Ann were quite practised. I looked at how they had moved between the different wools – which were kind of ‘carried’ up the side of the piece. I started to knit using two different shades of blue together, one string and one wool. Nobody else had done that – so I was adding a new dimension.  I could see that I would reach a tangle in the wool after a few rows. I decided that the way to cope with the tangle was simply to knit it in. The tangle just happened to coincide with a row that was on the reverse side of the piece. We were doing stocking stitch, which has an idea of front and back. Also the ‘back’ was messy, where some wools had been joined together. I only noticed that I was knitting on the reverse side when I was in the middle of knitting in the knots. It pleased me that this had happened. It also caused me to think of back (messy, not for public view, showing the work that had gone into getting the pattern on the front) and the front (for public view, as seamless as possible, hiding the work).

WoK, Knitting 3

I was doing the knitting whilst we were engaging in a ‘consensus wall’ exercise on issues raised so far in relation to ways of knowing in collaborative research, facilitated by Niamh Moore. This was a long process, involving identifying and reworking issues, sticking written versions of them on the wall, clustering them, naming the clusters, moving between clusters and devising questions that related to clusters of issues. After a while, some people said they felt resistant to the exercise, or didn’t feel comfortable with it. This resistance seemed to stem from a feeling that the exericse involved trying to do something that couldn’t be done (artifically separating issues and forming clusters of issues that were inseparable and overlapping); it was aiming for consensus (which might result in the loss of diversity and complexity); and it was too much hard work (Steve clutched his head).

WoK consensus board

I said I thought it was worth doing, that it was just a method for drawing out what we were all thinking, and the moving around and clustering made us question what was meant by what was written on a piece of paper, whether we understood it correctly and what the ideas on the paper linked to. In that sense, I saw it as a similar process to Socratic Dialogue. 

However, during the exercise I had taken up the knitting and became partially disengaged. I was excited by the knitting process and felt that I was ‘knowledging’ whilst knitting. I was feeling the process of tackling knots, incorporating different coloured wools, experimenting, taking forward a project started by someone else ….. I took a photograph of the knitting. Then I started to listen again to the conversation. Steve said something, which I then wrote down on a piece of paper:

Seeking knowledge and making it

Is knowledge a material thing or a process?   

This seemed to capture what had been going on for me. So I got up and stuck it at one side of the consensus wall, and then went back and got a tangle of wool and stuck that next to the paper. I knew I was partially subverting the consensus wall process as all the other papers had gone via the facilitator, who stuck them on the board, in clusters.  I had written on a larger piece of paper, stuck it on myself, added another medium (wool) and by walking up had disrupted the collaborative process. 

Niamh then asked me about it. I explained the knitting process, my uncertainty at the start about knowing how to knit well, coping with the knots, reflecting about back and front, how the knitting was both a material thing and a process and a good illustration of Steve’s concept of ‘knowledging’. I also linked it to one of the issues I had contributed to the board: ‘Gestalt switches between paradigms’, which had a little picture of a ‘duck-rabbit’ on it.  The duck-rabbit – which I first encountered in the philosopher Wittgenstein’s book, Philosophical Investigations – is a drawing that can either be seen as a rabbit or as a duck, but not both together. It is sometimes used to illustrate the ways in which complementary but incommensurable paradigms of knowledge co-exist but cannot be translated (cf  Kuhn’s idea of scientific paradigms). We might think stereotypically of ‘academic ways of knowing’ and ‘community ways of knowing’, or ‘rational ways of knowing’ and ’emotional  ways of knowing’ as equally valuable, but distinct, doing different things based on different frames of reference. The knitting is maybe a more useful metaphor as it shows intertwining of distinct strands and we can see that they contribute to the whole (even if we don’t quite know how – we have to look at the back to see the mess).

This linked to another issue, framed as a question, that I contributed to the wall: ‘What do we mean by polyvocality?’ I had asked earlier about the difference between ‘poly’ and ‘multi’. I had been concerned about ‘polyvocality’  being a ”multi-vocality’ resulting in a ‘babble’ of voices – OK for giving voice to diverse experiences, but if we want to transform the world, do we need to sort out the voices into a collective demand.   Steve told me that ‘poly’ in musical terms included the idea of chords. That reassured me. The idea of harmony amongst dischord, voices working together.  The consensus wall seemed to allow for polyvocality – but it was important to regard the clusters as experimental and not fixed.

After I had given an account of my intervention, Ann pointed out that just before Niamh had asked me to explain myself, Tessa had been about to say something. We may have missed something important.  Niamh turned her attention to Tessa. I silently reflected on whether it had been ‘right’ to do something that had disrupted the group process and resulted in interrupting another person. I decided that the answer was both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. It gave us more food for thought about the collaborative process.  

I am still in the process of sorting out my reflections on these small aspects of the workshop that I have picked out to write about on the morning after the event.  There was so much going on at so many levels. I was doing the knitting as an individual, but using and building on what others had done. This involved doing, thinking, feeling. It was a process and was creating a tangible product. Whilst doing this I was participating in a collaborative exercise designed to reach ‘consensus’, and I was thinking about this as I was doing knitting, feeling that I was also knitting the process of the consensus wall activity into the emerging piece. I did bring in some outside theoretical ideas (from Wittgenstein and Kuhn) but not much theory has been knitted into the piece so far.

There is much more that could be said, but maybe someone else will pick up the knitting from here and take it on …….

WoK, Knitting 4


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