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Journal articles

What are you (un)doing with that story?

Elysée Nouvet, Christina Sinding, Catherine Graham. “What are you (un)doing with that story?” Qualitative Social Work, Vol. 18(3), 2019: 514–529.

This paper contributes to growing inter-disciplinary discussion on what and how arts-informed community-engaged research can add to critical engagements with social inequalities. It is based on workshops facilitated by an inter-disciplinary university research group with the Women’s Housing Planning Collaborative Advisory in Hamilton, a funded housing project and self-advocacy group in a mid-sized Canadian city. In theoretically informed and carefully crafted exercises, workshop participants performed stories they felt compelled to tell in order to secure resources and empathy from social service professionals. These performances made visible the draining nature and practical limitations of interactions between clients and social service professionals in which only particular affective postures and stories of need qualify clients as worthy of concern. The women then used first-person narrative and image theatre to evoke the worlds they are imagining for themselves and others in their advocacy work. Drawing on feminist, post-colonial, anthropological, and performance studies literature, we describe and analyze how the workshops methods of dramatic ‘play’ enable nuanced, powerful, and collectively energizing critical engagements with painful norms of social (mis)recognition.


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Personal stories, public voices: Performance for public-making

Christina Sinding, Catherine Graham, Elysée Nouvet, Jennie Vengris. “Personal stories, public voices: Performance for public making.” INTensions, Issue 6, Fall/Winter 2016: 1-35.

The project described in this paper rests on a belief in the power and significance of storytelling in social change processes. It also takes seriously worries and critique about ‘what happens’ when personal stories of troubles or suffering are told to strangers, particularly as they revolve around contradictory claims about empathy. Over several months our research team worked with a group of women who have experienced homelessness and who are advocates for themselves and other women in our community. The women participated in a series of storytelling and image theatre workshops and exercises that formed the basis of a 20-minute dramatic vignette centered on their interactions with social services in the city. The creative process was designed to value the knowledge carried in personal stories of lived experience, while harnessing the power of the arts to evade some of the problematics of personal storytelling in public spaces. The women performed the vignette for social work students. In this paper we reflect on comments from students who witnessed the performance and offer our analysis of their responses in relation to specific features of the drama. In a discursive context that holds individuals responsible for all manner of social problems, we consider the potential of projects like this one for summoning and mobilizing publics and publicness.


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Play-making with migrant farm workers in Ontario, Canada: a kinesthetic and embodied approach to qualitative research

J Adam Perry. "Play-making with migrant farm workers in Ontario, Canada: a kinesthetic and embodied approach to qualitative research." Qualitative Research 18 (6), 2018: 689-705.

This article offers a reflection on the use of theatre creation in qualitative research with migrant farm workers in Ontario, Canada. In this article I examine how the fundamentally embodied and kinesthetic dimensions of seasonal agricultural workers’ lives in Canada highlight the need to seek out and develop corresponding embodied approaches that are able to access and accurately represent the fraught and dynamic nature of workers’ experiences. I bring together ideas from both arts-informed research and participatory action research, and I examine how engaging research participants directly in collective theatre creation can effectively disrupt accepted ways of being and offer an important intervention on worker habitus. I reflect on how through incorporating an element of play-creation in the qualitative research process, I was able to a) access forms of knowledge that may otherwise have remained tacit and b) offer a disruption of the norms of isolation and antagonism endemic to daily life in Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. 


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Images of work, images of defiance: Engaging migrant farm worker voice through community-based arts

J. Adam Perry. “Images of work, images of defiance: engaging migrant farm worker voice through community-based arts.” Agriculture and Human Values, 2018: 1-14.

This article addresses a stated need within the food justice movement scholarship to increase the attention paid to the political socialization of hired farm hands in industrial agriculture. In Canada, tackling the problem of farm worker equity has particular social and political contours related to the Canadian horticultural industry’s reliance on a state-managed migrant agricultural labour program designed to fill the sector’s labour market demands. As Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) produces relations of ‘unfree labour’, engaging migrant farm workers in social movement initiatives can be particularly challenging. Critical educational interventions designed to encourage migrant farm workers’ contribution to contemporary social movements in Canada must therefore confront the socio-cultural obstacles that constrict migrant farm workers’ opportunities to participate as full members of their communities. In this article, I argue that social justice oriented approaches to community-based arts can provide a means for increasing the social movement contributions of farm workers employed through managed labour migration schema such as Canada’s SAWP.

Read: Images of work, images of defiance