We are delighted to announce the publication of Understanding Everyday Participation’s second special issue of Cultural Trends. This issue focuses on the situated nature and territorial dynamics of participation. It contains six main articles that explore – in different ways and various contexts – how everyday cultural practices and understandings of their value both shape and are influenced by place, space and locality.

Journal contents:

  • Editorial: Everyday participation and cultural value in place; Andrew Miles and Lisanne Gibson (publication expected 6/02/17)

Summer reading: ‘Everyday participation and cultural value’ – special edition of Cultural Trends


The first of two special editions of Cultural Trends journal is now available online, with the printed publication available later this year.

Castle kites (2)

‘Castle Kites’ by Andrew Miles

As the editorial piece by Andrew Miles and Lisanne Gibson outlines, the edition comprises articles by Eleonora Belfiore, Jill Ebrey, Lisanne Gibson and Delyth Edwards, Andrew Miles and Mark Taylor, which set out some of our early findings, and which frame and contextualise the central propositions of Understanding Everyday Participation. They concern the orientation of cultural policy and state-funded cultural programming towards cultural participation and value, and argue that this is in need of a radical overhaul, beyond the orthodoxy of cultural engagement approaches which are based on a narrow definition (and understanding) of participation and which obscure the significance of other forms of cultural participation situated locally in the everyday realm.

The publication of the edition will be followed by a series of public and stakeholder engagements with the research, and also a second edition of research articles, due for publication in March 2017.

The full first edition can be accessed here.


UEP methods at the UEP methods conference


The Doing Research on Participation conference hosted dozens of papers from across the UK, Europe and further afield. Our first post recording the event profiles four of the papers from UEP researchers at the conference. Below are slides and audio from each presentation.

Susan Oman’s presentation drew on paradata from her nationwide focus groups on well-being.

These data suggest that everyday conversations offer the same well-being effects as more formal participation methods, and by extension indicate that research and evaluations which assume the social effects of certain forms of cultural participation are currently overreaching in their claims.


UEP’s Manchester-Salford case study informs Abi Gilmore’s reflections on methods.

In particular, Abi offers an account of a complex participatory project in Cheetham Park, Manchester which was a collaboration between the Manchester Jewish Museum, an artist-in-residence, University researchers, and participants from local community and stakeholder groups.


Ruth Webber’s PhD explores how migrant women in Glasgow negotiate identity, heritage and ‘home’ in their everyday lives.

Ruth’s presentation explains how giving participants the time and space to record their everyday life using a number of media including photography, writing and collage, would enable them to reflect on these activities and be live agents in knowledge production (Bourdieu)


The complex relationship between participation and socio-spatial mobilities was the focus of Andy Miles and Adrian Leguina’s presentation.

Here they explain how combining quantitative analysis of panel data with text mining techniques to examine participation narratives from qualitative in-depth interviews

The politics of cultural measurement – a review


Here Susan Oman reposts here review of Making culture count: the politics of cultural measurement, edited by Lachlan MacDowall, Marnie Badham, Emma Blomkamp and Kim Dunphy, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, 304 pp., £63.00 (hardback), £49.99 (e-book), ISBN 978-1-137-46457-6.

To cite the below review: Susan Oman (2016): Making culture count: the politics of cultural measurement, Cultural Trends To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09548963.2016.1170920

making culture countMaking culture count: The politics of cultural measurement focuses on the ever-present issues of measurement and meaning in articulating value for cultural policy practices and research. The book is split into three sections. Part I offers “Critical accounts of the history and politics of cultural measurement”, while Part II is called “Making culture count in political contexts and discourses” and the final section presents a number of “Critical and creative approaches to cultural measurement practice”. These sections are inevitably as much crosscutting themes as they are expedient subdivisions to an ambitious 300 pages of contributions from over 20 authors.

Belfiore’s foreword roots the collection in a cross-national collaboration and international conference held in Melbourne in 2012. The transnational context refreshes cultural policy practices, which rarely wander far from home. In the introduction, one of the editors states that cultural measurement “transcends singular disciplines, institutional locations and conceptual aims” (p. 2). It is to the credit of the collection that there is also great variation in the chapters’ approaches.

Of course, if cultural measurement transcends national boundaries, so do problems of measurement and meaning in more local geographies. In the final chapter, Sophie Hope discusses the “grey areas” of cultural commissioning for communities and how to evaluate this practice. She explains that it may have looked like communities were “channels for effecting change, but they were perhaps only ever able to be performances of participatory democracy” (p. 295). Her chapter is one of the most interesting critical contributions to understanding possible “new directions” for appraising cultural interventions.1 It forefronts the contributions that the “mischief and misbehaviour” (p. 293) of art can make to understanding evaluation by way of its potential for disruption, and how that interacts in complex ways with stakeholders’ hopes for change.

Harriet Parsons also plays with “political mischief”, opening with the beginnings of utilitarian units of measurement in the nineteenth century. Her narrative then pleasingly leads the reader through controversial contemporary artist Serrano’s Piss Christ, past McCarthy’s Butt Plug2 and back to Jeremy Bentham and the “whims of moral sense”. Parson intersects art, philosophy and politics to indicate the promise of contemporary art practice to “hold cultural values up for examination” (p. 56) in her endeavour to “resolv[e] inherent flaws in the terms of the debate” on cultural value (p. 53).

Parsons concludes that “cultural values provide the concepts of communication” (p. 63) and O’Brien and Lockley’s chapter explains how the idea of “cultural value” is communicated in, and changed by, contemporary social settings. Their analysis of social media exchanges via Twitter is illustrated by data visualisations of network relationships and word usage. It contributes an informative intervention into the cultural value debate, as the authors describe the term as at “present, [an] incoherent and contradictory form” (p. 101). O’Brien and Lockley demonstrate how conceiving of the Twitter hashtag #culturalvalue as a social device illuminates the detrimental effects of the term’s popularity on its meaning and utility. Their intention is to clarify how advocacy has conflated efforts to assert value with endeavours to measure it and how this confuses, rather than elucidates, the meaning and value of culture.

Much of the book highlights how complications in working definitions aggravate practice-based issues of understanding, measuring and communicating cultural change. In spite of this, some chapters would benefit from more explicit definitions and more figures. Furthermore, limited indexing makes it difficult for the reader to locate related examples, explanations and meanings elsewhere in the book. This is particularly true in the case studies, which refer to particular models as improvements on the status quo. While the problems with prior models may be quite clearly demarcated, the authors’ examples of adaptations to these working practices are not drawn out as clearly as they could have been. This leaves the reader working harder than they should to grasp an actual measure of meaningful change in the work presented, which is a shame, given the quality of the material.

“Defining progress is a political act”, Woolcock and Davern emphatically explain (p. 129). I read their valuable account of well-being and progress with great interest, as it is particularly relevant to my own research. The authors present a useful context to what they call “creative accounts” of progress, pointing out the importance of questions such as: “Who decides what progress is?”, and “progress for whom”? The section (Re)defining progress: a democratic task explores how “control over measurements and definitions [ … ] has been seen as a key tool of political power. This is especially true of the act of defining and measuring progress” (pp. 129–130). The crux of the chapter is that community indicators are better; more democratic. Yet the chapter would benefit from a clearer account of the extent to which a community indicator is controlled by the community, or of how much community input there is in descriptions of that community. While community indicators are admittedly a complex phenomenon to describe within the limited purview of each chapter, they are unfortunately not clarified in the chapters that specifically do explore them (e.g. Chapters 2 and 12), and so the power of naming and meaning remains rather undemocratically very much in the hands of the authors.

Communities’ involvement in their indicators, together with how the kinds of data that community indicators produce actually democratise the picture of cultural production and consumption, remains unclear in the case studies. The Community Indicators Victoria project (CIV) that the authors draw on relies on “75% of existing administrative data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics or government departments” [my emphasis], and community input into approaches in “the large scale population-based surveys conducted independently by CIV or VicHealth” (p. 137) is also unexplained. Community involvement in the inclusion of the arts and culture in the CIV framework on community well-being is indistinguishable from a narrative which explains that the arts and culture were incorporated “in recognition of the importance of these activities for community identity and the role of art, film and literature for their interpretive communication on contemporary social issues” (p. 138). To return to the authors’ first question, one might justifiably wonder whose recognition, activities and identities were actually at play here.

Given that the difficulty in explaining community indicators lies in their inherent specificity, the case study could have more clearly illustrated the democratic possibilities. For example, a diagram or table outlining the CIV’s domains and indicators, including the particulars on community involvement, would have greatly improved communication of the “new directions” in democratically defining progress by way of community engagement, even if it were not possible to explain the nuances of the community indicator movement in its entirety. Other chapters also refer to the CIV (Badham, p. 197) but also neglect to list or illustrate the indicators. While both Badham’s and Woolcock and Davern’s chapters were extremely informative, they could still have more clearly expressed the concerns of their chapter through more specific examples to avoid criticisms of what Hope refers to as “performances of participatory democracy” on the penultimate page of the book (p. 295).

Hope’s chapter, based on her PhD case study in Greenwich, London, provides a valuable contribution to the collection. Its wilfully negative explanation of aspects of cultural commissioning and subsequent evaluations present a missed opportunity for an expedient editorial conclusion to one of the first books in this new series: a short reflection could have drawn together the various case studies, activist interventions and frameworks to suggest how culture can impact in new directions, despite new hurdles. A conclusion might also have helped to contextualise some of the examples and case studies (largely from 2010). Given the significant changes in these economic, cultural, political and social landscapes since 2010, to not acknowledge their impact feels a little remiss in a book on the politics of cultural measurement.

Having said that, many of the chapters offer comprehensive histories of forms of evaluation and provide innovative contributions to debates on the various roles of “the cultural” in understanding and encouraging positive social change, with an added bonus of rewarding bibliographies for further reading. The collection also presents some thought-provoking responses to many current problems with the terms of the arguments, be they economic, cultural, political or social (as much as those can be separated), in attempts to move the debate forward. As such, the book offers a précis of a moment for Cultural Policy Studies, across the book’s broad range of themes and “diverse essays” connected to the “history, theory and purposes” of cultural evaluation. I would recommend this book for cultural policy scholars and practitioners, and even activists, as well as those interested in indicators of the social and development studies more broadly.


1. The book is the second of a new series from Palgrave MacMillan called New directions in cultural policy research.
2. N.B. Butt plug was also known as Tree.
CTCoverTo cite this article: Susan Oman (2016): Making culture count: the politics of cultural measurement, Cultural Trends To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09548963.2016.1170920
Many thanks to Cultural Trends for allowing us to re-blog this review

Participation in local mining communities


Sarah Hughes shares insights from her UEP PhD research in her post, Understanding cultural participation and value in former coalmining communities in and around Barnsley

One of the aims of the Understanding Everyday Participation (UEP) project is to strive towards a more democratic understanding of participation.  We are exploring ways in which decisions about cultural investment are made, and how they relate to particular forms and contexts for governance, nationally and in relation to different local cultural eco-systems in England and Scotland.

The study I am undertaking in Barnsley contributes to the efforts being made through the UEP project to deepen understanding of the nature of cultural participation and value within particular places.  The development of cultural institutions and patterns of cultural participation amongst communities have been contingent upon many different motivations and contexts – social, economic, political, industrial, geographical and temporal – which introduce both complexity and particularity to our cultural ecologies.  An increased understanding of such complexity and particularity will improve understanding of contemporary cultural ecologies and contemporary cultural values, which in turn can inform debates around future cultural policy.

sarah banners IMG_1353I have been undertaking fieldwork within former coalmining communities in and around Barnsley, conducting oral history interviews with local people who have a connection with the mining industry. These interviews have generated narratives of participation and reflections upon the nature of cultural participation and value in these areas.  As would be expected, the narratives of participation generated through the interviews undertaken evoke a rich tapestry of diverse participation practices within the area over the years.  Vivid descriptions emerged of involvements, within the context of family and community networks, in community, union and political volunteering and activism, miners’ galas and demonstrations, local history, playing and appreciating music, gig-going, sport, gardening, allotments, photography, walking, socialising, cinema, dancing, ‘club trips’, geology, gambling, drinking, museum visiting and museum-making and theatre visiting and theatre making…the list seems endless!  Interview participants have given their time generously, welcoming the opportunity to contribute a wealth of memories, stories, experiences, observations, perspectives, ideas and viewpoints to the project, for which I have been extremely grateful. It would be impossible to cover the vast array of topics discussed here, so I will introduce just a small number of themes emerging from the interviews.

Family, friendship and community ties and support networks featured significantly and appeared to underpin a range of participation practices.  Activism in relation to concepts such as community, collectivism, equality and fairness also emerged as of significance.  One interviewee, Peter Steadman, describing his involvement with the Dearne Miners’ Welfare Scheme, emphasised how the Scheme’s aims and objectives,

about community cohesion, about looking after each other, about caring for each other,

resonated with him over the years.  Another interviewee, J.H. (Inky) Thomson, discussing his involvement with the same scheme, highlighted how, within the Miners’ Welfare Scheme,

the people with the experience help the inexperienced.

sarah 004 landscape cropped (2)Participants frequently made the connection between the dependence upon others when underground, which was characteristic of the coalmining industry and a focus on a collective approach ‘above ground’.  They described how the pit was a place of learning where experienced workers passed on skills and knowledge in relation to their work in the colliery, but also in a wider sense in relation to ideas, institutions and practices.  Furthermore they highlighted the role the National Union of Mineworkers, spoken of as ‘a collective’, has played in relation to education in coalmining communities, enabling its members to progress educationally and politically.  Raymond Williams, of course, in discussing the term ‘culture’, highlighted the significance of ‘the basic collective idea and the institutions, manners, habits of thought and intentions which proceed from this.’[1]

Interviewees described the passing on, from one generation to another, of ideas, knowledge and a sense of history, and the impact of these interactions upon their own participation and their aims for the future.  Interviewee Barrie Almond stipulated,

“Unity is Strength”, all them expressions on these banners about what our grandfathers and our fathers did in their generation, and how my dad used to say “We had to fight for every yard”, that counts for something for me.

In relation to his own active involvement in the Worsbrough Industrial and Social History Group, he added, ‘We want to educate and inform people about that.’  Another participant, Paul Darlow, said,

If you were a miner in the Dearne Valley, or Barnsley, or Dodworth, and you died in 1980 and you came back [it’d be] “Good grief, where’s the pits gone?”…But we’ve got to have that memory, because the government wants us to erase all that.

He added,

You’ve got to fight for a consciousness about what’s happened in the past, because all history is subjective isn’t it?

Interviewees described their deep connections to the natural environment linked to the geography of the industry in the area, the nature of the work underground and some of the economic realities of the industry.  Interviewee Mel Dyke recalled,

my dad used to say, Sunday morning, he’d walk further than he’d crawled underground all week if he could, and that’s when my love of walking developed.  We walked.

Neil Hardman remembered that at

the start of the strike, we’d three kids under two, so things were hard.  But we went in the countryside…we took the kids out every day.

The people I interviewed had strong ideas about what culture means to them, whilst recognising the diverse interpretations of the term.  Worsbrough Industrial and Social History Group member Ian Paisley said,

you tend to look at culture as the arts and things like that, but I look at it as a sense of belonging as well and some identification with where you live and what it’s about.

He concluded,

I look at culture and there were brass bands which were prominent, and you’d get a miners’ gala and other events and that gave you a real sense of pride in a way.  Maybe at that time you didn’t know necessarily why…It’s a feeling…of help, and self-help, we helped ourselves, but we helped one another as well.

sarah town hallWith regard to public cultural policy and funding, some of the people I interviewed felt remote from, and questioned, the decision making processes.  Julie Medlam, Theatre Manager at the Dearne Playhouse, based in the old Miners’ Welfare Hall at Goldthorpe, commented,

There’s a core group of people who make decisions on where the funding goes, there has to be, but that group of people are not a cross-section of people.

Raymond Williams wrote, over half a century ago in Culture and Society,

A good community, a living culture, will…not only make room for but actively encourage all and any who can contribute to the advance in consciousness which is the common need…Wherever we have started from, we need to listen to others who started from a different position.  We need to consider every attachment, every value, with our whole attention; for we do not know the future, we can never be certain of what may enrich it.[2]

The study I am undertaking in Barnsley responds to Williams’ call to action, and aims to contribute to the efforts being made through the UEP project to deepen understanding of the attachments and values of everyday participation.

[1] Raymond Williams, Culture and Society 1780-1950, Penguin Books, London, 1961 (first published 1958) p. 314

[2] Williams, Culture and Society, p. 320

Who Goes to Museums? (and who doesn’t?)


Lisanne Gibson explains how her Museum Studies teaching intersects with the UEP project in a video of a mini lecture of her research.
WHO goes to museums TP stats

Click here for slides

The figures tell us that museum visiting has been increasing.
According to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Taking Part statistics, 51.8% of adults attended a museum once, in the first Quarter of 2014/15, compared to 42.3% in 2005/06 (the year the Taking Part survey began).
Yet, in this same, most recent quarter, only 32% of adults said they’d visited a museum 1-2 times in the year previous. Hardly a mass audience, especially when contrasted to the 72.4% of adults who say they’d visited a heritage site in the same period.
I teach future museum practitioners from around the world in the University of Leicester School of Museum Studies courses, and as part of my teaching I believe it’s important that future practitioners are aware of the social stratified nature of the museum audience and how that affects what cultural participation looks like in the UK, and internationally.
Drawing on research from Understanding Everyday Participation I ask, what might be the challenges of having museum practice, programming, management and funding which takes account of local everyday participation?
What might such a future museum look like?
You can watch a ‘bite-sized’ version of my lecture ‘Who Goes to Museums? (and who doesn’t)’ delivered as part of our 2015/16 Open Day.

You can see other UEP team members talking about their research on the everyday at the forthcoming Museum Studies at Leicester 50th Anniversary Conference

Breaking the Temple of the Culture – Well-being Relationship


Susan Oman gave her first keynote at Tate Liverpool last week. Below are some sections of the presentation and some thoughts on the plenary panel.

Culture is frequently described in terms of its relationship to well-being. Often, the implication being, that culture is only as GOOD as the quality of its attachment to well-being. Well-being is the patriarch, the most powerful and the one to do the serious work of policy, while culture is there to make us feel pretty. While playing with the ways in which the culture – well-being relationship is represented, the serious work of my provocation is to ask for a rethinking of this portrayal in order to move forward. To break not only the Temples of Culture, to cite the name of this event, but what seem to be sacred depictions of culture, as relative to well-being, in policy.

Susan Oman cuture wellbeing relationshipI was asked to give my first keynote on Friday – a provocation to inspire the plenary session for an Arts Health and Well-being Symposium at Tate Liverpool. The event, Breaking into the Temples of Culture: Exploring Arts, Health and Well-being Initiatives in the Community was organised by the Institute for Public Policy and Professional Practice, a cross-disciplinary research and knowledge exchange initiative.

I’ve copied the abstract below:

The UK government is one of many looking to decipher and track national well-being as an alternative measure of progress. The connection of cultural life to ‘progress’, and ‘cultural participation’ to individual, community and national well-being has been reasoned since Aristotle and Plato. More recently the UK’s ministry of culture invested £1.8million in an evidence programme that aimed to substantiate this and other associations to prove the value of culture. Yet despite the long theoretical history and recent financial investment in the ‘culture – well-being’ relationship, ‘culture’ was absent from the UK’s well-being measures for their first two years.

This presentation explores the assumed relationship between ‘culture’ and ‘well-being’ by tracking the two concepts through recent cultural policy.  It presents particular ‘moments’ in recent history that highlight how the relationship is misunderstood and misrepresented. It will aim to demonstrate that this is indicative of wider problems regarding conceptions and articulations of participation in cultural policy, and well-being in wider policy at present.

The other speakers’ abstracts and bios can be found here.

Nick Ewbank of NEA, Folkestone and Adele Spiers, of SOLA ARTS, Liverpool accompanied me on the plenary panel. Adele’s first reflection was that culture was somehow always seen as positive, and that culture meant very different things to those who use SOLA ARTS, where she works as lead artist and art therapist. This led to a broader discussion on the ways in which culture is both personal and social and led Adele to question the necessity of labels on culture.

Problematising culture’s labels, and the assumptions about what well-being might mean in different cultural contexts, is key to the work I am doing – and to the broader UEP project, of course. That only some activities count as culture in governance terms presents imbalanced cultural policy that reproduces social inequalities. This is aggravated by some aspects of the well-being agenda, which coerce us to think that participating in particular activities is beneficial to well-being. We are pushed into a state where we are both trying to maximise our well-being and hoping to be deserving of well-being; and this is something I have found in my fieldwork time and time again.

The ways that well-being is used as a political tool to change people’s behaviours and practices can actually have a negative effect on how people feel about themselves. This was echoed by someone in the audience at the Tate, who questioned why she no longer felt that it was seen as OK that she didn’t feel great all the time. My findings show that this is increasingly the case; that people feel responsible for not demonstrating well-being in their day-to-day lives, and that they feel shame as a consequence. This is contrary to policy expectations, as the increasing awareness of mental health issues and the political importance of well-being should be reducing, rather than exasperating this problem.

Some of the best culture comes from being unhappy, suggested one respondent, and this moved into a discussion point on the importance of sub-cultural forms to well-being, with punk being at the forefront of the conversation. These cultural forms tend to subvert the norms of cultural representation (at least in their early days) and contend that you actually don’t have to appear like you are thriving all the time to others. Political voice and expression is prominent in much of the well-being literature, and so spaces where you are able to express that you are unhappy with the system, or reject dominant systems, is a key aspect of well-being that is often overlooked.

Nick picked up on how my presentation centred on an idea of well-being that had been institutionalised. He posited that well-being should be thought of as disruptive – in a good way. This has left me thinking about Dave Beer’s Punk Sociology, which uses a punk ethos to inspire sociology and to cultivate a vibrant future for the discipline. I wondered whether both cultural policy and well-being disciplines could benefit from such an approach in order to address their indulgent, self-congratulatory elements which are wrapped up in their own sense of self importance. I would argue these characteristics limit the capacity for change that these disciplines can effect in their current forms.

The institutionalisation of well-being and culture has led to a stereotypical idea of what their relationship is and can be. The conversations at Tate Liverpool last Friday showed that across the diversity of professions using a form of culture in some way to effect an idea of well-being, there are a broad range of practices and interpretations of cultural policy for social good. While this is not a wholly new conversation, the day highlighted – for me – the need to continue to converse across boundaries of place, discipline and practice, and to continue to work with and not against different approaches. Only then can we break down the temples of culture to think about what positive social change might be, and culture’s various roles in that.

© Tate photography

© Tate photography

Today, I propose that as with any stereotype of marriage, the culture-well-being relationship is often an unrealistic portrayal. That if culture is seen as the subservient spouse, then it often has greater responsibility to the relationship than assumed from the outside, much as the stereotypical wife of any powerful man. Conventional representations also tend to ignore how internal dynamics change as the relationship evolves over its life course, as it has to addresses problems and stressors outside the relationship. Well-being’s importance as a policy tool is based on how it is presented as an alternative measure of progress, and I am interested in well-being’s progression as a policy tool; and how, perhaps culture is less about mopping up behind well-being, and instead clearing the way for this to well-being’s advancement.


Conference: Call for Papers




UEParticipation conference copy WhiThis conference forms part of Understanding Everyday Participation – Articulating Cultural Values, a five-year research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Creative Scotland. The UEP project is exploring the dynamics of, and stakes attached to, informal and ‘unofficial’ participation practices, with a particular emphasis on the relationship between participation and place, and on mixed methods approaches to representing and understanding cultural participation.

Conference Rationale

Whilst the symbols and practices of cultural consumption occupy a central position in core debates within the humanities and social sciences, much cultural participation research tends to consider methods as mere tools for data analysis. Yet as the recent emphasis on the ‘social life’ of methods in fields such as Science and Technology Studies and the anthropology of expertise makes clear, methods should be seen loaded devices, which are both rendered by and shaping of the social world. In research on cultural participation, the domination of the sample survey, using traditional categories of cultural engagement and employing standard statistical analysis to examine the relationships between them, has reflected and reinforced a particular way of understanding participation; one that tends to hide as much as it reveals. This is not to say that survey research no longer has anything to contribute but that other methods need to be brought into play, partly to help unpack the findings of standard approaches, but also to provide entirely different ways of ‘seeing’ participation. Crucially, this includes routes into understanding the forms, dynamics and consequences of participation that are placed outside or lie beyond the reach of traditional methods.

The call for ‘mixed methods’ approaches has become a customary trope within the social sciences behind which there are differing views as to what this might mean in practice for doing participation research. Pierre Bourdieu was one of the first in the field to recognise the importance of mixed methods strategies. His methodological toolkit ranges from the use of interviews and photographs from the anthropological tradition to statistical methods from geometric data analysis. But at the same time, Bourdieu and his followers also make strong claims against certain analytical alternatives. To expand the reach of cultural participation research, several new models have been proposed. For example, Michelle Lamont’s concept of national repertoires deals with theoretical and methodological challenges for cross-national comparative research on boundaries and Nick Crossley’s relational sociology highlights the limitations of Bourdieusian approach for the understating of networks of relationships embedded on social worlds. These frameworks, directly or indirectly, call for the refreshing of methodological paradigms. From an empirical perspective, thanks to the increasing availability of survey data and the use of sophisticated methods, research has been able to provide more refined answers to more specific hypotheses. While multilevel regression models and GIS approaches allow an understanding of the impact of place on participation, social networks analysis illustrates how complex relationships among individuals can be, and classification techniques, such as cluster and latent class analysis, provide evidence about the shapes patterns of participation take. Alongside a vast number of techniques from different traditions, increasing online participation demands that we expand research to encompass virtual social networks, making big data and associated methods important analytical tools of for understanding participation.

Conference Aims

The purpose of this conference is therefore to re-visit the central issue of method in cultural participation research. We plan to address this from the two, overlapping, perspectives of conceptually- and empirically-driven work calling, on the one hand, for papers which showcase research focused on understanding participation from different methodological perspectives (methods in practice), and on the other hand, contributions highlighting the importance of the study of methods for understanding participation (methodological rationales).

We invite contributions from a broad array of non-exclusive themes and questions within research on participation and methods, including:

1.     How to conceive of participation methodologically? 

2.     What to measure about participation and why? 

3.     How to approach ‘non-participation’?

4.     Capturing the times and timing of participation – time use, biography, history.

5.     Understanding the scales and mobilities of participation – the role of space and place, from nations to localities and across boundaries

6.     Tackling (not so) new dimensions of participation: social networks, technologies, big data and social media.

7.     How and why to mix methods for participation research?

Such topics should be of interest to academics working in disciplines such as Sociology, Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Consumption, Social and Cultural History, the Arts, Leisure, and Sports. We also welcome contributions from practitioners, policymakers and other professionals in the fields of cultural participation and social research methods. We particularly encourage applications from those conducting interdisciplinary studies.

Invited keynote speakers include:

·     Philippe Coulangeon (Sciences Po, France).

·     Nick Crossley (University of Manchester, UK).

·     Tally Katz-Gerro (University of Haifa, Israel).

·     Terhi-Anna Wilska (University of Jyväskylä, Finland).

In addition to keynote speakers, guest speakers and session leaders include: Predrag Cveticanin (TIMS, Serbia), Laurie Hanquinet (University of York, UK), Semi Purhonen (University of Tampere, Finland) and Understanding Everyday Participation team members.

Please submit a 300-word abstract of your proposed presentation as a Word document (.doc, .docx) by e-mail to: uep-admin@manchester.ac.uk by January 31, 2016.

Proposals should include the title of your talk and indicate which of the seven conference themes it addresses. Please include in your Email your full affiliation and contact details, together with those of any co-authors.

Key dates:

Deadline for abstract submission: January 31, 2016.

Notification of acceptance of abstracts: February 22, 2016.

Deadline for delegates’ registration: May 13, 2016.


Location: Friends’ Meeting House6 Mount Street, Manchester, M2 5NS

Registration fees:

Early bird fees (starting at February 22, 2016):
£75 Students and PhD researchers, £100 Full (limited places)
Standard fees (starting at March 31, 2016)
£100 Students and PhD researchers, £125 Full

Further information for delegates, registration process and travel information will be published due in course.

Conference Committee

dan wood walesAdrian Leguina (University of Manchester)

Andrew Miles (University of Manchester)

Claire Huyton (University of Manchester)

Susan Oman (University of Manchester)

We look forward to seeing you in Manchester!

Image courtesy of Dan Wood


Valuing Participation: The cultural and everyday activities of young people growing up in care


Lisanne Gibson and Delyth Edwards outline findings in the Valuing Participation Report, published 30 October 2015.

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 16.38.25This report describes research focusing on the participation of young people growing up in care. The research was carried out as part of the Understanding Everyday Participation- Articulating Cultural Values project. In this work we wanted to understand the ways in which the ‘facilitated’ and ‘everyday’ activities of young people are valued by them, their immediate carers, and the representatives of the corporate parent.

The findings of this research are important in revealing some of the opportunities and barriers to the participation of young people in care in a broad range of cultural and leisure participation. We found that different types of participation are valued differently by carers, representatives of corporate parents*, and young people in care themselves. Following this we found that the ‘everyday participation’ and preferences of young people in care are often overlooked. And yet our findings suggest that where facilitation is embedded and related to the everyday interests and activities of the young person there is an increased likelihood of engagement and participation leading to the established benefits of participation for wellbeing and personal development.

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 16.40.23Findings from this research support arguments made in existing research and policy that participation in social, cultural and leisure activities can improve the wellbeing of children and young people growing up in care (Gilligan 1999; Säfvenbom and Samdahl 2000; Fong et al 2006; Gilligan 2007; Care Matters 2007, Hollingworth 2012; Murray 2013 and Quarmby 2014). Participation can have a number of meaningful and important personal and social values. From our research to date a picture is emerging that suggests that this might especially be so in relation to participation in cultural, rather than other kinds of leisure activities, due to the nature of cultural engagement and the opportunities it provides for the construction and reconstruction of life stories.

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 16.32.09This report (click right) is intended to be useful to professionals working in social and health services, cultural practitioners, charities and the education sector, along with families, carers and foster carers.

By presenting these findings it is our aim to invite and initiate further research, to stimulate debate, and to effect the provision of culture and leisure services to young people in care.

By Lisanne Gibson and Delyth Edwards

October 2015

* A Corporate Parent is an organisation or person, such as social services and social workers, who has special responsibilities to safeguard and promote the life chances of children being looked after.

Corresponding Researcher and Author: Dr Lisanne Gibson, lg80@le.ac.uk

Why cultural policy matters in the devolution debate

Abi Gilmore looks at why policy-making for the arts and culture is an important area when considering the implementation and impact of DevoManc, where Greater Manchester will be taking control of transport, housing and skills budgets as well as health and social care under the devolution deals. This post was first published on Manchester Policy Blogs, and the original can be found here. Please also see the bottom of this post for details on the half day conference: The Art of Devolution: Culture and the North, 14 June 2016.


Justfest, University of Manchester Social Responsibility team

Justfest, University of Manchester Social Responsibility team

Cultural policy is often an afterthought, frequently side-lined by other policy debates on health, housing and crime reduction. When decision-making for the arts makes the news, it is usually in relation to some perceived injustice, which either falls outside of prevailing norms of what art and culture is valuable (e.g. consternations over the national follies of Lottery funding for the Millennium Dome) or fares poorly in comparisons with other policy areas which assume greater social need (e.g. funding for public art in hospitals compared with hospital beds).

At a local level, cultural policy is similarly misunderstood, and at present devolution plans for Manchester culture are under developed but I’d argue that its relevance to the devolution agenda cannot be emphasised enough. Local cultural policy has traditionally been the mandate of local authorities which, through arts, culture, leisure, tourism, sports and heritage directorates, have supported local cultural infrastructure in partnership with a range of national funding bodies, such as Arts Council England, the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the DCMS,  as well as other charitable trusts and foundations. The arts are rarely publicly funded solely for intrinsic value, however, and the case for investment in the arts and culture is increasingly tied to extrinsic benefits. Debates over this so-called ‘instrumental’ policy making are relevant to the newly-devolved and decentralised mandates over health and social care and criminal justice, as well as Northern Powerhouse initiatives to pump-prime regeneration and economic development.

Tough competition

We are seeing irrevocable change in the role of local authorities in cultural management. As non-statutory areas of local authority responsibility (bar libraries at unitary level), the funding for visual and performing arts, museums and heritage is in tough competition with other services, and in pursuit of outcomes which serve these other policy agendas. Some of the newly devolved mandates for local authorities will see increased utility of the arts for social change, for example, participatory arts within dementia care or in other areas of responsibility such as criminal justice. In an already complex environment, the rationale and infrastructure for cultural commissioning needs further investigation, building on the body of research and evidence that is already being developed to make the case and to monitor and evaluate outcomes.

As local authorities become more enablers than funders, artists and organisations will be asked to play increasingly independent roles as mediators, entrepreneurs, strategists and advocates of the ways in which they can contribute to local place-making. In the face of austerity, public funding for the arts is politically difficult to defend, and as some have predicted, continuing funding cuts diminish local capacity to maintain cultural institutions and collections for their own intrinsic value in the face of rising social care budgets. As recent decisions by Lancashire County Council suggest, there is a danger of losing distinctive parts of Northern cultural heritage forever.

First Street, Manchester, the site of Home, 2012, A.Gilmore

First Street, Manchester, the site of Home, 2012, A.Gilmore

Northern Powerhouse

By contrast, there is significant forthcoming central investment into new local arts infrastructure in the North under the brand ‘Northern Powerhouse’, with the aim of stimulating regional cultural economy. In Manchester the Factory is a planned £110million performance space granted £78m of central government investment plus a further £9m towards annual revenue costs. It will be sited at the heart of a massive new development zone, St Johns, mixing residential use and culture into Manchester’s legal and financial services district.

On announcement of this new home for Manchester International Festival, groans were audible across the regional arts sector, and concerns raised about the potential impact on audiences and on other revenue funding for the rest of the still largely publicly-funded performing arts sector. It is unclear whether the ‘positive externalities’ of a new production house for arts and creative industries will reach the parts of the city-region which have no access, or interest, in a Rem Koolhaas building in the city centre.

As our research on Understanding Everyday Participation is showing, culture is more than access to cutting edge production spaces within formal institutions. Cultural participation offers connections to others through everyday experiences and meanings. Many of these forms of participation – in church groups and parks, schools and colleges, amateur theatre and dance groups, and local community centres – are also affected by funding cuts, yet it is unclear how devolution will increase these resources.

However, the tantalising prospect of unique production facilities and the challenges of coordinating and up-scaling skills and opportunities for local arts and creative practitioners may yet cement Manchester’s position as a flagship of regional arts-led, place-based cultural policy. It is already politically significant in the airspace it has given the city for relationships with central government.

Regional inequalities and devolution

This echoes recent soul-searching within central policy bodies, after criticism from a Select Committee review of Arts Council England and an independent consultants’ report, Rebalancing our Cultural Capital, which demonstrated how heavily weighted arts funding is towards London.  A further Select Committee is currently taking place looking at disparities in broader cultural terms. National policy is attempting to reconfigure arts funding and end regional and spatial inequalities, as re-iterated in the DCMS White Paper on Culture, and new devolution arrangements may be one way to address this. The latest budget spread this Treasury largesse further across the region, with a Shakespeare North project promised to Merseyside, a competition to host the Great Exhibition of the North, and funds committed to Hull’s UK City of Culture year, however there remain questions about how funding can be allocated more equitably when the Chancellor’s pockets are not bottomless.

Whatever forms arts and cultural policy takes under devolution, two things are certain: firstly, that the arts are being perceived as a means to an end, with continued rhetoric of ‘returns’ on investment, and secondly the need to work through new and existing partnerships. In Greater Manchester, there has been a longstanding partnership working across the combined authorities, with the national funding bodies and with local arts and cultural sector, led by a Joint Director of Culture (itself a partnership between the city, its university and its cultural assets).

Manchester makes a great show of its commitment to the arts, but for the artists and cultural organisations of the city to deliver on important instrumental agendas such as those being made for health and social care, new relationships and infrastructure will be needed.

So as the story of DevoManc unfolds, it will be important to continue to research how  decisions and choices are made, to truly understand its effects on the arts and the cultural policies of the North.

The Faculty of Humanities and School of Arts, Languages and Cultures at The University of Manchester are hosting a half-day conference, The Art of Devolution: Culture and the North. The conference will provide a space for civic, cultural and academic partners across the North to consider plans and ambitions for arts and culture in times of changing governance, funding and accountability. It will also launch a series of research, policy and practice exchange workshops hosted by the University on the theme of cultural policy and devolution in the North.

The conference will take place on Tuesday, 14 June 2016 at the Old Granada Studios in Manchester. For further information and registration please visit The Art of Devolution Eventbrite page.

To register an interest in hearing more about the workshops please email Claire Lloyd.

UEP at the Global Contemporary conference

For more information and abstract from these papers, please click here.
For more information and abstract from these papers, please click here.

Culture, Participation and Social Values

Members of the UEP research team will be presenting at Museums in the Global Contemporary: Debating the Museum of Now, The School of Museum Studies, Leicester’s 50th anniversary conference. Abstracts from these papers have been copied below, but are also available on the conference site, here.

museums conf 3

Culture, Participation and Social Values

Andrew Miles, Abigail Gilmore and Adrian Leguina Ruzzi, University of Manchester, Lisanne Gibson and Delyth Edwards, University of Leicester, Mark Taylor, University of SheffieldEleonora Belfiore,  University of Warwick

Brief introduction to the UEP projectAndrew Miles
This 5 year (2012-2017) Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project proposes a radical re-evaluation of the relationship between participation and cultural value. We are used to thinking about the benefits of the arts and heritage as a traditional way of understanding culture and its value but what about the meanings and stakes people attach to their ‘everyday’ hobbies and pastimes? The UEP research brings together evidence from in-depth historical analyses, the re-use of existing quantitative data and new qualitative research to reveal the detail, dynamics and significance of ‘everyday participation’. Our aim is to generate new understandings of community formation and capacity through participation, which we will develop through collaborations with partners and participant groups to evolve better practice for policy makers and cultural organisations. Our approach promises new ways of capturing the contexts and processes of cultural valuation including the ways in which creative economies are underpinned by local practices and community identities.

Telling stories of participation: times, tastes, territories, Andrew Miles 
Alongside Putnam’s (1995) work on social capital, consideration of the ‘stakes’ attached to participation is most clearly associated with the debate around Bourdieu’s (1986) concept of cultural capital and the role this plays, alongside the possession or otherwise of other assets and resources, in processes of domination and social closure. Here the cultural omnivore thesis (Peterson and Kern 1996) vies with the concept of ‘emerging’ cultural capital (Prieur and Savage 2013). Yet the preferred method of understanding variation in practices in the cultural field – the analysis of cross-sectional survey data on tastes and activities – reveals nothing of the value or dynamics of participation in different activities at the individual level, nor for groups. In this paper I explore the potential of ‘participation narratives’ and life histories from longitudinal in-depth interviews for understanding the formation, negotiation, presentation and relationality of cultural tastes and identities. These interviews are taken from the first three case studies (in Manchester/Salford, Aberdeen and Gateshead) of the ‘Understanding Everyday Participation’ project, within which they mobilized as a core component of a geographically focused ‘mixed-methods’ approach to re-appraising questions of ‘cultural value’. The resulting accounts foreground the multiplicity of participation practices and their embeddedness in social life (Warde 2007). Yet they also articulate the complex ways in which everyday lifestyles are marked out relationally in time and space through the interplay of age, gender, class, mobility and belonging. Participation narratives can thus be presented to policy as a method which complements and informs recent appreciation of the need for longitudinal perspectives on cultural engagement. At the same time, they are a reminder of the continuing vitality of a tradition in social research which, in the age of ‘big data’, seeks to distil issues of process and meaning in cultural research (Savage and Burrows 2007).

Facilitated Participation and Everyday Participation: Enabling the Agency of young people in care, Lisanne Gibson and Delyth Edwards
Since the mid-nineteenth century cultural practice and its management has been attached to a discourse that constructs participation, in particular kinds of cultural activity, as beneficial to individuals on the basis that these beneficial effects have resonance beyond the cultural sphere. More recently ‘leading edge’ cultural practice and programmes have been based on the notion that benefit from such participation occurs via the facilitation of the active agency of participants; that is the making of their own meanings through co-curation and co-creation. Enlistment and involvement in, what we have termed ‘facilitated participation’, is, in Nikolas Rose’s terms, a tool typical of ‘advanced liberalism’ whereby the governance of individuals operates on the basis of the governance of their ‘freedom’, through making them self-governing subjects (Rose, 1993 and 1999). We have found that for children and young people living in care the facilitation of their agency through cultural programmes is limited by an assumption that such groups’ everyday cultural choices lack value. Through a discussion of research undertaken with young people in care which sought to understand the ways in which they valued their everyday participation in relation to the facilitated participation activities in which they took part, this paper will explore how these different domains of participation are understood by both the facilitators and the facilitated. The article will conclude with a discussion of how this understanding could contribute to the development of cultural practice which reveals, recognises and, perhaps, interrogates and challenges, the relations that inform participant’s autonomy or agency, as well as the relations that inform the roles of the facilitators themselves.

museums conf 2

Fields of participation and lifestyle in the UK: Challenges and opportunities for quantitative research in cultural participation, Adrian Leguina
Despite growing relevance for humanities and social sciences, much cultural participation research tends to consider research methods as mere tools for data analysis. Moreover, as the recent emphasis on the ‘social life’ of methods makes clear, methods should be seen loaded devices, which are both rendered by and shaping of the social world. The theoretical framework adopted by UEP, inspired from a range of perspectives, calls for update methodological paradigms. The main objective of this talk is to Illustrate the way how relevant operationalisations and statistical methods help to unpack the findings from surveys and other data collection strategies, while providing entirely different ways of ‘seeing’ participation. More specifically, we review some of the different quantitative methodological perspectives adopted by the UEP project, highlighting the importance of the study of methods for understanding participation. Although methods differ in nature, they are complementary and in most cases help to endure data limitations.

The Park, the Museum and the Commons:  vernacular spaces and social infrastructure for everyday participation, Abigail Gilmore
This paper will look at the spaces for everyday participation and consider their relationships to local cultural policy, community ownership and cultural value. It will focus on two particular spaces for participation – the park and the museum – and consider them comparatively to see how these spaces are understood and valued by local communities.  The park and the museum are chosen as focal points because of their parallel and intertwined local histories, as nineteenth century local cultural strategies for public health, regulation and education in newly industrialised Manchester and Salford, in response to moral anxieties and changing conditions of everyday life. Both can be considered as ‘assets’ for the performance of everyday participation. For example research on public parks for health and recreation positions parks as spaces for common ground, tolerance and distinction, where different communities can meet, become visible, perform shared and distinct cultural identities around ethnicity (Low et al,2005). In contrast museums studies literature positions museums spaces as places of bodily regulation and control where visitors are expected to conform to particular visiting and viewing practices (Rees Leahy, 2013). This article draws on participatory research with the Manchester Jewish Museum and Cheetham Park, Manchester to consider the contemporary practices of governance and policy, in relation to parks and museums, as their status as common ground is under question, in the context of public sector cuts and the quest for new funding and management models.

museums conf 1

Nonparticipation or different styles of participation? Alternative interpretations from Taking Part, Mark Taylor
Since the Taking Part Survey began collecting data in England in 2005/06, it has become the dominant source of information on participation in a wide range of domains, and its relationship with social stratification. Existing work that investigates domains of “formal” culture constructs narratives of often large groups of “nonparticipants” in a way that supports a deficit model framework. The Understanding Everyday Participation: Articulating Cultural Values project aims to extend this interpretation of participation, since not only is formal culture clearly not the norm, but there is a large amount of variation in how people spend their time in what might be called “everyday” activities [Miles and Sullivan, 2012]. The scope of the survey allows analysis of formal culture to be combined with analysis of other everyday activities; this allows us to identify whether omnivores within domains are also omnivorous across domains, and the extent to which alleged nonparticipants are genuinely so. Using five waves of Taking Part data, I use hierarchical cluster analysis on 90 variables to identify relationships between variable, and use kmeans cluster analysis to identify distinct patterns of participation in a wide range of activities. The analysis suggests, consistent with other work, that while about 8.7% of the English population is highly engaged with state-sanctioned forms of culture, and that this fraction is particularly well-off, well-educated and white, over half the population has fairly low levels of engagement with state-sanctioned culture but is nonetheless busy with everyday activities, such as pubs, shopping, darts, and gardening. Only about 11% of the population is detached from mainstream pastimes and social events. The results raise questions about policies surrounding participation: current policies aimed at increasing participation in state-sanctioned activities are likely to target those with already busy cultural lives, just not cultural in the way the state anticipates.

Cultural policy research in the real world: Curating “impact”, facilitating “enlightenment”, Eleonora Belfiore
The very identity of cultural policy studies as a distinctive field of academic pursuit rests on a well-established and widely accepted tension between ‘proper research’ and policy advocacy, which has often resulted in resistance to the idea that robust, critical research can – or even should – be ‘useful’ and have impact on policy discourse. This paper tries to navigate a third route, which sees policy relevance and influence as a legitimate goal of critical research, without accepting the pressures and restrictions of arts advocacy and lobbying. This is accomplished by exploring in detail the journey ‘into the real world’ of preliminary quantitative data produced by the UEP project in the context of its development of a segmentation exercise based on Taking Part data. The exercise used cluster analysis to identify profiles of cultural participation, with the most two engaged groups accounting for 15% of the broader British population. The single most engaged group corresponded to the wealthiest, better educated and least ethnically diverse 8% of the population. This data fed into the consultation and evidence gathering process of the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value. The data was eventually cited in its final report Enriching Britain and was subsequently cited by key figures in the cultural and policy sectors. The paper looks at the trajectory that ‘the 8%’ statistic has travelled, charting its increasing prominence in English cultural policy debates and argues that, despite the impossibility for researchers to exert control over the use and misuse of their data, policy influence is nonetheless a realistic objective if understood in terms of ‘conceptual influence’.

Please visit the Museums in the Global Contemporary: Debating the Museum of Now pages to find out more about the rest of the event