Dr Dawn Mannay: Challenging perceptions: reimaging the lives of marginalised communities and being seen and heard

Dr Dawn Mannay will be speaking at our 2016 autumn event #Visual16: Visual Methods Day. She is a Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences (Psychology) at Cardiff University. Her research interests include class, identity and inequality and she uses visual, creative and participatory approaches in her work with communities.

My work has always been interested in marginalised communities and the need to counter the homogenising and demonising accounts that circulate in the media sphere, and in turn inform our everyday thoughts about people, place and poverty. The research that I have been involved with has often drawn on visual and creative forms of data production to try and negotiate a more participatory relationship and enable conversations about topics that I would not, perhaps, of raised, but which are of central importance in the lives of communities. More recently, I have been concerned with how these messages are disseminated beyond the confines of academic reports and publications, in ways that have impact but are also considered in terms of ethical representation.

My recent work with colleagues in CASCADE, commissioned by the Welsh Government, on the educational experiences of children and young people who are looked after and care leavers, was published in a report, as is standard practice; but we also generated multimodal outputs. We worked with artists, musicians and filmmakers to create four short films, three music videos and three pieces of artwork that communicated the central findings of the study. It was important to provide easily accessible materials that could express the issues faced by children and young people and what they think should change. Many busy practitioners do not have time to read a long and detailed report but these materials helped to address these temporal barriers.

The creative materials also moved beyond the dense, dry, flat prose, which is common in much academic writing. In this way, they retained an affective power that could engage people emotionally with the stories of children and young people; and engender action. The creative materials did not feature images of the individuals in the study or their voices, however, the creativity of these outputs still managed to communicate traces of the young people, enable a differential form of authentic voice, and facilitate a temporary immersion in the lives of marginalised children and young people that cannot be easily forgotten.

The report and other traditional formats have been useful in disseminating the study’s findings. But the creative materials have been able to communicate a sense of responsibility, to react, to act and to find a way for what has been shared to translate into something worthwhile. In our ocularcentric culture, images form a vital part of our everyday worlds; and these images can be used to stigmatise communities and circulate stereotypical discourses of the ‘other’. However, they can also be used to create powerful stories that translate and re-represent our research findings, and contribute to informed policy and practice. There are a range of previous studies and interdisciplinary collaborations that are moving beyond the academic article, reflexively, ethically and creatively. The impact agenda has also made a number of funding opportunities available for this work, so it a great time to consider alternative forms of dissemination and get messages out to the right people, by engaging wider and more diverse viewing publics.

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