Distant Voices: Coming Home

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Social & Political Sciences


Distant Voices responds to pressing public policy and political challenges created by huge rises in the numbers of people subject to penal sanctions and by high levels of reoffending. Turning conventional understandings of 'offender rehabilitation' on their head, the project is concerned not with 'correcting offenders' but rather with exploring and changing how they are received when 'coming home' after punishment.

The project aims:

(1) to improve academic and public understandings of social re/integration after punishment;
(2) to develop innovative practices to better support re/integration; and
(3) to better engage a range of citizens, communities and civil society institutions in re/integration.

As a collaborative action research project drawing on criminology, popular music, politics and other disciplines, Distant Voices combines creative practices (principally songwriting and sharing), research and knowledge exchange to enable dialogue and learning about re/integration -- and to practice and support it. Its participatory methods draw together a wide range of differently situated citizens, organisations and associations to form a 'community of enquiry' and of creative practice. This range of participants will work across three inter-related activities. (1) In 'co-creative inquiry', participants will work with one another and with professional musicians to write songs that explore, represent and reflect on re/integration. (2) In 'co-creative dialogue' these songs will be shared through the production and release of a high-profile album, a related tour and a series of public events, including two festivals. A series of podcasts will also be produced and shared via an interactive website. (3) In 'co-creative discovery', a core group of the wider community of enquiry will work with the investigators to use collaborative participant observation and to develop and employ a range of other social science and arts-based research methods to explore their learning and to assess what has (and has not) been achieved in and through the project.

Through these activities, Distant Voices aspires to develop theories and concepts of reintegration and rehabilitation, to influence related behaviours, to inform interventions and, more broadly, to encourage the development of a fairer and more vibrant society.

Planned Impact

Distant Voices is a partnership between the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research and Vox Liminis. It has the financial and in-kind support of the Scottish Prison Service and the Glasgow Community Justice Authority, as well as the in-principle support of the Scottish Government's Community Justice Division (see attached letters of support). A related funding proposal is currently being assessed by Creative Scotland. Over the last two years, DV has run two successful pilot phases that inform this ambitious proposal (to hear some of the results, see: https://voxliminis.bandcamp.com/album/distant-voices-silent-seconds-ep). Over its three-year life, the project will offer a model of engaged social science that creatively combines research, knowledge exchange and creative practice development. The co-investigators have extensive relevant experience and capabilities (McNeill was a recipient of an ESRC Award for Outstanding Impact in Public Policy in 2014 for a predecessor project).

In relation to practice impact, DV will enhance understanding of the role and effectiveness of creative practices in criminal justice and generate significant learning about community engagement in re/integration. In policy impact terms, this will have relevance not just in criminal justice but also in other policy areas where integration and inclusion are also key priorities. Perhaps more importantly, the project's academic and artistic outputs and extensive programme of public engagement create the potential for considerable social and cultural impact, influencing public attitudes and informing public debate. To use a meteorological metaphor, rather than developing technologies for managing the adverse conditions that affect re/integration, Distant Voices seeks to find means of changing the climate in which it takes place.

The project's beneficiaries and contributors include people with lived experience of crime, punishment and reintegration (both victims and offenders) and their families; criminal justice policymakers, managers and practitioners (in prisons and in the community); artists; and civil society groups (e.g. local grass-roots community groups, faith communities, businesses, the media). All of these groups will be represented in the community of enquiry we seek to develop and support throughout the project activities. The representative research core group will established in the project's first quarter, participating in the first research workshop in month 3 (and then quarterly). As such they are both contributors to and beneficiaries of the project.

In terms of processes and mechanisms, we aim to secure practice, policy and cultural and social impact through development and exchange of different forms of knowledge and skills, opening up spaces for transformative inter-personal, professional, social and political dialogue. In using music as both a means of and a catalyst for communication, and through building a community of enquiry for collaborative action research, the project will break down disciplinary borders, allowing a richer understanding of public participation in one of the most contested areas of political life. Through these processes, we will increase the motivation of citizens and civil society institutions, and of professionals and organisations to engage with re/integration and build capacities and opportunities for re/integration. We also aim to learn about how creative practice-as-research-as knowledge exchange can inform the 'impact agenda' and conceptions of 'public social science'.

Details of forms of and pathways to impact with (1) individuals and group; (2) systems, institutions and communities; and (3) society are included in the Pathways to Impact document.


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