Where we are not: the contribution of disconnection, division and exclusion to imaginative (im)mobility

Lead Research Organisation: Swansea University
Department Name: College of Human and Health Sciences


There are many reasons why people may be connected or disconnected from their communities. This may be based on preferences, or rooted in divisions and/or exclusion. Some people are content 'being' in a place without active involvement in it, because they do not share common values with others in the community or because they are immersed in communities of interest (e.g. music clubs, history societies) that are based outside their locale. Others may 'opt out' of their local places, actively seeking privacy. However, some people may be disconnected because they lack the resources to fully participate, or are otherwise excluded from participation. Additionally, some people may nostalgically yearn to be connected to another community rather than the one in which they live, because migration has distanced them from cherished communities, or because community change has separated them from a community to which they once belonged. Others have been forcibly disconnected from their community, for example prisoners, or migrants seeking asylum or refuge in the UK.
Disconnection from the neighbourhood is important because it may lead to 'anti-social' behaviours, or in the case of prisoners/detainees hamper reintegration into the community following release. On the other hand, connection through strong local bonds or sense of belonging to the community often improves quality of life and decreases loneliness.
This research considers the role of imaginative mobility (the creativity of the mind) in connecting people to imaginative communities. Imaginative communities may be based on nostalgia or have no basis in lived reality. They may be influenced by literature, art, travel writing, and religion. We will explore how arts practice can be used to transform imaginative mobilities into works of art (e.g. performance, film, pictures) and how the curation of these art forms may help us to understand our own situation, empathise with others, and contribute to social connectivity or the sense of belonging. On the other hand, we may find that individuals are unable to imagine other forms of community connection (imaginative immobility). We will document the negative or positive impacts of imaginative mobility on society and the individual.
This research proposal builds on existing research by the applicants on (dis)connection and exclusion from a range of disciplines including aesthetics, environmental philosophy, English literature, visual and performing art, history, geography, criminology, psychosocial studies, social science and gerontology. The applicants work with diverse groups, some of whom are disconnected from their neighbourhoods because of discrimination (on the basis of age, 'race' and ethnicity, disability, religion), lack material resources to fully participate because they are living in disadvantaged areas or in poverty, are physically unable to connect to communities because of physical abilities and disabling structures, or are remote from a place which they desire to be (e.g. transnational migrants, detained asylum seekers, prisoners, Gypsies and Travellers). We will work with people from these groups to co-produce our research proposal.
During the 6-month development phase we will extend invitations to new partners to join the consortium and project steering group to help shape the final version of our proposal. We will undertake some critical scoping reviews. We will hold some lively public debates with international experts about transforming imagination into action, and the artistic methods that can be used to capture place or community and address social issues. We will test the methods that we select, discuss our successes and challenges and refine our methods accordingly. We will identify the people that will want to know about our project, and develop a knowledge transfer and communication strategy.

Planned Impact

Our key community partners (Single Parent Action Network (SPAN) and the Campaign to End Loneliness) are particularly interested in the value of the project in relation to the potential to address challenges that are associated with 'disconnection' such as loneliness, family fragmentation, marginalization, discrimination and extremism. The project may provide tools for creative approaches to enable the community partners to engage with diverse communities and impact on the way that people interact, understand each other and connect within and across their communities. From Scope's perspective "exploring connection and disconnection and how imaginative mobility and immobility feed into this is very relevant to disabled people, particularly in relation to leading independent and active lives in the community." Due to staff changes at Scope they are unable to commit resources to the development phase of the project. However, the consortium have approached Esther Fox with the intention that Accentuate would have some involvement in shaping the project during the delivery phase, to ensure continued relevance to disabled people.

Other beneficiaries of the research (that will be invited to participate in the development phase) are related to the groups of participants that are likely to be involved in the research: generational and intergenerational linkages: LinkAGE, Beth Johnson Foundation; youth on the margins of offending/exclusion: IARS, RJ4All; migrants: Migrants Rights Network, Refugee Council; prisoners: Mustard Tree; Gypsies and Travellers: The Traveller Movement, Leeds GATE.

Other beneficiaries would be those who could facilitate the curation of art forms and engagement in the community level e.g. Northern Stage, Arts Council, Signdance Collective, DdeafcanDance, museums and galleries.

The beneficiaries will also be members of the wider public that may benefit from the outcomes of the research. This may be through an understanding of their own situation, empathy, increased corporeal connections impacting on quality of life, decreasing loneliness and increasing self-esteem. Particular benefits may be accrued by people who are disconnected from their community. For example, those people that live in poverty; do not possess the physical or cognitive ability to access the immediate vicinity; are discriminated against, or perceive cleavages between them and others based on age, class, disability, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, culture or identity. A concrete example may be the benefit to young people through an increased understanding of violent radicalization by examining imaginative mobility. Might young people who have become attracted to extremist organisations imagine themselves to be engaged activities that can instil change in the world, in ways in which they think are disconnected from older generations? Could bringing together different generations within a community to examine their respective imaginative mobilities contribute to intergenerational solidarity?

Other people that may benefit are those who prefer or yearn to be connected to another community rather than the one in which they dwell (e.g. within-country migrants, transnational migrants, or Gypsies and Travellers) and those that are forcibly disconnected from their community (e.g. prisoners, and some detained migrants seeking asylum or refuge in the UK).

Art practitioners are interested in how the project may contribute to reflective learning and stimulate new and innovative ways of working in the community of practice.

The research will be of interest to policy makers on a European, national (UK) and regional level, all of whom are concerned with community connectivity, especially in relation to civil unrest and social cohesion policies.


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Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The activity raised awareness of arts and research as potential methods of engaging disadvantaged and marginalized groups.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015