Disobedient Buildings

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Sch of Anthropology & Museum Ethnography

Abstract

Against the backdrop of the rise in health and safety incidents in decaying and retrofitted high-rise buildings worldwide, this project explores how the inhabitants of aging tower blocks are striving to create safe and comfortable homes. The project examines how ordinary citizens, conceptualise and confront macro-level concepts such as welfare, health and wellbeing on the ground within the context of widening inequalities and insecurities that seem to characterise contemporary urban life. Our main outcomes will be a participatory exhibition held at a major museum in London, an edited book/exhibition catalogue, three academic articles, a visual methods toolkit, three documentary films to be screened in festivals worldwide, a website, and an advisory document for local governments.

We will conduct a comparative, visual ethnography of creative practices of care and maintenance inside one block of flats in three European countries: the UK, Romania and Sweden. Each fieldwork location represents a different type of European welfare state epitomised by the degree of implementation of neo-liberal reforms over the past three decades. By comparing everyday lived experiences inside housing infrastructure, we will explore the impact of the weakening of the welfare state on ordinary citizens' health and wellbeing. Our focus on cultural specific material practices of maintenance and care will also question popular understandings of architecture and infrastructure as large-scale, technology-led projects that are single-usage across cultural contexts.

Theoretically this research will synthesize recent social science literature about infrastructure that stresses the intertwining of technological and environmental issues with political aspirations and symbolism with the latest anthropological thinking about the house and home. Methodologically we will combine social science approaches based on participant observation and interviews, with arts and humanities methods such as film, photography and archival research. However, what makes our inquiry ground-breaking is the holistic research design centred around the production of a participatory exhibition, that invites research participants and museum visitors, whether lay people or professionals linked with the housing industry, to become active contributors to the study.

By making an exhibition central to our research process we will record, assess, test, and share a huge variety of concrete practices and responses of ordinary citizens to ongoing economic austerity and precarity. The project will challenge the assumption that exhibitions are primarily final products to disseminate research findings with. It will test the hypothesis that exhibitions are unique forms of knowledge production by examining the potential of these dynamic spaces to generate new thinking beyond the initial research context. We will focus on the exhibition from the start of the project in order to recruit research participants and collect and analyse data and objects, but also to enable multiple creative collaborations and cross-fertilisations with research participants, academics, museum professionals, art practitioners, urban planners and the general public that continue long after a show has finished.

Planned Impact

Our key non-academic stakeholders who will benefit from this research include:

1. Museum audiences - We will create a participatory environment that visitors are encouraged to actively engage with through physical immersion and embodied vision as well as through contributing their own stories. The success of this approach has been tested by an ethnography of visitors conducted by the PI (Daniels in press). More than 12,000 people attended her previous exhibition about Japanese homes, and because this exhibition deals with a far greater variety of issues of current importance, we estimate that it will attract a least 25,000 visitors.

2. Museum practitioners - We are currently discussing the potential hosting of our exhibition with the following museums in London; The Barbican Arts Centre, The Museum of London, and The Geffrye Museum. We have also liaised with staff at The Museum of the Romanian Peasant, the top anthropological museum in Romania, and they have expressed a firm interest in hosting the show (see letter of interest in appendix). We plan to share our original findings about successful exhibition design, based on Daniels' previous experimentation with visual techniques (Daniels 2014), with curators at these institutions. We will also interact with other museums practitioners in a workshop about participatory techniques.

3. Website users - The website aims to create international communities of people interested in housing issues. In accordance with the widespread use of visuals with short texts on popular online platforms such as Instagram or WhatsApp, we will make visual communication central to the overall design of the website. Throughout the project users will be able to contribute by uploading photographs and video clips related to the issues that our research raise.

4. Film audiences - One film will be produced and directed by each of the three researchers with the help of a visual editor. They will be screened at film festivals, and in universities and community organisations. We will also liaise with the Royal Anthropological Institute to list the three films in their catalogues and make them available through their distribution networks.

5. Building inhabitants - Our collaborative ethnography will involve photography and film workshops with the inhabitants of the buildings we study. We will invite participants to contribute not only to data and object collection but also to the conceptualization of the exhibition. We will thereby make our research processes accessible and allow for any concerns to be more easily voiced.

6. Civil society - We will partner with local arts and community engagement organisations in each site. We aim to share our data and develop and implement new approaches to community engagement through participatory exhibitions, photography and film.

7. Architects, developers and urbanist planners -Through our exhibition, a workshop and a conference we will create opportunities for knowledge exchange with other parties linked with the housing industry in order to design a range of new guiding principles for improving health, safety and wellbeing in urban block of flats based of the lived experiences of our research participants.

8. Housing policy makers- We aim for impact at the highest level by engaging with the UK Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and its equivalent in Sweden and Romania. Our evidence base will show the value of anthropological, participatory projects in contributing to the achievement of key housing targets such as the improvement of dwelling conditions and safety.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Research Packs (online version) 
Description Because of the restrictions linked with the pandemic we have designed a new research methodology consisting of packs with tools that allow participants to study their own homes at their own pace. To date, more then 100 physical packs have been circulated through the post (see physical packs method entry), but in order to recruit more participants living in blocks in the three sites and to enable anyone interested (also those who don't live in blocks of flat) to participate in the project we have also create an online pack. Since September 2021 we have been able to give participants access to two tools, online postcards and photographs, that they can use to share their experiences. More tool will be added as the project progresses. On the site research participants contributions are also shared with the general public through photo and postcards galleries. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact So far, we had 34 people sign up to take part in our online participant research packs. Interest has come from the UK, Norway, Romania, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Poland, Italy, Finland, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Austria and USA. 22 people have so far submitted photographs or online postcards (the 2 tools that are currently available) that we continue to receive and add to our growing gallery of submitted images. 
URL https://www.disobedientbuildings.com/participate
 
Title Research Packs (physical version) 
Description Because of the ongoing restrictions linked with the pandemic, the Disobedient Buildings team has designed an innovative methodology that combines empirical research at a distance with producing a participatory exhibition. We designed research packs, based on so-called 'cultural probes' (Gaver et.al. 1999), to study people's everyday lived experiences inside block of flats during lock down. Each pack consists of a set of tools; these are familiar, paper-based devices such as postcards, maps, and notebooks as well as low-tech technologies such as disposable cameras and sound recorders, that we have creatively adapted to motivate participants to respond to a series of open-ended questions and playful tasks. Packs were send to participants through the post to encourage them to become active collaborators in studying their own homes, because, similar to other ethnographic methods, the main objective is to find out what matters to the people studied. By engaging in long-term repeated exchanges of physical packs but also cards and letters through the post, while also drawing on the packs during periods when restrictions are loosened and meetings are possible, we developed a relationship of trust with participants, much like the reciprocal bonds that develops between researcher and those studied during long term fieldwork. This is especially important when studying safety inside the home which impacts on intimate aspects of people's lives, especially core relationships and feelings such as anxiety, care, and love. The tools in the packs are not only employed to gather text, sound and visuals from residents, but we also collect a range of objects and ephemera (from shopping receipts to laundry detergent). All the materials collected will form the base for designing a multi-sensory exhibition, that invites visitors (lay people and professional stakeholders) to actively engage with the displays, while using another set of tools - similar to those in the packs - to contribute stories, comments and objects. Through these creative exchanges we aim to stimulate innovative thinking about current housing issues that may result in interventions that can have a real impact on residents' future well being 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact To date, we have used the postal services to circulate 100 packs (80 x pack 1/20 x pack 2) in London (50%), Oslo (25%) and Bucharest (25%). The initial findings have been extremely positive. A range of people, many of whom might feel disconnected or disengaged, appreciated the fact that the packs gave them agency in studying their own domestic environment. Participants of all ages and backgrounds, across the three field sites, reported that, unlike digital methods but also large-scale surveys, the packs enticed them to participate because they could explore their own homes in a creative way at their own pace and in their own time. Many told us that they particularly liked the low-tech nature and the tactility of the tools which is in tune with the widely reported, current appetite for slower activities and the pursuit of home-based crafts. Others picked up on the fact that the tools are exploratory in nature, which they felt was empowering and inspiring, as it made it easier to highlight issues that they were most concerned about such as health and safety, but that many felt were not high on the political agenda. As a result some of the initial findings have been unexpected and provocative, and innovative ways of thinking about and responding to the housing crisis, and, by extension, with the current unusual situation are already emerging. 
URL https://www.disobedientbuildings.com/concept
 
Description Museum of Bucharest/ Bucharest Municipality Museum 
Organisation Museum of Bucharest
Country Romania 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Access to the practicalities of working with materials obtained from the research packs, as designed by our research team. Access to comparative data about the situation of urban built environments in other European contexts (London and Oslo).
Collaborator Contribution Access to the museum facilities for free - to organise a possible future installation/ workshop/ exhibition Access to use archival materials for free (film and photography) for our future displays
Impact Knowledge exchange about housing in three countries. Multi-disciplinary; Anthropology, Architecture, Museum studies, History.
Start Year 2020
 
Description Museum of London 
Organisation Museum of London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Daniels is in ongoing discussions with the museum of London to host a participatory exhibition at the end of the project. Contributions made to date are: -share expertise about curation of participatory exhibition and visitor studies -access to expertise about research pack method -access to comparative data about housing in London and two other European capitals
Collaborator Contribution -knowledge exchange about related research about housing in London -access to curatorial and technical input about participatory exhibition
Impact -knowledge exchange - mulit-disciplinary: museums, history, anthropology, architecture
Start Year 2020
 
Description Nazarcea Grup, Social Enterprise working with people with disabilities in Bucharest 
Organisation Nazarcea Grup
Country Romania 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Access to comparative data about social housing and benefits for disabled people in other research sites (London and Oslo). In October 2020 Nicolescu talked to the director and since then, she have been in contact with the psychologist of the enterprise who specifically asked for comparative data about the welfare system in other European contexts. I have also put one of the participants in contact with a social enterprise working in the field of agriculture and discussed various topics about the wellbeing of the participants. Access to the practicalities of working with the research packs, as designed by our research team.
Collaborator Contribution Access to data about social housing in Bucharest. Three of the people employed by them accepted to be collaborators of our project. Two of them, who live in council flats, have received physical packs and contribute already with images and info. With the third one I have conducted interviews about the difficulty of obtaining a social house/ council flat in Bucharest, even if she is a lonely mother, disabled, taking care of a disabled child
Impact Our project has received materials on and from the very limited number of social housing in Bucharest.
Start Year 2020
 
Description Van Etten Gallery, Oslo 
Organisation Van Etten Gallery
Country Norway 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution This is a collaboration between the project and a local art gallery. Andersen has been in ongoing discussions about the project with the Gallery owner. Contributions: - share comparative findings from pack research in three locations - writing of joint-application for funding to support an exhibition/event in the Gallery in November 2021.
Collaborator Contribution - share expertise and venue for dissemination findings of the project - writing of joint-funding applications to support an exhibition/event in the Gallery in November 2021.
Impact - submission of joint-funding applications -multi-disciplinary: architecture, arts, anthropology
Start Year 2020
 
Description Wellcome Trust 
Organisation Wellcome Trust
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Daniels has been in ongoing conversations about the project with Ken Arnold, Head of Research at the Wellcome. -access to expertise about the use of pack research method and health issues -share comparative findings in three urban sites about mental health in blocks during lockdown
Collaborator Contribution -knowledge about mental health in other urban environments - access to potential museum partners for future exhibition
Impact - exchange of knowledge / expertise - multidisciplinary: museums, anthropology, mental health
Start Year 2020
 
Description Remote Research During a Pandemic, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University, 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 40 International people from the general public and undergraduate and postgraduate students at Harvard University (Critical media Practice or Harvard T.H.Chan School of Public Health) participated in a workshop/event with invited respondents. The various ways people do research remotely, illustrated by examples, sparks lively discussions amongst students who themselves were facing issues in their own fieldwork and left the workshop with new ideas that would be possible when working remotely.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL http://cmp.gsas.harvard.edu/events/remote-research-during-a-pandemic-a-live-webinar-with-alen-agaron...
 
Description "Remote Research During a Pandemic" Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact On May 5, 2020, Anna Andersen was a panellist in the workshop "Remote Research During a Pandemic" organised by Alen Agaronov, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Arctic Moving Image and Film Festival, Harstad, Norway 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Anna Ulrikke Andersen, one of the Disobedient Buildings Postdoctoral Researchers was one of five panelists in the round table debate "The Space Between Us" that took place at Galleri Nordnorge in Harstad as part of the Arctic Moving Image and Film Festival. The event was open to the general public but aimed at an audience of postgraduate students and artists. Anna discussed how film making could be a useful tool to explore in-between spaces in the blocks of flats we study. This led to questions and discussions from the audience afterwards.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL http://www.amiff.no/program-2020/2020/10/17/the-window-in-architecture-and-film-christian-norberg-sc...
 
Description Block Life online event 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact On November 17, 2020, Inge Daniels was one of three invited speakers on Block Life, an online public event, that was attended by 30 people. The event was part of the Being Human Festival held from November 11 until 22.This is the UK's only national festival of the humanities it celebrates humanities research through public engagement, it is led by the School of Advanced Study at the University of London in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy.
I gave an overview of the aims and objectives of the project as well as explained the new methodology the team has developed to be able to conduct ethnographic research the pandemic. There was a lively discussion comparing housing issues in the UK and Japan with the 2 other speakers (an academic based at Sheffield University and a visual practitioner from the University of Toronto) as well as with the non-specialist audience. Participants were also invited to share photos of what it meant for them to feel at home, that were discussed by the panel, while direct links were made between the Disobedient Buildings project and their everyday lives. At least 5 people subsequently started to participate in the project using our online research packs.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL http://beinghumanfestival.org/event/being-human-cafe-block-life/
 
Description Disobedient Buildings Website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In June 2020 disobedientbuildings.com went live. Because of the restrictions linked with the pandemic, we made substantial changes to our methodology in order to be able to conduct research from afar. As a result the website (and our social media channels) have become much more central to the project. The site disseminates information about the project's aims and objectives and the team's ongoing research, but it also functions an interactive platform where members of the general public can actively contribute to the research (through online packs), and where their contributions are shared in an online gallery. Both of these latter functions will be expanded further as the project progresses.

To date, we have had over 1700 unique visits to the site, with over 5000 individual page views. The majority of these visitors have been based in the UK, Romania, Norway and Sweden where our research is being carried but we have also reached people in other European states - France, Portugal, Poland and so forth - but also globally with visitors from such diverse origins as the United States, Canada, Brazil, India, Japan, Russia, Kenya, Jordan and Colombia.

Participation of the general public via our website; so far, we have had 34 people sign up to take part in our online participant research packs. Interest has come from the UK, Norway, Romania, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Poland, Italy, Finland, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Austria and USA. 22 people have so far submitted photographs or online postcards that we continue to receive and add to our growing gallery of submitted images
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.disobedientbuildings.com
 
Description Facebook 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We currently have 240 followers on Facebook but our reach is much larger. Between January 10 and February 10 we have, for example, reached 1,161 people through this channel. 165 of these engaged with our post. Our Facebook post are part of our social media publication strategy. We post at least once a week with provocative questions about the project. Post deal with a range of issues related to the aims and objectives of the project such as team members' ongoing research, issues arising fieldwork with participants, methods used, surprising findings. We also share information about our outreach activities. This exchange has resulted in questions and discussions with a variety of audiences, as well as requests for more information about how to participate in the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.facebook.com/disobedientbuildings/
 
Description Flatpack Democracy 2021 Summit 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Inge Daniels participated in this online event on January 30, 2021. She was given the opportunity to discuss issues related to organizing participatory activities in local communities in the larger conference but also in smaller outbreak groups. Drawing on initial findings from the project, she made an impact on the debate by highlighting the difficulty in reaching those people who might be isolated or less privileged, who are often missing from discussions about local democracy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/lets-rebuild-democracy-together-flatpack-2021-summit-tickets-13360145...
 
Description Instagram 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We currently have 186 followers on Instagram. Our Instagram posts are part of our social media publication strategy; we post at least once a week to raise a provocative question related to the project. Post deal with a range of issues related to the aims and objectives of the project such as team members' ongoing research, issues arising fieldwork with participants, methods used, surprising findings. We also share information about our outreach activities. This exchange has resulted in questions and discussions with a variety of audiences, as well as requests for more information about how to participate in the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL http://instagram.com/disobedientbuildings
 
Description Interview for local radio 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Inge Daniels (PI) was interviewed on the Soho Society Hour on Soho Radio on January 28, 2021. Soho is one of my field sites in central London and through appearing on this programme, I was able to explain the aims and objectives of Disobedient Buildings this led to further discussions about local housing issues with both interviewers. The show also enabled me to more local people living in blocks of flats to come forward to participate in the project. The other speaker was a local business leader and by reaching out to him I was introduced to a number of people operating businesses in the community too.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://sohoradiolondon.com/show/the-soho-society-hour-28-01-2021
 
Description Twitter 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We currently have 64 followers on Twitter. Our Twitter posts are part of our social media publication strategy; we post at least once a week with provocative questions about the project. Post deal with a range of issues related to the aims and objectives of the project such as team members' ongoing research, issues arising fieldwork with participants, methods used, surprising findings. We also share information about our outreach activities. This exchange has resulted in questions and discussions with a variety of audiences, as well as requests for more information about how to participate in the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://twitter.com/disobedientbuil
 
Description Two Worlds Design Podcast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Andersen was interviewed for episode 9 'Experimental Film in Architecture' for the the Podcast Two Worlds Design that explores the hidden potential of Architecture by talking to extraordinary professionals in the field of design and architecture. The Disobedient Buildings project was part of the discussions and this resulted both in disseminating ideas the project explores and in stimulating further interest amongst multidisciplinary audiences.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://audioboom.com/posts/7760073-09-experimental-film-in-architecture-w-anna-ulrikke-andersen
 
Description Writing the History of Post-war Housing Seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact On September 30, 2020, Inge Daniels (PI) gave a 45 min presentation about the project followed by 1 hour of questions as part of the seminar series entitled "Writing the History of Post-war Housing Complexes and Neighborhoods. A Take on Research Strategies and Methodologies". It is organized within a double framework: (1) the Politecnico di Torino PhD program in Architectural History and (2) the European COST action called "European Middle Class Mass Housing" (https://www.cost.eu/actions/CA18137). The audience was thus made up of both PhD students and academics from various European universities. During the talk I was able to convince participants of the importance of the ethnographic method (and our pack research during the pandemic) when studying housing as well as the huge benefits of the co-production of knowledge through participatory exhibitions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://polimi365-my.sharepoint.com/personal/10276420_polimi_it/_layouts/15/onedrive.aspx?id=%2Fpers...