Disability and Community:
Dis/engagement, Dis/enfranchisement, Dis/parity and Dissent
AKA the D4D Project
D4D is an AHRC funded (2016-2020) Connected Communities programme research project exploring the evolving ways in which disabled people express, perform, experience and practice ‘community’.
The project team includes disabled and non disabled academics from a range of disciplines, disabled artists, writers and performers, and community partners (including Accentuate, Disability Arts Online, Shape and Disability Rights UK ). The leadership of the project will be shared between two universities (Exeter and Bristol) and Accentuate, a disabled-led arts organisation.
Dr Diane Carr is a Co-investigator, leading workstream 6: Playful Bodies, Technology and Community.
D4D will work with and learn from participating communities with the aim of better understanding the different ways that contexts and phenomena (e.g. play, education, medicine, new technology, digital media) influence the experiences of communities of disabled people. The project will generate opportunities for connections, solidarity, resilience and activism, and work towards an increased sense of agency and empowerment among participants, support knowledge sharing and professional development, and create new spaces for dialogue and action.
To investigate these issues the project team and partners will collectively undertake research activities organized within 6 streams of work. These streams address:
- Now You See Us – This stream will explore issues of integration and marginalization, focusing on mainstream schools, youth zones and the work-place. We will be looking at issues of participation, visibility / invisibility, resilience and resistance. The research will consider the relationships between inclusion and exclusion through ethnographic study, and investigate ways of promoting agency through creative expression.
- Catch me if you can – Participating through Play – Play, technology and inclusion – academics from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory will trial the robots and investigate how a powered mobility device called Wizzybug, developed by Designability, helps disabled children play more easily with friends.
- Electric Bodies – Members of the Disability Arts community will examine the origins, development and future of the Disability Arts community. In particular, this will involve exploring the tensions within ‘identity arts’ movements regarding issues of affiliation and community.
- Speaking from the body – Exploring embodiment through walking, craft and performance, this strand will explore how disabled and chronically ill participants form, experience and express alternative community, as well as how they manage their (dis)placement and disqualification by mainstream society. This research will also support disabled communities critically respond to clinical practice.
- Institutionalised, Homogenised, Vaporised – In this strand, arts based research will drive an investigation of past, present and future disabled communities. In particular, through the creation and exhibition of an interactive art-piece, ‘Evolution’, mainstream audiences will be asked to consider disability perspectives on such matters as eugenics and genetic screening.
- Playful Bodies, Technology and Community – In this work stream we investigate ‘science fictions’ and the relationships between technology, popular culture and the body. We will be working with players, artists and online communities, while drawing on digital game studies and critical disability studies literature. Critical perspectives on mainstream popular culture and ‘mainstream communities’ will be explored.
These six work streams will be augmented by two further streams, the first involving ethics, reflexivity and designing for increasing meaningful participation in research. The second will provide a forum for skill sharing and knowledge exchange across all streams, and work to maximize impact across and beyond the academic.
D4D outputs will include academic papers, exhibitions, short films and created craft and art objects, performance poetry and animation, an Alternate Reality Game (ARG), performances and playful, interactive art installations. These outputs will foreground the voices, knowledge and insights of the study’s participants. A link to the project website will be added here shortly.
This innovative project is delivered through a partnership between universities (Exeter University; University of Bristol; UCL; Bristol Robotics Laboratory at UWE; Manchester Metropolitan, Liverpool Hope, Brighton, Falmouth, Wolverhampton and Glasgow); and community partners, including disabled people’s organisations (Accentuate; Disability Arts Online; The Edward Lear Foundation; SHAPE; WECIL; Disability Rights UK; Designability); arts organisations )New Vic Theatre in Stoke; The Misfits); community groups and campaigning organisations.
Playful Bodies, Technology and Community
Summary of Work Stream 6 (WS6) – D. Carr
For more information and updates, see Diane’s blog, Playhouse.
Building on the D4D project themes of embodiment, play, performance and agency WS6 activities will address digital media (specifically games), social change and the body. The continuing influence of clinical perspectives on disability, the links between medical models of disability and technology – and the past, present and future implications for disability//community will be investigated. The methods employed will include audience and player studies, social media research, collaborative game design, workshops and public play.
Unit 1: We’re Watching You. Player studies and alt. perspectives on ‘mainstream communities’ and culture (Jan – Dec 2017). This work picks up on the idea of embodied knowledge production that is central to the cultural model of disability (e.g. Snyder and Mitchell), and combines it with Bennett and Woollacott’s work on reading formations in order to theorise diversity in embodied interpretation. Influenced by bell hooks’ work on talking back from the margins, as well as Tobin Siebers’ work on complex embodiment and the ideology of ability, we’ll be working with players who identify as disabled, and collaboratively exploring mainstream depictions of technology, impairment and ability in science fiction-themed digital games.
Unit 2: Public workshop: Hacked Off (March 2018) Most discussions about ‘games and disability’ continue to rely on a deficit or needs-based models of disability. The manner in which computer games continually rehearse anxieties of ‘able bodied agency’ has rarely been explored – and whatever this dependence reveals about mainstream communities has rarely been investigated. This event will be an opportunity to debate the extent to which the widespread influence of clinical and deficit models of disability within able-identified communities continues to shape the social experiences, opportunities, affiliations and well-being of people who experience disability.
Unit 3: Online communities (April – November 2018) In partnership with Disability Arts Online Carr and community partner Trish Wheaton/DAO will explore the ways that this particular online community facilitates solidarity, and build an understanding of the pleasures, perceived benefits, limitations and conditionality of online community affiliation. Drawing on the PAR approaches being developed by CI Porter, efforts will be made to involve the wider DAO community in the design of this online research. Co-constructed online community research will be theorised in the process, and these theories in turn collectively tested and debated by the participants. For instance, the question of how to make a community sufficiently ‘strange’ to itself, that insights and surprise become possible outcomes of co-produced research, will be one of the issues explored.
Unit 4: Workshop: Troubling Legacies/Fractured Futures (December 2018) CIs Fox and Carr will co-convene a public workshop to facilitate collective reflections on institutional and technological histories, the creation of disability as category, and the construction of disability within clinical practice. Building on Unit 1 and 2, as well as Fox’s work, the intent is to trouble, interrupt and problematize the relationship between disabled bodies, disabled subjectivity, and the clinical gaze (and the instantiating of that gaze, through ‘standardizing’ technologies and technology discourse).
Unit 5: Ludic methodologies and community research I and II. Feb – October 2019. Partnering with Accentuate, game designers Splash and Ripple, and academics including historian Steven Poole (Bristol U) and games scholar Helen Kennedy (U of Brighton) the team will co-create an ARG intended to support the collective exploration of significant sites and disability histories, focusing specifically on a former Bristol-based institution, The Guild of the Brave Poor Things. Games are particularly appropriate to this inquiry. They are agentic, embodied and experiential. They involve collaborative analysis (of structures, rules and strategies, for instance), hypothesis testing, obstacles and contingency. The methodological aspects of this work will be informed by games research literature and Boal’s politicised drama theory. The relationship between play and structure (games as designed structures), play as agentic, embodied and experiential; game-play as reiterative and configurative – have interesting resonances with the PAR and performance strategies being used by Porter. We’ll be looking at the ways in which this particular institution classified bodies and constructed its subjects (through, for instance, both faked testimonies and supressed letters in which children with disabilities were represented as grateful, ‘brave poor things’). The ARG will be an opportunity to collectively explore the lingering influence of discourses (pity, usefulness, bravery) on representations of disabled communities within ‘mainstream’ culture. A workshop following on from the ARG, bringing the project team together with contributors, partners and collaborators to discuss the potentials, ethics and limitations of play and games based methodologies in community research.