In Dialogue with Glasgow
I recently returned from my first visit to Glasgow, (not counting the week’s holiday a couple of years ago which saw me apply for this PhD in the first place), and it seems that this is as good a place as any to embark on musings for this blog. The three days lit the fire in my belly with the excitement at the prospect of moving there at the end of June next year to carry out fieldwork for the 2nd year of my PhD.
I spent the visit meeting a variety of people all with different perspectives of the city and different lenses to see it through (from community arts practitioners to council members), and walking around following the famous model of the ‘flaneur’ or aimless wanderer, as practiced in so many places by Walter Benjamin. This wandering took me from central to the West End, and South of the river to Govanhill, all of which felt very different to the other, and with different groups making up the local population. (Govanhill has historically been comprised of a large immigrant population; from the Irish in the early 1800s escaping famine, and with a second wave arriving in the 60s, immigration from the Indian sub-continent, Pakistan in particular, in the 60s and 70s, to the Roma population which began to grow since Slovakia and the Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004. This has resulted in a huge range of food vendors, restaurants and cafes, smells and sounds, and I definitely felt the echoes with my hometown of Bradford with its similarly mixed community.)
Govanhill Community Baths – where I met with Jim, who told me about the 13 year long struggle to regain community ownership following its closure in 2001. It has now been opened again for 2 and a half years. He showed me around this majestic (and cold!) building and talked to me about plans, projects, including a vision to eventually have community allotments in the cubicles under the huge glass roof, where people would be able to grow and eat their own food.
A mural using recycled bottle tops, cerated in collaboration with children in a local school, sits in the garden outside the baths.
I also met with a number of people whose varied modes of practice in their work provided me with several lenses through which to see activity in the city, each meeting added to the many layers of thoughts which I am beginning to attempt to navigate my way through as I move slowly towards building a research project. The Monday saw myself, Dr Lisanne Gibson (my supervisor in Leicester) and Victoria Hollows (my supervisor in Glasgow and Museum Manager for Social Engagement Practice and Research at Glasgow Museums) meeting with Mark O’Neill (Director of Policy, Research and Development at Glasgow Life), Andrew Olney (Glasgow Life Area Manager South), and representatives from the Glasgow Centre for Population and Health.
The conversations had with people over the course of my visit (I also met with Katie Bruce; curator producer at GoMA and deliverer of social justice work and Chris Jamieson; manager of the Open Museum), given my current lack of real direction, gave me the beginnings of an understanding of the wider context of the city through statistics, information about projects which had happened or were in the making. They also resulted in a sort of open dialogue in which I expressed my interests which could possibly shape my research, and each then suggested possible avenues for exploration, as well as considering together (specifically in conversation with Mark) what the relationship with Glasgow Life would mean for the life of this PhD. With Mark we also addressed how small-scale projects, be they my own research or community projects that I may be interested in working with, can tackle the issue of scale in relating work back into the wider framework of policy-making. These meetings begun the self-reflexive process of situating myself as a researcher within the context I will ultimately be exploring, as well as the context of the collaborative element of this PhD.
My thoughts in relation to this relationship with Glasgow Life are at this stage merely in seed, and given that I am not yet sure where my research will take place or what it may be exploring, I have little indication as to what extent I will want to connect myself to Glasgow Life – whether I will use their expertise, contacts and knowledge but see myself as an independent researcher within this relationship, or if I will in fact be more embedded in the work they do – become a part of a project they are responsible for, for example. This will develop as I continue to read, think, write.
Things I am certain of, however, are that I see that there are separate pockets of thought to process along the way, which will weave together to make the fabric of this research as each becomes more developed. These are:
- Context (Glasgow)
- Myself as a researcher / situationality
I intend to buy a whiteboard tomorrow and start mapping out my thoughts into a more comprehensible and visible picture.
The Hidden Gardens in the Tramway in Govanhill. Opened in 2003, its existence aims to promote understanding between the many different cultures which exist in Govanhill’s vibrant ecosystem, through events and activities.