Sally Munt: Cultural Values from the Subaltern Perspective: A Phenomenology of Refugees’ Experience of British Cultural Values

This project seeks to understand the value located in a range of arts/cultural activities to refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, a group new to British cultural life who are often marginalised from ‘mainstream’ cultural activities, but who are simultaneously expected to adopt a hegemonic national identity of Britishness and henceforward espouse British cultural values. Refugees are a group who typically have experienced forced migration, oftentimes related specifically to their own – often fiercely defended – cultural activities and values in their country of origin. This migratory biography makes for a complex, rich contribution to how we think about the value of arts and culture, and cultural expression, in the UK today.

We will investigate the standpoint of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants on British cultural values, benefitting from their ‘outsider within’ perspective.

British cultural values are not unitary, nor are they precisely definable, they are shaped and refined by participation and engagement. We will seek to identify the components of cultural value embedded in a set of typically British arts and cultural pursuits, based in and around the city of Brighton.

We will break down the components to be identified using a range of methods that focus on the discrete senses, and on the particular forms of embodiment that such activities claim. We want to examine carefully what constitutes the experience of involvement in the arts and cultural sphere, so we will also be collecting information on the cognitions and emotions that are attached to such experiences.

Refugees constitute a unique case: migrants pay acute attention to the acculturation of British values. This attention can be a protective mechanism, a philosophical choice, an attempt to move away from a traumatized past or culture of origin, an imposed set of norms, or a way of making their enforced dislocation intelligible. Refugees are legally required to learn British cultural values in order to be ‘awarded’ citizenship, via the Home Office instrument, the ‘Life in the UK’ Test (which will be interrogated in group discussion). Whatever the reason, refugees have an acute sensitivity and prescient awareness of ‘what makes us British’. Yet, often their access to the cultural industries can be severely restricted, due to explicit factors such as economic barriers, and due to implicit factors such as the perceived ‘Whiteness’ of some art/cultural pursuits (eg. premier league football, and the opera – two performances that will form part of our programme).

This project will take the form of a 16 week course, called ‘What is British Culture’, offered to 14 women refugees. Through a range of arts and cultural activities, we will assess refugee’s embodied experience of participation and reflection, gathering sensory information through creative expression. In order to gather robust data, the course is quite long and demanding; however we have found in previous projects that refugee participants appreciate such commitments as they enable a strong group identity to form, which can continue informally after the planned meetings finish, providing a sustainable resource.

As researchers we have our own cultural values: our model is taken from feminist praxis. Feminist epistemologies focus on the way “in which gender does and ought to influence our conceptions of knowledge, the knowing subject, and practices of inquiry and justification” (Anderson 2004). At the core of feminist epistemology is the concept of the situated knower, who produces situated knowledge. Donna Haraway (1998) famously argued that most knowledge, in particular academic knowledge is always “produced by positioned actors working in/between all kinds of locations”. Collaborative learning, respect for social difference, creating an environment of mutual support, listening and consideration for others, these characteristics are all markers of the feminist classroom, cultural values which we hope to emulate in the process of the research.

We are now two thirds of the way through the project and have recruited 14 women from 9 different countries including Sudan, Iran, Iraq, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Palestine, Zimbabwe and Ghana. Attendance has been strong, and we have completed a range of activities including visits to Brighton Royal Pavilion, Brighton Jubilee Library, Brighton Museum, Preston Manor, a seaside walk on the seafront, yoga and meditation, and life history exercises, and are looking forward to watching England womens football team play Montenegro live at the Albion Stadium, and attending Onegin at Glyndebourne Opera House. We have completed individual interviews, focus groups, and ten class meetings. We look forward to exploring our findings.


Susan Ashley – Memorialisation as valuation: the Chattri Memorial


The Chattri Memorial and annual service, on the Downs near Brighton, dedicated to the Indian soldiers who fought on the Western Front during the First World War. Photo courtesy Bert Williams.

This research explores the continuing and changing processes of valuation at the Chattri World War I Memorial, which has stood in a remote part of the Sussex Downs since 1921. The marble domed Chattri, granite platform and surrounding gardens were constructed to honour the 53 soldiers from undivided-India who were cremated on this spot. Since that time the Chattri has been through phases of disuse, pilgrimage and ceremony. I am studying the Chattri as a spiritual place, heritage object, and space of cultural practices, complicating our ideas about what constitutes Culture and Value.

This memorial is a fascinating example of Culture framed not as ‘the arts’ or as ‘the best that has been thought and known’, nor even as an anthropological ‘whole way of life’ (Griswold, 2008), but as the symbolic, expressive and sometimes spiritual realm of human behaviour. Instigated, as with most monuments, as a political tool (Hyson & Lester, 2012), the memorial’s impact lies in its extraordinary affective presence. Physically located high on a wind-swept down, with an ‘exotic’ architectural style, and possessing a unique minority ethnic history, the site has been animated each year since 1951 by a cultural ceremony that is both solemn and formal, and social and joyous, producing in participants a sense of an electric resonance and importance.

The British government, Brighton city, the British Legion, and now a consortium of local residents with Sikh, Indian, Caribbean and British ties have all had a hand in the memorialising practices at the Chattri. My research will piece together a narrative of changing senses of valuation expressed through the activities and performances of people at the site. This will come from my personal experience and scrutiny of the activities; analysis of media discourses over the years, and observations of participants and organisers gleaned through interviews and workshop. I am curious to inspect my own ideas on the factors that affect valuation, in relation to the ideas that emerge from participants.

One of the themes I will interrogate is how the ‘publicness’ of memorialising structures and activities set conditions of valuation – that such in-public displays and performances make strong intentional statements of value. Monuments are peculiar fixed objects of heritage characterised by this intention to proclaim value, and through their public prominence and permanence, project that value (and those values) into the future. The annual event is itself an in-public ritual of self-presentation on the part of organisers and participants – a form of ‘public culture’. As symbolic and expressive performances, intentionally situated in a public setting, these ceremonial activities differ from everyday cultural participation or arts spectatorship.

But what is considered important changes, runs into conflicts, and evolves, depending on the subjectivities and perspectives of those involved. Who is deemed a ‘stakeholder’ in these processes, or who self-selects as stakeholder, determines who gets to speak and define value not only within dominant discourses but within the minority communities of interest. How do such communities of interest come together as ‘publics’, determine who may contribute, and present their ‘selves’ in-public in statements of valuation? And how will participants choose to express their senses of value to me as I seek them out as research subjects? We hope that by using discourse analysis we will be able to tease out answers to such questions.

I anticipate that this study, to be completed in the midst of the centenary of WWI, will lead to further research as interest in the war builds over the next four years, and as the experiences of non-Western war participants becomes a source of contention. The Chattri is now isolated and is operated by self-organized and voluntary participants, but this could change if the Chattri Group choose to get involved in the broader commemorations. How value is defined and supported by outside agencies could (again) influence the shape and practices of those who support the memorial.

Pat Thomson – A critical review of the Creative Partnerships archive: How was cultural value understood, researched and evidenced?

What can the Creative Partnerships archive tell us about cultural value?

Creative Partnerships (CP) was the biggest and longest running arts and education intervention in the world. CP aimed to transform students’ experiences of schooling, expand teachers’ classroom approaches and dramatically improve the ways in which schools functioned and performed. Its focus was on ‘creative learning’ and whole school change. CP operated in England from 2002-2011 and worked intensively with over 2,700 schools, 90,000 teachers and over 1 million young people. It touched 1 in 4 schools in the country, and over 6,500 national arts and creativity organisations were involved in CP. Because 70% of the funding went to support creative practitioners, Price Waterhouse Coopers estimated that each CP£1 generated £15.3 of economic value.

CP understood itself as making a cultural offer. It supported teachers and young people in extended cultural experiences – working on a project with an artist (for example a dancer, sculptor, film-maker, story-maker) or a company (from the Royal Shakespeare Company to a local community arts organization) or a public institution such as a gallery, library or museum.

It was presumed that through these projects young people would both learn creatively and learn to be creative. Within CP there were strongly held views that the cultural offer supported children and young people to develop imagination, critical and reflective thinking, leadership, confidence and motivation, wellbeing and a strong sense of responsible empowerment.They were thus able to learn successfully, act as good citizens in their schools and communities and were prepared for 21st century life work and life (Thomson, Jones, & Hall, 2009).

While the aims of CP were not to produce cultural value per se, many of its explanations of creative learning overlap with the AHRC framework. For example, CP staff and texts always talked of the importance of reflection – “the ability to question, make connections, innovate, problem solve and reflect critically” – and citizenship -“imagine how the world could be different and have the confidence and motivation to make positive change happen”.

CP produced an enormous range of artefacts, ranging from literature reviews, research reports, publicity and promotional materials, demonstrations in the form of films and posters, to the annual plans and evaluation reports that each funded school had to submit. To date there has been no analysis of this material to assess what understandings it might have to offer. The archive, now housed at The University of Nottingham, has the potential to contribute further to international understandings about creativity, culture, reform, learning and organizational change.

Our project will systematically examine, for the first time, the CP archive in order to see what its literature reviews, research reports and annual plans and evaluation reports might have to offer the AHRC cultural value rubric. As its considerable body of research used highly diverse approaches, this project will use an interpretative approach to critically assess a range of key texts. The project will investigate and document how a cultural experience was understood, and what methodologies and methods were used to investigate CP’s cultural offer and the cultural experience of teachers and young people, and will show what kind of data the various approaches produced. On this basis, the project will then offer an assessment of the value of particular kinds of research methodologies and methods, and identity any areas for possible further investigation. It will also offer a synthesis of the various ways in which cultural experience was theorised.

We have begun by scoping the 150 plus commissioned research reports, focusing on the question of well-being. We can already see that this has been defined in different ways by researchers – for example it is taken as synonymous with general health, being the same as resilience, as an economic benefit, as a meaningful subjective evaluation, as a necessary component of a ‘good’ social life and as an end point in itself. Our plan is to write about our interpretations of the research material in a short summary paper then go on to other parts of the AHRC framework. When we finish with these research texts, there is still a very considerable digital archive to tackle!

Professor Pat Thomson (PI) and Dr Jan Keane, (research fellow), School of Education, The University of Nottingham

Thomson, P., Jones, K., & Hall, C. (2009). Creative whole school change. Final report. London: Creativity, Culture and Education; Arts Council England. See also

Pat is also the PI on a Research Development Award funded by the Cultural Value Project entitled: ‘The experience and value of live art: what can making and editing film tell us?’ You can read about it here:

Mark Rimmer, John Street, & Tom Phillips: Understanding the Cultural Value of ‘In Harmony-Sistema England’

In Harmony-Sistema England (hereafter IHSE) is a social and music education programme whose approach and philosophy derives from the activities of the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras and Choirs of Venezuela. The ‘El Sistema’ programme, developed in the 1970s, emphasizes intensive ensemble participation, group learning, peer teaching, and a commitment to musical learning and music making. It has seen considerable success in Venezuela where numerous youth orchestras have been created in deprived areas to help combat the social problems that blight them.

In 2009 three pilot IHSE projects, based around this El Sistema model, were developed in England. Following the publication of the National Plan for Music Education in 2011, the programme was extended and today there exist a total of seven IHSE projects operating across England. What makes this initiative so interesting to us as researchers – in terms of questions of cultural value – is that while most child-focussed music initiatives in Britain have attempted to link music to forms of social good by employing popular music forms (see, for instance, the ongoing work of Youth Music), IHSE adopts an orchestral model and predominantly uses classical and folk music forms. As a result, the initiative makes for a rich site of engagement with questions of cultural value and their relationship to the broader benefits of music-based participatory arts. In particular, by exploring the ways children and their wider communities understand cultural value in relation to their IHSE projects, our research hopes to not only contribute to recent debates urging the need to transcend the ‘instrumental’ vs ‘intrinsic’ impasse (seen as hindering understandings of the value of the arts), but also, by exploring three different case studies, offer insights into how values relate to the different dimensions of arts activities and experiences. While there does exist a growing set of data relating to IHSE initiatives, to date there has been scant engagement with our primary focus: the ways in which the cultural value, in IHSE projects, is understood and articulated by the young project participants themselves.

Undoubtedly, in this we have set ourselves a number of unenviable methodological and practical research challenges. If only eliciting talk – relevant to matters of cultural value – from primary-aged children (some as young as 5) were as simple a process as putting a Dictaphone down on the table and starting a conversation! Thankfully, many of the issues bound up with conducting research with children have been covered in numerous volumes, and Tisdall et al (2009) summarise some of the debates – which have informed our methodological reasoning – quite usefully. One issue which emerges quite clearly from such work concerns the importance of facilitating the expression of voice on the part of children and the role of adult researchers in relation to this. Prominent as this issue is however, there is little universal agreement about quite how such matters are to be best negotiated, with some scholars noting the desirability of the ‘least adult role’, some disputing whether that is ever realistically possible and others suggesting that it might be more helpful to be an ‘unusual adult’, free from traditional adult/child binaries.

One outcome of our methodological preparations has therefore been to alert us to the need for flexibility and adaptability in our researcher roles as we attempt to vacillate seamlessly between the roles of professional, trustworthy and decidedly ‘adult’ university researchers (when liaising with school staff and other adult stakeholders) while striving for approachability, empathy and (perhaps most challengingly!) a degree of cultural savviness when conversing with our cohorts of young musicians. There can be little doubt here that working directly with head teachers and IHSE tutors to help us determine the most appropriate research methods and activities to support our conversations with children has been invaluable.

Dedicated 'In Harmony' notice board from one of our case study schools

Dedicated ‘In Harmony’ notice board from one of our case study schools

Thankfully then, our chosen methods do appear to be yielding fruit, as our young research participants have spoken – through the course of a series of ‘games’ based around the ranking and ordering of a range of social, cultural and specifically musical activities – to the varied ways in which they figure aspects of cultural value. By adopting this playful approach to the generation of ideas for discussion, we have begun to uncover portraits of not only the range of cultural activities they value and the diversity of ways in which they value them but also insights into how IHSE activity fits into this overall picture. Our project’s data collection phase will continue until February 2014 and we look forward to deepening and systematising our findings over the coming few months.