Collaborative Futures – CCN+ Annual Event

Collaborative Futures: Communities and Cultures Network+ Annual Event

Leeds, December 11-12, 2014

The Communities and Culture Network+ investigates the digital transformations of communities and culture. At its centre are core research themes that are underpinned by case studies undertaken by the PI and Co-Is of the Network+. These relate to culture and heritage, urban and rural living, public and civic engagement, and the epistemologies and ontologies of the future. Along with the core research themes, the CCN+ has supported over 32 discrete but connected project to date (with an additional 3 pilot projects and 6 seed projects due to commence 2015). These include seed projects that are exploratory, high risk or developmental as well as more substantial pilot projects that use a case study approach to investigate a particular issue at the axes of digital, community and culture. What connects all the research we do is the critical interrogation of the assumptions and underpinning terms such as ‘community’ ‘culture’ and ‘technologies’ and there are a number of clear themes that are emerging that connect past, current and future projects.

‘Collaborative Futures’ was the second annual event of the Communities and Culture Network+, and the fourth event held at Leeds since the Network+ started in 2012. It consisted of presentations from the active funded projects (pilot projects and seed projects) followed by a workshop where the themed groups developed their connective themes and worked towards a manifesto for the future.

Many of our past projects have already had policy, educational and research impact through their activities. Many of the PIs have secured additional funds outside the Network+ to develop or extend projects (including major AHRC and ESRC grants) and we are also gathering many narratives of the people who have worked in the Network+ who have moved from RAs to permanent members of staff, from junior lecturers to senior lecturers, from senior lecturers to Professors. Within the community, civic and third sector organisations with whom we work, we are also noting the journeys of those we work with – from unemployment to employment, from silence to participation. Projects have developed technologies and resources that continue to be used and appropriated by project partners and the wider sector in which they work, well beyond the end of the project. Our challenge moving forwards into our final year is to further develop the themes emerging from the event and the wider corpus of funded projects in impactful and critical ways, while simultaneously critically reflecting on the political, social, cultural and economic issues that have arisen throughout the grant. We are working, ultimately, towards a new conception of digital economy that is sensitive to the power structures such a concept supports.

In what follows, we detail some of the themes that emerged from the conference including the listed projects we consider to fit here. This is followed by a brief indicator of the manifestos that will be further developed, with CCN+ support over the early months of 2015.

Digital Food: This theme investigates the axes of digital technologies, food and austerity. It includes work with policy makers and local councils and aims to investigate the relationship of, and potential for, digital technologies when addressing food-related issues. In turn, food has been various conceptualised in relation to space and place – through food banks and local biospheres as well as food aid and food economies where it is the distribution and production systems of food that are being explored. Food has emerged in all of the projects investigating austerity as an underpinning materiality or terrain on which the lived and imaged are simultaneously played out.

Digital Epistemologies: this theme takes the notion of the local as its site of investigation and addresses the lived and material digital representations, tools and resources within citizen and/or research communities. As a whole this theme is interested in the reshaping and reconstitution of knowledge, expertise and literacy and develops earlier themes of the Network+ that looked at policy, engagement and expertise.

Austere Communities: This theme works with local community organisations and groups to investigate the lived realities of the austerity measures as they are played out in techno-social environments. The theme has addressed issues such as cyber and lived abuse and digital (im)mobility and has worked with disenfranchised groups who routinely fall through the nets of the welfare system for one reason or another.

Digital by Default: this theme directly addresses the effects of the policy changes to digital by default on a number of mental health, sexual health, aged, and young communities and asks about the effectiveness of the digital to replace face to face. In so doing further issues around expertise, trust, communication, privacy and security have all arisen within a much broader national question around digital and civic responsibility.

Imagining Digital Communities: this theme utilises digital technologies to reimagine emplaced communities who seek in various ways to ‘empower’ themselves through digital technologies. In so doing a number of further issues around the elision of resilient and sustainable community with social enterprise have arisen that in turn require us to critically interrogate the normative discourses utilised around digital communities.

The politics of Data: this theme investigates the claims, assertions and assumptions underpinning big data, data visualisations – their utility, their epistemological claims and their politics. It looks not only at how data is claimed and used, but also its affective reach, its representational capacity and in turn, it asks about the future utility and politics of the digital.

In order to further draw out and extend these themes, we asked the participants to create a manifesto on the second day of the conference. These manifestos (or versions of them) can be viewed here. The manifesto was intended as a provocation to shift the focus in the first instance away from the specificities of individual projects and towards a collaborative theme. In the second instance the manifesto was intended to provoke more than a critical response, and engage participants in what they might do with their connected projects. The list below, however, offers a brief indication of the emerged critical issues:

  •  A Manifesto for/of digital (il)legitimation – intervening in the power structures that facilitate authorship, narrative and asks about who communities are changing for.
  • Post-sticks for Austerity – what if the default position was not a digital binary that took decision making processes around people lives away form the computer and reinvested it in empathetic people? Could we have a model whereby the computer, by default, says ‘yes’?
  • A Manifesto of Theoretical Resilience – what we need is not resilient communities, but a model for theoretical resilience that recognises the power structures in which we are working.
  • A Manifesto for a Democratic Food Future – a system wide approach for a new biosphere. We cannot solve the issue of food within the existing system: we need a new system that recognises food as the social fabric of our communities.
  • A Manifesto for/of Tactful Cities – digital awkwardness instead of ‘smartness’ and through this, social negotiation as digital.

Next steps for the Network+

We will be developing these manifestos in conjunction with the event participants, in order to further underpin these connecting themes for the Network+ as a whole.

We have funded our final round of pilot projects and these are:

We have funded our penultimate round of seed projects, and are currently reviewing our final round. Our penultimate seed projects are:

Finally, Craig Robertson, our network coordinator and resident musician, has responded to a provocation by Helen Thornham to demonstrate a musical or sound connection between the projects on the network. Responding to issues of expediency and expectation in digital music, notions of what music is perceived to be capable of representing as a metaphor for emotions and/or relationships, and elicited most important aspects of the research discussed at this event, Craig has compiled a short audio collage, which can be downloaded and listened to here. This will be developed further in the near future.