Cultural activism in the community: creative practice, activism and place-identities

Project details

Full project title: Cultural activism in the community: creative practice, activism and place-identities

Duration: February 2012 - October 2012

Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council

Project leader for SPE: Dr Michael Buser

Other researchers: Professor Jane Arthurs

Project summary

This review aims to develop new insights about cultural activism as a means of claiming space and building place-identities in communities. As this is an under-explored area of research and scholarship, the review will build a foundation and conceptual framework for future research. This new line of enquiry will be based on an examination and synthesis of literatures on cultural activism, community activism and creative practice, and place-identities. Through this work, the review seeks to inform the future shape, focus and priorities of the connected communities programme.

In terms of specific objectives, the review will develop a conceptualisation of cultural activism reflecting the kinds of actors involved; nature and forms of creative practices (eg clowning, poetry, murals, etc.); political and social objectives pursued; and the relationships between activism and ‘place'. I will then bring these insights into communication with the literature on community activism and place-identities. In this way, the study will generate particular insights into both the processes and potential consequences of cultural activism including:

  • how activists use creative practice to advance social change objectives in communities;
  • the types of claims made on ‘space', for example in different urban or neighbourhood settings;
  • the nature of engagement with specific place-identities;
  • the effectiveness of cultural activism in appropriating space and building place-identities; and
  • the implications for community cohesion including the potential for exclusion and conflict.

Project outcomes

Creative practice, activism and place-identities: exploring the spatialities of cultural activism

AHRC Connected Communities seminar -
4 September 2012 at The Watershed, Bristol

Inspired by an interest in the relationships between place, creative practice, and counter-hegemonic social and political action, over 60 participants attended this event and explored ideas about cultural activism; the spatiality of contentious politics; social movements; and theories of community in the fields of human and cultural geography, urban studies, planning theory and policy, cultural studies, women’s studies, sociology, and performance studies.

Dr. Paul Routledge (University of Glasgow) provided a keynote speech where he argued for an activist ethnography; a research strategy that involves politically engaged research. His presentation was followed by three main sessions of short papers followed by discussion and wrap-up.

Seminar resources

Creative practice, activism and place-identities seminar - abstracts and speaker biographies

Creative practice, activism and place-identities seminar - full programme

Guest speakers


"Manifesto for Creative Activism: Activist Ethnography, Sites of Intervention and Lines of F(l)ight" - Keynote speaker Paul Routledge, University of Glasgow (Paul's keynote presentation)

Session 1

"Spectacular activism" - Michael Buser, University of the West of England (Michael's presentation)

"The spatialities of protest; public bodies and city spaces" - Pollyanna Ruiz, London School of Economics and Political Science (Pollyanna's presentation)

"Making “Counter Publics” through the city: networks, exchanges, and the creation of political discourses" - Walter Nicholls, University of Amsterdam (Walter's presentation)

Session 2

"The minute interventions of Stewart Lee: the affective conditions of possibility in comedy, repetition and activism" - Scott Sharpe, University of New South Wales, Maria Hynes, The Australian National University and JD Dewsbury, University of Bristol (JD's presentation)

"Creative methodologies as a resource for Mayan women’s protagonism" - Alison Crosby, York University and M. Brinton Lykes, Boston College

"Situation specific art, global capitalism and displacement anxiety" - Lynn Froggett, University of Central Lancashire (Lynn's presentation)

Session 3

"Acupunctured! The activism of disproportionate impacts" - Jane Trowell, Platform (Jane's presentation)

"Creating solidarity: performance and material culture in British anti-apartheid direct action" - Gavin Brown, University of Leicester (Gavin's presentation)

"Disobedient objects: agency and materiality in activist art" - Gavin Grindon, Kingston University


"Closing statement and seminar reflections" - Marilyn Taylor, UWE; Jane Arthurs, UWE, Stephen Bottoms, University of Manchester; and Paul Routledge, University of Glasgow (Closing statement presentation)

For further information on the project, please e-mail Michael Buser.