Remembering My Hat

5th May 2017

Exploring sensory and material methodologies: Part 3

Filed under: Uncategorized — rememberingmyhat @ 16:56

Liveblog from a seminar. Much briefer notes because I’m tired now, not because the talks were any less fascinating.

Sarah Nettleton, Christina Buse and Daryl Martin

Making places for care: An exploration of materials and the liveliness of things in the design of residential care homes for later life.

Sociological study of architecture in context of health and social care. Building of care homes for older people

Tim Ingold ‘Making’ 2013 – anthropological approach to architecture. Yaneva ‘The making of a building’ 2012 – the social doesn’t explain the design but the building is itself social.

Following an architectural firm who won a tender to build a care home for a local authority. Design features a distinctive curved wall, architects aiming to invite people into the entrance and for smooth elegance, dynamism, being welcoming, anti-utilitarian. Curves communicate care. Stone communicates quality. CAD images to persuade that they will engender particular atmospheres.

Troubles within the team about expensive bricks. Bricks are both objects and social constructs. Becomes a matter of concern to the team. Economics of care.


(cc) Quinn Dombrowski

Monica Degen, Brunel

Sensory cities: A think-kit to research, curate and represent the urban experience

The city as a sensory-experiential space. Nauseating smell of rubbish bins, ring of a bicycle bell. Sensory regimes divide and structure spaces, favouring elites.

Public space is very politicised topic so this can lead to very abstract and polarised talk [and indeed many research topics are, to be intelligible and get funded!]. But if you ask people how a space makes them feel, what aspects of the space they perceive immediately and which they notice later, you get much more nuanced and interesting information.

Project with museums, urban planners, researchers and others. Important in cross-professional teams to clarify ‘what counts as a method’? Historian and social scientist often disagreed. ‘What is the relationship between body, mind and environment?’ ‘What is the nature (and number) of the senses?’ (beyond the classical 5). ‘What is the relationship between physical and cultural factors?’

Aiming to provide a resource to enable others to engage with cities through the senses – but had to mediate it through a website! 


Exploring sensory and material methodologies: Part 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — rememberingmyhat @ 15:38

Part 2 of a liveblog of a seminar at Brunel University. Part 1 here


Vanessa May and Camilla Lewis, Morgan Centre, Manchester

The use of sensory methods in researching atmosphere and place

Claremont Court – Edinburgh post-war modernist social housing, designed to foster a sense of community, on the edge of the New Town. Much housing sold off in 80s so now quite socially mixed. Modernist housing like this is often seen [in the UK] as unhomely and barren

Research interested in the bodily experiences which contribute to sense of belonging to a place. Difficult to verbalise, so need sensory methods. New mobilities paradigm in soc sci. Sit down methods where talking is the centre of attraction and everything else is pushed to the background (Kusenbach, 2003: 462). ‘Walking interviews’ seen as much better.

But their first interview with each participant was not focused on the sensory but on the biographical and sense of belonging but participants talked a lot about the sensory. Thought that, actually sit-down interviews were just as good at bringing sensory methods to the fore as mobile methods. Three factors help to explain why:

  1. Something particular to Claremont Court
  2. That home-making is inherently sensory
  3. That the interviews were conducted within the home, which was the topic of the interviews.


(cc) kaysgeog

Auditory geographies:

A quiet place. Some disturbances from cobbles and traffic for those who lived abutting the main road but generally described as quiet. Occassional changes e.g. events at the Tattoo and during the Edinburgh Festival.

Sound-proofing in the flats was commented on, both being a victim of other people’s rows and music and worries about your own activities (piano-playing and parties)

Moral issues in noise – good residents and neighbours are quiet. And yet silence can also be distressing and ominous. Being able to hear other people can be reassuring. Listening is as important in apprehending the world as looking.

Light and sunlight:

All participants commented on how lovely and light the flats are (most are south facing, all have large windows and balconies) and how warm the flats and balconies were as a result. Many used the term ‘suntrap’ and compared it to the Mediterranean, especially in contrast to the Edinburgh norm.

Some bits are dark – some stairwells, an underpassage entry. These spaces avoided whenever possible.

Affective qualities of light, especially natural daylight. Safety bound up with light. Same place became unsafe in the night but fine in the daytime. Sense of where the cold bits were in the flats. In the dark, sounds become more significant. Importance of paying attention to emotional impacts of spaces.


Want to rehabilitate the traditional sit-down interview a bit – not a lost cause for engaging people’s sensory imaginations. Sitting is just as much an embodied experience as walking! Can read traditional methods through a sensory lens.


Jen Tarr (LSE)

Sensory and arts-based approaches to chronic pain communication

‘A better pain chart’ by Hyperbole and a half

We know that pain doesn’t necessarily correlate with injury. MRI scans often show damage in pain-free patients. Still can’t see pain in the brain even with fMRI scans.

Self-reports are uni-dimensional – how much, not what other qualities it has.

McGill Pain questionnaire is more multidimensional via adjectives, line drawings etc. but this may actually standardise the language of pain and thus limit descriptions.

Unhelpful binaries around pain communication

  • Real/unreal
  • Physical/psychological
  • Mind/body
  • Visible/invisible


(cc) Krisztina Tordai

What might arts-based experiences contribute?

Held fortnightly workshops over 2 months with 6-13 participants

22 participants, 17 of whom only managed to attend one of the workshops (chronic pain!) + 3 researchers and 2 specialists to lead each workshop.

20h video recordings, fieldnotes, arts outputs (drawings, photographs, sound recordings) and evaluation forms.

Workshops as performative social science (Law and Urry, 2004). Workshop foci:

  1. Imaging and imagining chronic pain – about mri
  2. Body Mapping
  3. Soundscapes
  4. Spatial mapping

Different ways of relating to your pain. Someone with nerve pain that fees like electric shocks, thought about humorous ways of earthing the shock (balloons attached to a electrical plug and cable).

Sound was a really good metaphor for chronic pain. Often very aversive sounds like spoons being scraped on grater. Sound artist created a soundscape that combined these sounds into a listenable form – goal not to eliminate the sounds/pain but to rework them into something bearable.

Workshops enabled new questions about pain:

  • Is it inside you or something that comes from outside?
  • Is it more helpful to tune in, building awareness, or to shut it out and abstract yourself
  • Is the pain an inevitable part of you?
  • How and to what extent has pain shaped your personhood?
  • Can there be a ‘you’ without pain?

People gave very different answers, partly to do with the type of pain but also to do with how they conceptualised it.

Methodological outcomes:

  1. Prioritise process over product. Had originally intended to display results of workshops but concluded this wasn’t appropriate (too personal, worried about making them look stupid for naïve styles of drawing – these weren’t artists)
  2. Co-constituting what you aim to measure
  3. Importance of uncertainty in disrupting established roles and narratives. Being out of your comfort zone as a researcher, not being in charge because the specialist workshop leaders were (and sometimes said things the researchers didn’t agree with).
  4. ‘Liveness’ of improvised space



Think of the outputs as versions rather than representations? [not sure that helps me]

[The old issue of how do you analyse the non-textual]




Exploring Sensory and Material Methodologies

Filed under: Uncategorized — rememberingmyhat @ 15:18

More incomplete and partial liveblog notes from a seminar. This one being held at Brunel University, London, hosted by the Welfare, Health and Wellbeing research theme

Stephen Katz, Trent University, Canada

Hold On! Gravity, ageing and the materiality of falling

How does it feel to grow older? Ageing seen as a stripping away of the senses (‘sans teeth, sans sight, sans hearing’ etc.) not as an accumulation of a lifetime of senses. Older people often do become sensorally isolated.

Sheldon 1970s paper ‘natural history of falling’. Taxonomy.

Falls are very common among older people, lead to hospitalisations (2nd most common cause in Canada) and to further risks and negative outcomes.

Children fall all the time, but it’s seen as a sign of failing in older people. Transforms a person into ‘a faller’ someone who has ‘had a fall’ rather than ‘fallen over’.

OP tend to describe falls as trips, slips, loss of balance, accidents but care professionals tend to describe them as risks.

Enormous, well-funded industry has arisen for falls prevention. Active ageing as the panacea – life style choice. Also bone density scans, grab bars, age-friendly housing.

Institutional settings contribute to falls through staff shortages and trivialisation of falling.

OP don’t want to join fall-prevention programmes because it’s stigmatising. Special shoes and padded pants add to the stigma, especially for women, who fall more than men and suffer more injuries from those falls. Connects to views of women as weaker, needing to be careful and not take risks, especially post-menopause. Gender relations of power contribute.

Gravity as a fundamental part of our experience as humans. Standing up is a risk. If we expect OP to be responsible self-carers (active ageing) then we have to allow them to take reasonable risks.



(cc) Jean-Maki Simon


Christina Buse (York) and Julia Twigg (Kent)

Dress as a material method for researching the experiences of people with dementia

Hoskins (1998) biographical objects – starting with an object prompts discussion of intimate topics

Mason and Davies (2009) ‘creative interviews’ using visual prompts, physical environment

Sophie Woodward (2015) ‘object interviews’ e.g jeans in ‘Denim’ project.

Weber and Mitchell (2004) dress as a ‘method of enquiry’  – work as a springboard for discussion. Materialises qs of identity (Woodward, 2007). Ageing and embodiment ‘Hocket et al. 2013 on shoes. Twigg (2013) on age ordering of clothes.

Reminiscence with people with demetia has used objects and creative methods for a long time, now being extended to research methods. Walking interviews too.

‘Wardrobe interviews’ Banim and Guy (2001); Sophie Woodward (2007). Show and tell. Interview alongside wardrobe – very revealing and intimate.

Mostly talking about the care home bit of their study.

In their study, handling and touching garments prompted PWD to remember. Changes in ordering of wardrobe and changes in clothing type revealed things about care (different clothes that were more practical for current physical needs). ‘Kept clothes’ capture thing s about the self and self-image, hanging on to past identities. Ex-builder who liked to wear his old work clothes for pottering in the garage and garden – reinhabiting his working identity.

Lots of women had lots of handbags they hung on to.

Discarded and forgotten clothes (Bury, 1982 biographical disruption). Sometimes old clothes not recognised, forgotten and abandoned. Transitions into care homes often a point when wardrobes change radically – traumatic for family to have to go through clothes making these choices. ‘Dressing up’ clothes and jewellery usually didn’t go into the care home. Scruffy old clothes also often thrown out at this stage.

Sensory elicitation (Pink, 2012). Used vintage clothes as sensory prompts. Hats and silk stockings. Non-verbal older people would often respond with smiles and pleasure to velvets and silks.

Also looked through photograph albums at the clothes they wore.

Observational methods (ethnography in the public areas of the care home) enabled the inclusion of people with advanced dementia who couldn’t take part in interviews. Smoothing a skirt, ripping off a bib at mealtimes.

Women with dementia still did complementing one another on clothes.

Handbags – meanings actively negotiated. Lots of women always had handbag with them and spend a lot of time rummaging in their handbags. Suggests the care home is an unhomely or, at best, a liminal space. Would sometimes say they were looking for the bus fare home. Difficult to get privacy in care homes – encouraged to be in public areas in the daytime, and bedrooms not truly private. Handbags used as territorial marker to keep seat if temporarily left it.

Previous research has looked at ‘handbag audits’ – what the contents say about the owner. IN care home context, noticeable absence of money and keys, symbolising loss of autonomy.

Often contained apparently random objects that were actually hugely meaningful. Former hairdresser had hairdressing scissors and an old ballet shoe (had been a keen dancer) + momentos of parents and uncle. Acted as an aide memoire

Some men used pockets in similar ways.

Observed laundry work in care homes and did walking interviews with laundry workers. Lots of practical constraints which limited choice for residents. Delicate fabrics discouraged, like cashmere, real wool, silk. Lined to infection control measures – soiled garments have to be washed hot.

Stressful and hot work, never-ending. But some laundry workers did make connections between the clothes and the person – would take special care of beloved garments or be able to recognise whose it was even though the name label had fallen off. But this depended on long-term relationships – casualization of care home staff prevents this.

People with dementia continue to enact their identities through dress, albeit limited by the practical constraints of being in a care home.

Christina runs network for researchers.


(cc) Victor Camilo

Questions and discussion

Falling as a liminal experience – from one space to another, and also from competent adult to ‘faller’. And handbags signifying care home as a liminal space. Do women hang on to their handbags as they fall?!

Identity threat of having a fall when you are already having health/disability issues is compounded. Has less impact on the carer because they already have an identity as a carer, maybe?

Importance of the environment and class/wealth (better/worse housing, money for adaptions) in causing falls – but it’s all pushed back to the individual.

Tai chi, dance and visualising the body activities as potential ways of understanding the body rather than medicalised one.

If care home residents want to look scruffy, or wear pyjamas in the public areas, they should be able to, but care homes then become vulnerable to inspection agencies and to the judgements of visitors that they are not caring properly. Also happened in private homes – being a good carer and keeping the personhood of the person alive through keeping them well-dressed, but they might not want that themselves.

Big debate in the US at the moment about whether people with dementia should still be able to have their guns, and not just unloaded ones. Direction of travel seems to be ‘yes’.

You could use food as a sensory method – taste to prompt memories.

Glasses and wallets [maybe mobile phones in the future]

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