Senior Lecturer in Strategy and Enterprise, Pam Seanor recently hosted a workshop for NMI, a payment solution company, in Lego ® Serious Play®. Read her account below:
Written by Pam Seanor
Between practice and theorising
Serious-playing with Jayne Purcell, Service designer, we facilitated a day workshop with NMI – “You’ve probably used NMI’s software when booking a train ticket, paying for parking, ordering a burger or most recently making a contactless charity donation, without realising it! NMI develops the most trusted payment software for mobile, online, and in-store payments that is relied on and used by millions of people worldwide, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year” ( https://bristolcalling.com/company/nmi/ ).
As such, the organisation has explicit creative processes and outputs that come together worked on by differing teams. Further, NMI have recently been engaged in a merger and are now part of global organisation with offices in Chicago, IL, New York, NY and Salt Lake City, UT. The Bristol office wanted to try out LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® with the intention to come together over their working within a changing work culture, how they work and how they are going forward as the organisation grows.
We created a space to exchange ideas and develop awareness of differing perspectives and complex themes that encompass social aspects of group practices and activities aiming to reach out to the members of the organisation (Nicolini & Monteiro 2017). Based this encounter, we address the following applying a practice-based approach to entrepreneurship (Nicolini 2012) in part using Lego bricks to play seriously and in part to reveal collective critical reflection.
LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® (LSP) is a process underpinned by theorizing and
there is increased interest of how academics are using it and more widely
serious play with a purpose (Statler et al. 2011). For instance, Gauntlett
(2015) stated “it is a playful method of differing applications to help
gain insights in to personal and collective understanding of a problem as well
as imagine possible futures”. The process has common ground rules/ etiquette: posing
the question – the purpose of the workshop; constructing models; sharing and
listening to others; reflecting (White paper on LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® 2013). Both Jayne and I are trained LEGO® SERIOUS
PLAY® facilitators. Where Jayne has been a Certified facilitator for a decade, I became an LSP facilitator in January. We have been
collaborating to devise skills workshops and structured tasks and prompts for
learning ePortfolios in my enterprise & entrepreneurship modules with
undergraduates – so I had been practicing playing with Lego with large numbers
of students. Even so,
it was a little daunting taking a low-tech tool like Lego to a creative/high
tech organization, including members of the Chicago office who travelled over.
And, as a critical researcher I want to
speak to how challenge is a central part an LSP workshop. Statler et al. (2011)
noted the paradox of serious play as a process of working through paradoxes
rather than removing all tensions and contradictions that arise in everyday
work practices. On the one hand, I am really interested in working with
organization to create “other” spaces for play (Hjorth 2004), on the other hand
I am hesitant to promote play as an outcome similar to how organizations like
Google seem to be using it managerially to keep people at work to be more
productive (Ashton & Giddings 2018). However, as a facilitator, my role is
not to intervene, nor to promise participants specific organizational outcomes
from the workshop.
It was not possible for all members of NMI to take part; the workshop was 5 groups of 10 participants at each table. These groups were arranged by a member of the NMI team as they often work together on projects in the organisation.
The workshop offered an opportunity to engage in play activities that they would not normally do in work and differing types of social encounters (e.g. to the worst holiday model build we had one participant share a poem of this family holiday – An ode to a dead cat).
We had initially intended to move members of teams around during the day; however, we felt some flexibility was needed and discussed this with the organiser and chose to keep within teams to better draw people out. After the morning practising how to play the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® way, the afternoon was focused on play and “the spirit in which we do what we do, the feel of the team”.
Taking care not to include any people in these images, photographs were taken of models metaphorically representing some of the real-world concerns about working at NMI. The focus is the model. Each post-it note is a few words to describe the key point of their model. Prior to the photos being taken by one of the members of the NMI team, permission was asked to use them in this blog.
Anyone not wishing to be included was asked to speak with one of us as facilitators. And, the draft of this blog was sent for approval prior to circulating. In the spirit of participants telling their own stories, rather than me as a researcher crafting the narrative, the following are examples of differing metaphors to represent their ideas.
Before, I want to highlight that we offered a day for the workshop 9.30AM – 4PM to give participants the opportunity to get used to playing and to play. Even with this time, we could not cover all that we hoped, and we agreed with the organiser that this was a useful starting point from which he could take forward ideas emerging.
WELCOME – A model of feeling welcomed – a few participants newly joined the team – of the team engaged in their open plan office and sitting with their computer screens in front of them and of taking the time to be welcoming.
BRISTOL FOOD & DRINK – This model depicts the area near the office. The location is in the harbourside reflected with the bridge and one of the harbourside cranes created to show the value of being able to go out for coffee/lunch in these areas and of the value of regularly seeing sea birds (and of socialising after work).
COMPASSION – this model holds 2 key metaphors, the rainbow towers and the ladder above as bridging together the organisation. This also reflected other models that were of diversity and balance and valuing members of the team – here represented by many mini figures.
KNOWLEDGE & WISDOM – A concern of change for one was nurturing and maintaining the knowledge and wisdom shared by people who have long worked in the organisation represented by this tower/library build.
At the end of the afternoon, every shared model was placed and presented first one, then the next, and then next, on an empty table and briefly explained by a member of the team creating it. All participants were asked to gather round the table, to listen and once every model had been presented to have a look round. This process was to allow space for all ideas to be heard. These models can be seen in the link, motion image of the shared models created by all of the teams.
Learning -awareness- collective reflecting
and Tuckermann (2019) noted “Although scholars have begun theorising the social
notion of collective reflection in organisations, empirical studies
illustrating these often-neat theoretical conceptualisations are still rare”. Through
the use of Lego, as above, a few common themes were raised and heard – one of
the members of the Chicago office commented that she had no idea people felt
these ways. Feedback after the workshop was generally positive (NMI created a
quick and dirty survey to capture participant views).
did not assume that collective reflecting would only occur on the day. Instead,
that it would be ongoing to improve organizing at NMI. Rather than my words, I
offer an email from one of the management team who organized the day of
listening to the messages from the day and reflecting afterwards –
As such, NMI are not only seeking new location and also creating “other spaces” for play. Too, we are discussing the possibility of further serious play sessions for other members of the organisation. One aspect that somehow escaped mention in planning conversations and a meeting before the workshop was of the intended move of the office location. In hindsight we might have built more in to the intention of the day in this seemingly contradictory objective of a move and of the challenge of creating an “other” space.
This blog has been written to grapple with the paradox that Matt Statler and his colleagues speak of in serious play that might bridge between theory and practice and to provide a point of contact for future research of how we might make the challenges in theorising of serious play and collective reflection more useful for practitioners, and what we as academics might learn from practitioners. If you are interested in discussing these ideas of how serious play might contribute to critical approaches to organisation studies and/or creativity throughout the organisation to address challenges as part of the stream of entrepreneurship as practice, please contact Pam Seanor – firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to Nigel and Emily for the use
of his photographs and for inviting us to work with you and members of the team
at NMI Bristol.
What if Universities were seen as institutions with responsibilities to the societies they inhabit? What hope for a citizen-led, participatory curriculum to equip us with the knowledge to build a more human, caring and sustainable economy? This Bristol Leadership and Change Centre (BLCC) research symposium was held at the University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol, in October 2018. Its purpose, as described by event organisers, was to bring together leadership and management scholars to reflect on the nature, purpose, and challenges of being ‘critical’ in the contemporary Business School environment.
Higher Education, as a social process of facilitating learning and change, has a critical challenge. Many academics are aware, sometimes intuitively, of the limitations of the liberal institution of education, characterised by the detached observations of objective, scientific discourses that form the supposed neutrality of knowledge. Many still adhere to the dispiriting task of preparing debt-laden students for the mercies or exclusions of work, markets, and consumption that follow, often due to a lack of any tangible sense of an alternative.
More recently, learning in an era of globalization is understood as dispersed, taking place outside the bounds of traditional education and within a high velocity exchange of people and places, finance, technologies, cultures, settings, and spaces. Despite talk of helping individuals adapt to complexity, diversity and change, the priorities of the Business School can still seem dominated by the narrow, quantitative models valued by economists and market-fearing policymakers, alongside a distinctly neoliberal narrative of entrepreneurship, leadership and ‘being enterprising’.
Creativity is the buzzword, but in an increasingly disturbed world. At the same time, individuals have become ever more isolated from each other amid spiralling mental ill-health and shrinking space to imagine alternatives. Technological advances are reducing family, peer and social relations to cyber-relations – only exacerbating feelings of loneliness – while automation and marketisation reduce much subsequent employment to precarity or meaningless grind. Political apathy, social inequality and welfare state dismantling seem the accepted costs of ever-expanding markets and ‘continuous improvement’. Higher education can, for all its virtues, end up merely helping individuals adapt to the deep pathologies of neoliberal market society.
At the heart of this, I think, is the spectre of homo economicus. This is the assumed ‘rational’ economic agent inculcated with the knowledge and the skills to play the occupational roles demanded by the over-capitalised and financialised global economy. Yet we apparently still need the local, the situational and the social value found in non-market participation: the human touch, the sense of presence and care increasingly found absent in our turbo-charged market society. Recent research has demonstrated that social connection, empathy, and cooperation are at the foundation of personal, social and community change. Do academics or leaders in academia have the courage to move the discussion beyond the shadow of the selfish gene?
In Critical Condition
The value of critical pedagogy lies in its capacity to equip us with the knowledge to expose and challenge often hidden injustice. It also lies in a sense of hope that grows with connecting and working together to co-create practical and political alternatives to some of the major challenges of our time. This is important because how we frame contemporary social or environmental problems depends on our values and principles, which can in turn open up a broader spectrum of solutions than our modern polity or market governance may view as plausible.
So how did this event contribute to our sense of individual and collective empowerment in this sense? What exactly is the nature, purpose and challenges of being ‘critical’ in the contemporary Business School environment?
There were some bright minds, interesting discussion and excellent presentations. Keynote speaker Professor Martin Parker from the University of Bristol exposed the ‘hidden curriculum’, explaining how contemporary business schools teach a narrow form of capitalism where ‘the market’ is the underlying driver and determinant of the education they provide. He pointed out how literally hundreds of alternative forms of organising social and economic life are excluded in the Business School curriculum, demonstrating this through his ‘organising dictionary’. In this dictionary were many alternatives, including some of the more well-known such as worker-owned cooperatives and the commons.
Importantly, Parker invited us to think about patterns, and urged us to start re-building higher education from the bottom-up experiences and strengths of citizens and communities. To facilitate a more accurate conception of the rich tapestry of human organising, he moved us away from ‘management’ and towards the margins of what contemporary capitalism would consider value-able. He proposed an alternative institution: The School for Organising. This institution will develop and teach the multitude of different forms of organising, “enabling individuals to discover alternative responses to the issues of inequality and sustainability faced by all of us today”.
Dr Sarah Robinson of the University of Glasgow delivered some penetrating insights (and warnings) for the aspiring early career academic. Of particular interest for me was the disjuncture between the intrinsic motivation of critically-minded scholars who go into academia (considerations of social justice, democracy, intellectual autonomy and independence) and the post-PhD reality (Key Performance Indicators, stress, insecurity, audit culture, managerialism, publishing restrictions and conditionality).
Dr Neil Sutherland from UWE delivered a convincing presentation on the drawbacks of ‘teaching’ under the rubric of the critical banner. A short paragraph alone would not hope to capture the clarity of his thinking on this topic. Yet in essence, he asked, does this impose ‘our’ way of thinking on free-thinking students? Does this create an unhelpful binary of us and them?
Dr Pam Seanor and Dr Doris Schedlitzki, also from UWE, invited participants to weave together the value of their experience with the entrepreneurship, leadership and ‘being enterprising’ agenda. What might critical entrepreneurship look like instead? How can we move the conversation beyond the ‘heroic’ individual entrepreneur and towards a recognition of the social nature of learning and change? Doris and Pam made clear they intend to take an ‘affirmative critical approach’ in their pedagogy to help students question dominant cultural narratives so that they themselves can feel empowered to identify the alternative practices that they seek.
Professor Sandra Jones from RMIT University, Melbourne, was engaging in her provocation, inviting us to reject the dominant vision for humanity of competition and profit maximisation. Two aspects of her talk chimed most with me. One was her admission that, as well as the more common complaint about skewed resource distribution, many millenials had been left scant opportunity by their baby boomer predecessors to challenge the damaging conceptual myth of homoeconomicus, free markets and market growth. The second was a darkly humorous ‘quote’ from George Orwell in reference to his dystopian novel 1984: “I wrote it as a warning, not a fucking instruction manual”.
Despite my enthusiasm, the event felt quite overwhelming at times. It was free and inclusive. It was friendly. There were refreshments and breaks. People were free to talk, listen, ask questions, and participate as they wished. There was an invitation to continue conversations and networking at the end of the symposium. Yet I sensed a similar uncertainty in other participants as the event drew to a close, almost like a sense of unfinished business; something that didn’t escape the attention of event organiser Professor Richard Bolden.
As I waited in the cool, darkening autumn evening for my return train at Bristol Parkway station – listening to the occasional clanking of machinery or watching the faceless faces whizz past – I thought it was worth reflecting more on why this might have been.
Perhaps, as one participant pointed out towards the end, it was life and living conditions. To a large extent, people still need to submit to the anonymous power of the market for their livelihoods, their homes and their well being. People are worried about their loved ones and their futures; faced with new and shifting threats to their welfare each day. There is a tangible sense of atomisation and psychological strain. Economic life can feel like an uncertainty that follows you. This doesn’t look likely to improve, either:
“Whether through the enclosures brought on by neoliberalism or the increasingly authoritarian and exclusionary politics of the further right, the expected normality (job security, pensions, unemployment supports, fair working hours and conditions) that citizens experience or aspire to will likely continue to erode.” Bauwens et al. (2017)
In this world of ‘post-truth’ and fast-paced change, we hardly have time to navigate one personal trauma or social transformation before we are bludgeoned onto the next. Where neoliberal restructuring and toxic stress are still the norm, it is hard to know what is reality anymore let alone how we come to know it, or the right methodology for teaching it.
Critical questions: How can we carve out shared spaces for transitioning to something more time-rich, caring and human? How do we find ways to connect with one another in solidarity and on a deeper, more intuitive level? There was, at least, a sense that this symposium offered a valuable and important space to engage with others in precarious times; as well as something that people indicated a desire to continue engaging with.
To me, critical pedagogy feels honest and authentic. We can be guided by the values of autonomy, responsibility and solidarity, and we are part of a larger interdependent whole rather than the struggling atoms of liberal-individualist and neoliberal market culture.
Yet it is also about having the courage to voice social silences and inject some authenticity beyond the sometimes gilded halls of academia and the career-building activity of contemporary neoliberal subjects. It might ask the following challenging questions:
What moved people to attend this event in the first place?
Did people feel moved to share their experiences, fears and truths?
What bridges of trust and solidarity are being built with people worst-affected by the marketisation and austerity policies of the state?
What examples of academics themselves organising alternatively outside of the University?
In this sense, I reflected, perhaps this is as much about courageous leadership and creating safe spaces and conviviality as it is about creativity or reformulating the curriculum. Creativity is, after all, not something that is the product of extraordinary individual minds but “originates from a culturally-shaped cooperation they also serve” (Gronemeyer 2014).
The ability to think critically and reflexively is indeed a fundamental priority if we are not perpetuating the mistakes and injustices of past and present. There is great social value in such approaches to education. Dialogic, participatory and action-orientated models of education and research, for example, go far further than formal, liberal interpretations of fairness and equality that stop at equal opportunities for individuals.
Yet whether scholars who identify themselves as catalysts for social change can carve out the common ground they seek solely ‘inside’ the university alone I’m not so sure. I sense that the radical spirit that drives this pedagogy will only find what it seeks once we have stopped striving as competing individuals. Conviviality is, after all, “a constant reminder that the community is never closed” (Illich 2005, cited in Gronemeyer, 2014). Perhaps only then will we be at the critical moment.
With this in mind, it was encouraging to note that both Martin Parker and Sandra Jones encouraged critical academics to organise in different ways beyond the academy in order to mobilise social change.
Knowledge as a Commons
Academics might reasonably point out it is not solely up to them to solve all society’s problems. Moreover, giving up stable employment to start a research cooperative in today’s economic climate and political culture might be considered at best a very risky undertaking. Yet if we really want to see ourselves as catalysts for social, democratic or environmental renewal, then we must begin to find ways to step out of the private sphere and begin listening to citizen’s voices and experiences. We need to work together to reclaim and create the public spaces for us to manage matters which concern us all.
One thing critically-minded scholars can do is to begin to raise awareness of the emerging commons movement, and situate research and learning within the context of the Commons Transition (Bauwens et al., 2017).
“In the past thirty years, contemporary scholarship has rediscovered commons, illuminating their cooperative management principles as a counterpoint to conventional economics and particularly its growth imperatives, artificially created scarcities, and fealty to consumption as a preeminent goal.” Bollier & Weston (2014)
But what are commons? According to Innovator Michel Bauwens et al. (2017), commons are:
A social system for the long-term stewardship of resources that preserves shared values and community identity;
A self-organised system by which communities manage resources with minimal or no reliance on the market or state;
A sector of the economy and life that generates value in ways that are taken for granted and often jeopardised by the market and state;
The wealth that we inherit or create together and must pass on, undiminished or enhanced, to our children. Our collective wealth includes the gifts of nature, civic infrastructure, cultural works and traditions, and knowledge Bauwens et al. (2017)
Much research into commons was initially focused on natural resources. Dispelling the myth of the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ (Hardin 1968), Elinor Ostrom (1990) considered subsistence commons such as meadows, water, forests, or fisheries (the resource alone minus the self-determined norms, practices, and traditions of communities is referred to by Economists as a common-pool resource). More recently, commons scholar Silke Helfrich (cited in Bauwens et al., 2017) points out how every commons, even those that revolve around land and water, are knowledge commons, “because the commoners must learn to apply knowledge in managing them”.
A commons, therefore, is distinct from a common-pool resource, and constitutes a self-management regime and dynamic social process called commoning. It can include digital commons such as free, open-source platforms such as Wikipedia and social, cultural and civic commons such as community support schemes, social care coops, playgrounds, public spaces, knowledge and ideas, public schools, libraries, and parks. In fact, a commons can arise whenever a community decides to pool its resources and defend or take control of its collective wealth, enlivened by this social process of commoning.
Where might academics fit within the Commons Transition Plan, a name coined by the P2P Foundation to “describe a process of facilitating open, participatory input across society, prioritising the needs of people and environments affected by policy decisions over market or bureaucratic needs”? (Bauwens et al. 2017)
1. Tell the story of the commons and its enclosures, the private appropriation of our common wealth.
2. Recognise that knowledge, information, and culture are part of the public sphere, and gain value though open access, sharing, and collaboration. Academics can help by facilitating open-source rather than proprietary knowledge.
3. Practice conviviality, involving, in the words of Marianne Gronemeyer (2014): “…a language that is both objectionable and triggers ideas to enable understanding rather than consensus which is often achieved by manipulation; research that speaks a personal language full of experience; practice that does not compete, but cooperates and shares; technology that helps to make the best out of the power, and the imagination that everyone has.”
4. Learn about the power of Vernacular Law: “Vernacular law originates in the informal, unofficial zones of society and is a source of moral legitimacy and power in its own right…places and spaces where people are struggling to achieve regeneration and social restoration against the forces of economic globalization” Bollier & Weston (2014)
5. Teaching, organizing or resourcing through Commons-based Peer Production: “Through imagining and constructing independent governance that supports the infrastructure of cooperation…can help us to protect the best qualities of the welfare state model, and transcend it with a radically re imagined politics that would facilitate social value creation and community organized practices.” Bauwens et al. (2017)
6. Recognise the need for a Partner State to fund and support this process of social value creation and community organized practices (e.g. the needs of civil society and its living, caring and learning environments) rather than the current state/market tendency to genuflect to corporate or financial interests: “The Partner State is the concept whereby public authorities play a sustaining role in the ‘direct creation of value by civil society’, i.e. sustains and promotes commons-based Peer Production.” Bauwens (2012)
7. Supporting the work of the School of Commoning, a worldwide community of people supporting the developing commons movement.
8. Supporting the work of the Centre for Welfare Reform (CFWR). Working on such projects as Sustainability and Social Justice, Constitutional Reform, Basic Income and other Commonfare practices to navigate the socioeconomic risks of life, CfWR is something akin to an open-access knowledge commons and a community of independent citizens committed to equality and diversity.
9. Join, support or contribute to the Citizen’s Network, a global non-profit cooperative movement, formed to create a world where everyone matters – where everyone can be an equal citizen.
10. Finally, if nothing else, add the missing social context. We should be wary of simple solutions to complex problems, but much social suffering and environmental damage could be avoided or reversed if the political will, citizen understanding, and the right public institutions of support and cultural learning existed to do so. This starts, as some speakers at this symposium correctly alluded to, with the rejection of the myth of homoeconomicus.
In brief conclusion, challenging the sanctity of ‘the state/market’ duopoly as the sole determinant of human nature, worth, and value creation is the priority. However, there’s much critical work to be done.
Bauwens, M 2012 Blueprint for P2P Society: The Partner State and Ethical Economy. Shareable Magazine 7th April 2012
Bauwens, M et al. 2017. Commons Transition: a primer. Transnational Institute. https://www.tni.org/en/publication/commons-transition-and-p2p
Bollier, D. & Weston, B. 2014. Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights and the Law of the Commons. Cambridge University Press.
Gronemeyer, M. 2014. ‘Conviviality’: Patterns of Commoning. The Commons Strategy Group. Amherst, MA.
Ostrom, E. 1990. Governing the Commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge University Press.
Hardin, G. 1968. The Tragedy of the Commons. Science (December 13th 1968).
Hot off the press! Our BLCC member Dr Pam Seanor has published the following chapter:
‘Of course, trust is not the whole story; narratives of dancing with a critical friend in social enterprise-public sector collaboration’ in Pascal Day and Chris Steyaert (Eds) Social entrepreneurship: An affirmative Critique, Cheltenham UK and Northampton, MA, USA, Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 159-181
Pam tells us, “The chapter began from hearing a story told at an academic conference. The story stayed with me and led me to query the adequacy of academic narratives which frame trust in univocally positive terms by conceiving it as an essential lubricant in collaborative relations between social enterprises and government. Based on interviews with social entrepreneurial practitioners and government officials in England, it shares the “everyday” stories where trust, rather the forming a linear and stable “thing”, is a fluid, constantly changing and contested social practice. Shedding light on the co-implication of trust and control, and the ubiquity of distrust, “calculative trust” and practitioner resistance, the chapter works as an injunction to rethink the centrality of trust in everyday life of social enterprises.”
Pam welcomes conversations with practitioners of their everyday aspects of social enterprise and social entrepreneurship: Pam.Seanor@uwe.ac.uk
The idea of this book took off from the 3E conference with invited participants who, like us, had voiced their interest and concerns regarding entrepreneurship education, experiencing a gap between entrepreneurship practices we studied and found in textbooks and what we felt was asked for in the classroom. I had the pleasure to be invited to co-facilitate a PDW and have now published a book chapter on my work:
Seanor, P. (2018). A space on the side of the road: creating space for a critical approach to entrepreneurship. K. Berglund, JK. Verduijn. In: Revitalizing entrepreneurship education: adopting a critical approach in the classroom. Routledge, pp.99-118.
Book description: Within mainstream scholarship, it’s assumed without question that entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship education are desirable and positive economic activities. Drawing on a wide range of theoretical approaches and political-philosophical perspectives, critical entrepreneurship studies has emerged to ask the questions which this assumption obscures.
Students of entrepreneurship need to understand why and how entrepreneurship is seen as a moral force which can solve social problems or protect the environment, or even to tackle political problems. It is time to evaluate how such contributions and insights have entered our classrooms. How much – if any – critical discussion and insight enters our classrooms? How do we change when students demand to be taught “how to do it”, not to be critical or reflexive.
If educators are to bring alternative perspectives into the classroom, it will entail a new way of thinking. There is a need to share ideas and practical approaches, and that is what the contributions to this volume aim to do and to illuminate new ways forward in entrepreneurship education.
” … what does it mean to reflect upon a position, a relation, a place related to other places but with no place of its own – a position in-between?” Elizabeth Grosz 2001.
I write as I am coming to an end of the Wandering about Bristol project and pause to reflect on the recent workshop, where we screened a film to the participants who filmed videos of wanders in Bristol (view film here). As such, the film draws upon participant videos capturing – How to navigate a “green” city? – and wandering opens up opportunities for using research to actively participate in, and render visible, spaces of in-between-ness which defy some of the official narrative introduced by the Green Capital 2015 initiative. In the wanders, the one narrative of the ‘green’ city is broken up by the street and the official voice and imagery is replaced with the sound of conversation partners. Representatives included those from the Bristol 2015 Co., who created the imagery and those who delivered projects as part of Bristol 2015 European Green capital initiative, local government, Sustrans, consultants, architects, landscape architects, Artists and those creating skate parks. The three wanders, 2015-2017, were co-created with practitioners, as they held the videos (please see links below to the wanders). Moreover, each of the wanders and the workshop were created from conversations with and listening to practitioners over coffee and cake or breakfast, sometimes walking and conversations ending up at the pub over a pint. However, when it came to writing up, each practitioner – research partner – was clear; none wanted any part of that experience. That role was (mostly) mine, with my working up drafts sent back and forth between me in Bristol and my co-writer Pascal Dey, whilst he was in Zurich and/or Grenoble. It is this part thinking/writing up space of which I speak.
In writing up, I am drawn to Steyaert’s (2011) thoughts of ‘movement and being moved’, as I too feel the moving and moving images, raise questions and reveal varied perspectives of spaces. On the one hand, the official imagination of Bristol as a ‘European Green Capital’ city and, on the other, the availability of alternatives to it. From the above citation, Grosz (2001) argues for openness to questioning perceptions and that the metaphor of ‘in-between’ offers a space from thinking solely in terms of binaries and dualisms. Where Grosz’s comment speaks of place, I am interested in Henri Lefebvre’ triad of space; it is her thinking of in-between-ness which has stayed with me. In a similar manner following Hjorth’s (2005, p.395) thoughts of ‘stepping in to the in-between’, I like the notion of transition and of the unexpected – Neither one thing nor the other but an-other space. The metaphor of in-between-ness offers such a space for transitions, the space of crossing a line, and new interpretations, a space for juxtaposing notions. In this particular instance, I am interested in juxtaposing how urban space might be thought about and how people move in-between ideas about Bristol as a ‘green’ city, what Lefebvre termed ‘official’ space and what they do in their everyday practices: Lefebvre’s ‘lived’ space. As Rajchman (2001, p.17 cited by Massey, 2005, p.159) posed ‘What kind of lines of flights of thought take off when we start to depart from ways we have been determined to be towards something other, we are not yet quite sure what…’. This last part is crucial in that wandering and the use of moving imagery is well suited to transcending dichotomies and communicating ideas that are complex and address plurality. And, though the thinking of the ‘other’ sits well with writers of critical writing of management and/or organisation studies, the imagery of utopia, often seen in green capital imagery, does not sit easily with the critical literature (Parker et al., 2014). What appears missing from these utopian imaginaries are the everyday, to which I now turn to step in to the methodology of capturing how we negotiate spaces. The wanders offered a way of moving in-between official utopian notions of Bristol as a ‘green’ city with how Bristolians’ everyday life, including their understanding and practices of greenness.
As my point of departure, the project began by looking at how those in cities organize and re-imagine as a ‘green’ city. In conceiving the ‘entrepreneurial’ city as a ‘site of organization’ (Beyes, 2015), there are challenges making the interactions complex; Timon notes that ‘greenness’ is heralded as a pertinent means to ‘save the city’ (p.208). Recent times have witnessed an increasing interest amongst city planners, including those in universities, in ‘greenness’, as a means for reconceiving urban space in line with concerns around environmental pollution and climate change.
Cities have long been privileged sites of power investments, as different stakeholders perpetually try to shape urban space in defined ways (Steyaert and Katz, 2004). These writers often drawn upon the thinking from other fields of study including, anthropology and human or cultural geography. Beyes (2010, 231) noted: ‘As Steyaert argues with regard to organisation studies, what makes cities interesting is their ‘imaginative geography’ (2006, 253), their possibilities for ‘transitional’ spaces that can be found in the organising processes of cities, ‘specific, “potential” or “other”, spaces and timings, which (…) allow transition and transformation (…)’ (2006, 248).
Knox (2010, p.187) too noted:
‘Cities are both the drivers of change and sites where transformations, which organisation scholars have observed elsewhere, can be re-interrogated and rethought’.
However, where Knox explores transformations using the lens of technological change and the nature of information in the city, I am interested in transformation from another vantage point. My study highlights how practitioners re-image their everyday practices.
My approach to the fieldworking is ‘on the move’ (Czarniawska 2007) in order to capture shared experiences and differing views. There was a moment when it became clear to me that the study required moving imagery, and the aspect of movement felt to fit the methodology and attitude of this project. Drawing its inspiration from existing research in organisation studies on walks/walking (for instance, Timon Beyes, Damian O-Doherty, Filipa Matos Wunderlich, Mary Phillips), the study advances the notion of ‘wandering’ as an embodied, collective and spatial research methodology which opens up opportunities for bringing to light spaces of in-between-ness which are glossed over and marginalized by dominant imagination. In reading, and re-reading the above writers, I have observed the fecundity of collective wandering in critical management studies, as a mode of critical inquiry, which in this study generates spatially embedded narratives and practices that reveal tensions and paradoxes within the official narrative of Bristol as a site of ‘green living’. Exposing ‘rupture lines’ of the conceived imagery of Bristol as a ‘green city’, wandering, I argue, also bears purchase as a means of utopian imagination since offering new opportunities for stepping into ‘the in-between’ to stimulate experiences of transition and a plurality of meanings in movement as opposed to notions of apparent stability and predictability. The tentative conclusion toward which the study gravitates is that the critical thrust of wandering is deeply imbricated with the possibility of utopian imagination, not in the sense of advancing clear-cut alternatives to the dominant imagination, but by creating a distance from the dominant notion of ‘green city’ to create possibilities for looking at urban space afresh.
Finally, in the metaphor of in-between-ness, there is one last thought. I find myself as part of this project and seek to offer affirmative critique which can change practices. I think that wandering and/or capturing conversations using moving imagery offers the opportunity to question existing tools and methods in organization studies, and to open up a conversation of the need to look around for alternative ways. Yet, in sharing these ideas at conferences, it has yet to find a place. In presenting at EGOS 2015, to the Space and materiality stream, mine was the only paper looking at spaces in a city, most researchers were focusing on space in a building (e.g. hospitals seemed particularly popular sites of study). My feedback being scholars present had not before seen a Prezi and people liked this tool and my use of colour. At EGOS 2016, I tried the Ethnography stream to find the study did not fit well there either: one said I was not writing of an organization, and another that I had neglected to draw upon the traditional anthropology literature. In the Manchester International Ethnography Symposium, this summer, again, it did not to fit comfortably in the visual studies stream, as two attendees said it was not aesthetically pleasing (e.g. there are noises from the city and it is not professionally videoed), nor was it of ‘a standard expected for it to be an ethnography’. I submitted an earlier manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal, Entrepreneurship & Regional Development, and the editor-in-chief kindly sent me two e-mails saying he regrettably rejected the manuscript as ‘Space’ does not sit easily within the narrative of his journal, and the second that he too attempts to publish in this field of study and gets rejected as this research sits at the margins. Hence, I it is a bit with irony that I find my thinking in Grosz’s position of in-between-ness. I welcome conversations to discuss these ideas and experiences with those also interested in affirmative critique.
Wandering about Bristol is a Small Research Grant for the project ‘Thinking urban spaces differently: Articulating and contesting “green” imageries of Bristol as an enterprising city’ and is supported by the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust.
Meet at the footbridge over the River Avon near Sparke Evans Park, BS2 0BS
We invite you to join us on a collective walk – what we call a wander – along the river in Bristol. By wandering our intent is to bring people together in a specific place to explore how walking and talking with others can help social change. We think this approach is a good way to share ideas so we are inviting people (up to 20) to wander with us.
We’re interested in how urban space might be thought about and how people move in-between ideas about Bristol as a ‘green’ city depicted in the Bristol European Green Capital and its legacy: ‘conceived’ and ways in which people live and work in Bristol experience the city: ‘lived’. We are also interested in existing physical: ‘perceived’ spaces, such as the rivers and areas at the margins of the city centre. Thus, in wandering we seek to create new spaces to meet walk and have conversations around these themes.
To begin the conversations we pose the following:
What does this space near the river mean for you?
What does ‘Green’ mean to you?
How are people feeling about a sense of ownership of the spaces near the river and has this altered since the recent interventions by developers of the spaces?
Has the act of wandering changed your views towards the space? If so, how?
Finally, this leads to our question: Is there another way?
When and where is the wander?
June12 at 12.15 PM
We will meet together at the footbridge over the River Avon nr. Sparke Evans Park.
The wander in total with be approx. 1 hour and will end at Temple Meads. If you have time, please join us for a cuppa and cake afterwards.
How will we capture conversations and what will we do with it?
We would like to record bits of these walks and conversations – so we will take notes and collect images through photos and videos. Participation is entirely voluntary. Those not wishing to have their images videoed will be respected and arrangements are in place to ensure this agreement.
We will ask participants to sign a written consent form on the day. Anyone who has given informed consent can at any time, while data or media gathering is happening, withdraw it after discussion with the project lead. The walks will be conducted in accordance to the UK Data Protection Act of 1998, BBC guidelines and the University of the West of England research ethical code of conduct. Sorry – we can not accommodate children at this event.
What will happen after the wander?
This is the third of three wanders. We are looking at how differing experiences, conversations, and knowledge could be applied to help shape the design of a ‘green’ city. In order to do so, in Autumn 2017, we will be holding a workshop Exploring Spaces of ‘Green’ Practices. Our intention is to facilitate the workshop around the significant themes captured during the three wanders and to provide a forum to debate current issues. As such, we want to share existing and ongoing work and its impact and to generate new research questions and future research collaborations and possibly to propose new interventions in Bristol for possible implementation.
We will invite those who have been involved in the wanders and others who are interested and active in how we create spaces for social change in the city and beyond. At the event we will show a short film from the wanders to collectively explore the differing themes in order to develop points of discussion and new practices. Alongside these, a report will be produced on how walking and talking with others can help social change.
I’d like to join you on the wander – what do I do now?
This event is free but spaces are limited. To get your ticket click on the blue “Book Now” button above.
Carlton Bodkin, Director Practical-Architects; Kyle Hannan, Head of Projects EcoMedia Collective; Nic Stenberg, Associate Icarus Collective Ltd and trainee health psychologist; Jess Bryne-Daniel, Sr Lecturer School of Architecture and Landscape, Leeds Beckett University. Design Council/CABE BEE; Pascal Dey, Associate Professor People, Organisations and Society Department, Grenoble Ecole de Management.
Wandering about Bristol is a Small Research Grant for the project ‘Thinking urban spaces differently: Articulating and contesting “green” imageries of Bristol as an enterprising city’ and is supported by the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust.
Also see this article and more information about the Festival at: http://www.bnhc.org.uk/festival-of-nature/wandering-bristol-another-way/