Gavin will be speaking about the Non-Stop Against Apartheid research project at University College London on Tuesday 19 November. The seminar, organised by the Geography department, takes place at 12.30 in Bedford Way 113. Gavin’s talk is titled “Having been a participant: reflections on the complexities of researching social movement histories”.
In recent years, many academic geographers have become increasingly interested in using participatory research methods to work with participants in their research. In many ways, the Non-Stop Against Apartheid project was conceived more conventionally. Although a small number of former Non-Stop Picketers agreed to serve on the project’s advisory group and offered valuable advice in the early days of the project, it was never intended to be wholly participatory in ethos. Gavin’s seminar paper considers how participants ended up claiming a greater participatory role in the project than had originally been anticipated – through their enthusiasm to help, their generosity in sharing photos and papers, and the feedback they have given on material published here and elsewhere. This is not surprising, as the research has made clear, the Non-Stop Picket was a formative, peak experience for many of its participants. How it is remembered matters intensely for them, both personally and politically. Gavin’s paper will consider what happens when participatory imperatives force their way into more conventionally designed research projects, and considers the benefits and pitfalls that result from this.
As both Gavin and Helen were themselves participants in the Non-Stop Picket – Gavin as a teenager and Helen, through her parents’ involvement, as a younger child – they have had to negotiate the experience of finding their younger selves in the archive and confront who they were back then. For Gavin, at least, conversations about the research sometime become entangled with political positions he took a quarter of a century ago. He also frequently needs to negotiate tensions between his own memories and mythologies about the Picket and how his academic training encourages him to approach the research material. His own participation in the Non-Stop Picket haunts the analysis.
This seminar, then, offers a moment of reflection on the dis/advantages of the unexpected participatory turn in this research, and what lessons it might offer for wider research with social movements (and by activist-scholars).