“The fundamental problem affecting Belfast is that geography matters in a way that is overt and obvious” (Shirlow, 2006, p.107).
Many children and their families in Belfast, Northern Ireland still live in a society divided along ethnosectarian lines; by barriers both visible and invisible, the extent of which pose still further ideological boundaries (Leonard, 2010; McDowell and Shirlow, 2011). These material realities of division inevitably influence the various modes in which they construct, perceive, and communicate their personal geographies (Connolly and Healy, 2003; Stockinger, 2015). In response to Peter Shirlow’s statement (above) then, I ask: what of those geographies that matter in less obvious, less overt ways?
Centring upon the idea that children and young people live their personal geographies in myriad and often contradictory ways that may resist both rationalisation and overarching narratives of place, my research aims are as follows:
- to creatively extend and enrich understandings of children and young people’s performative, affective, embodied, experimental, arts-based mapping practices within contemporary Belfast, which includes the productive conceptual relations between ‘dwelling with’, playfulness and enchantment.
- to interrogate and reposition normative geographies of division as have been traditionally framed and mapped in the context of Belfast, Northern Ireland
To me, these aims raise political questions – ones which should be ‘on the map’ so to speak. Accordingly, my research questions are as follows:
- What particular advantages do creative, methodological mapping encounters bring to explorations of children’s everyday, personal geographies in Belfast?
- In what ways are co-constitutive relations with the more-than-human world enacted through human-material mapping encounters?
- How does creative and playful mapping praxis allow us to better understand how division is maintained, undermined or challenged through the lens of children and young people in Belfast?
- Looking beyond the context of Belfast and Northern Ireland, how might more-than-representational mapping praxis be used further as a creative platform to enable children to communicate and challenge legacies of ethno-sectarianism and conflict within their communities?
Pivotal to my research design and methodology is the child and young person’s right to take part in creative activity; to know and understand their own culture and that of others in a divided society, specifically where it relates their personal geography (NI Human Rights Commission, 2014).
In addition, my project seeks to make a wider contribution beyond specific discussions of mapping – or indeed methodology – by seeking to engage with the broader trend in cultural geography in recent years towards creative geographies/GeoHumanities. The chief point is that children and young people are engaged in richly diverse creative practices – both inside and outside of research projects – but within creative/critical geographies these practices are typically labelled as ‘participatory children’s geographies. I contend that there must be scope for dialogue and debate between those sub-fields that is open to the diverse, rich and strange possibilities of creative processes, which stress embodiment, performance, openness, ambiguity, experimentation, politicisation and practice of everyday geographies ‘in-action’ (Gallacher and Gallagher, 2008).
I, therefore, wish to start the conversation between creative geographies and children and youth geographies that has not yet happened to date; to this end, I argue that that children’s geographies can be read through and against creative geographies, focusing specifically on children’s everyday lives in Belfast from their perspective.
- children’s (everyday) geographies
- creative geographies
- more-than-representational mappings
- minor theory
- the productive conceptual relations between ‘dwelling with’, playfulness and enchantment
Playing with place: towards creative mapping praxis in Belfast.
Previous education and experience
- MEd, Masters in Children’s Literature, The University of Cambridge, Master’s Degree, Distinction.
- PGCE, Primary Education, The University of Cambridge, Postgraduate Certificate in Education.
- BA Criticism, Communication, Curation, Central Saint Martins, Bachelor’s Degree, First Class.
- Oct 2017–current - Postgraduate Rep – Geographies of Children Youth and Families Research Group
- Jan 2017–June 2017 - Graduate Teaching Assistant & Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
- Sept 2016–July 2016 - Class teacher, Charles Dickens Primary School, London
- Sept 2013-July 2014 - Teacher of English and Inclusion Tutor