Seasons Greetings!

Well what a year that was. It started so well, meeting all our newly-funded project teams for 2020 face to face (whoever thought we’d ever have to specify that!) and hearing all their exciting plans for research.  We had a fantastic workshop looking at the Limits of the Law around Human Rights, funded some Ideas Exchanges and then Covid made itself ever-present.  Our projects were amazing, displaying a fantastic level of enthusiasm, resilience, adaptability, creativity and good humour despite the challenges – we saw new approaches, shifting activities to online, rethinking methods and engaging people in different ways. And of course we still managed some events, work in progress meetings around Creativity and PolicyHidden HistoriesMapping, Data and InterdisciplinarityExpression and Co-productionEnvironment and Activism and Place and Community, and even managed an online webinar and book launch around the Brigstow funded Kept Apart project. Lastly our collaboration with the Bristol Photo Festival saw two projects funded, “We Are Still Here: Stories from the HIV and AIDS Community” and “Bringing the War Home II”.

So a huge thank you to everyone who we’ve supported through projects this year, to those who have attended events (whether face to face or online) and to everyone else who has continued to engage with us in whichever way – we wish you all a safe, happy and healthy seasonal break and look forward to a different year ahead.

Happy holidays from the Brigstow Team,
Tim, Gail, Julia, and Ceri

Brigstow and the Bristol Photo Festival Research Projects

Brigstow is delighted to announce that our collaboration with the Bristol Photo Festival has awarded funding to two exciting projects that use photography as a research tool: “We Are Still Here: Stories from the HIV and AIDS Community” and “Bringing the War Home II”.

Brigstow Institute and the Bristol Photo Festival have collaborated on a joint commission to fund two interdisciplinary research projects that seek to use photography as a research method. “We Are Still Here: Stories from the HIV and AIDS Community” and “Bringing the War Home II” are two projects that seek to use this creative research methodology meaningfully as a sensitive form of exploration into what it means to live well in the 21st century.

“As with other Brigstow projects, these are a chance for people who have not previously worked together before to bring their diverse expertise to play in a new research partnership” Professor Tim Cole, Director of Brigstow Institute

We Are Still Here: Stories from the HIV and AIDS Community” seeks to explore how visual representations of living spaces offer an insight into the lived experiences and mental wellbeing of people in the HIV/AIDS community in the UK.  This project is a collaboration between Dr. Adrian Flint (University of Bristol, SPAIS), Mareike Günsche (Photographer at Aspectus and State University of Arts in Ulan Bator, Mongolia) and Martin Burns (Writer, HIV/AIDS activist and equality advocate).

“Bringing the War Home II” will seek to expand current understandings of war, and what makes war possible through the lens of the home. Bringing the War Home II involves, Dr. Elspeth Van Veeren (University of Bristol, SPAIS), Dr. Miriam Snellgrove (Stirling University), Edmund Clark (Photographer, University of Arts London) and Olu Osinoiki (Photographer at Olumedia).

Both of these funded projects feed into the Bristol Photo Festival’s theme of “The Living Room Archive” and demonstrate the breadth of meanings given to the places we call ‘home’ and the diverse research questions that can be explored through the living spaces.

“These two commissions are very much in line with our festival ethos: developing multidisciplinary collaborations, encouraging long term engagement, and tackling relevant socio-political issues. We are very excited to see these research projects develop and their final display as part of the first edition of the festival” Alejandro Acin, Bristol Photo Festival

The final exhibitions for both research projects will take place as part of the Bristol Photo Festival in 2021.


Seedcorn Funding: 2020-21 call now open

Closing date 3 February 2021 at 4pm.

This is an opportunity for mixed interdisciplinary teams of researchers to carry out risky, experimental, and exploratory projects to take the first steps in developing and pursuing new research questions. We especially welcome applications from teams that might find it difficult to find early-stage funding because of the novelty of the ideas, methods or approaches.

Funds are available to initiate and develop partnerships to undertake early-stage, experimental research pilots. This funding is also suitable if you received Ideas Exchange or network funding from us before and are now ready to embark upon testing those ideas through a seedcorn research project.

You can find more information on the Seedcorn funding webpages. Or see what Brigstow is looking for in a seedcorn application and how to apply in the 2020-21 seedcorn guidelines, checklist and applications page of our website.

You can see the range of projects we’ve funded so far on the Projects page of the Brigstow Website and watch a film of our showcase event where projects were able to show people the work they’d done, on the About page of our website.

Once upon a time, when we couldn’t climb the hill together.

Image credit: Scott Farlow

Early in 2020, on a wet February morning, our research team got together to flesh out the plan for our project. In keeping with the place-based, experiential and co-produced focus of our research, the meeting took the shape of a walk to the summit of Robinswood Hill. We were led by Nicola from the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, and joined by Dawn and Caroline from The Venture, a local organisation that provides community-based play opportunities for children and families. Both organisations are community partners of the Trust and play a central role in sustaining connection and wellbeing in the neighbourhoods in which the Trust works.

As we made our way up the muddy hill, Nicola told us about the history of the orchards, wells and quarries that form part of Robinswood Hill Country Park. Dawn and Caroline reflected on the significance of the hill in their lives and community work, from the walks and picnics they organised with local families, to the legends they learnt as children about the ghosts that roam the park at night. At the top we were treated with spectacular views of the surrounding landscape, with the Severn Bridge to the South, Malvern Hills to the North, Black Mountains to the West, and Cotswold AONB to the East. We experienced the Hill as a meeting point between urban and rural landscapes, observing how the neighbourhoods on the fringes of the City of Gloucester (Matson, White City, Podsmead and Tuffley) nestle round its base.

As we slowly made our way back down, the design of our research activities got underway. We planned to bring together local school children to take part in a series of storytelling walks on the hill, followed by a workshop facilitated by artist and team member, Scott Farlow, in which the children could explore their experiences of the hill. However, in the weeks that followed, with the pandemic unfolding around us, our research plans were put firmly on hold. We have since discussed redesigning the research to deliver something remotely, such as packages for parents and local schools that would include a map of the hill, arts materials and activities, and culminate in a virtual exhibition of their artwork.

The problem was that we are faced with a series of challenges, most significantly, was it possible to explore felt and embodied experiences of place and space from afar? For the time being we have decided to put things on pause until Spring next year, in the hope that we might get a window of opportunity (pandemic permitting) to run the workshops face-to-face. Regardless of the format, our central lines of inquiry – to explore the significance of the park and its role in contributing to community wellbeing – feel ever more pertinent given the impacts of the pandemic on our daily lives and relationships to place and space.

There are many things that we can do virtually, including running research institutes and universities, but some forms of research rely on the proximity of bodies and things. In our case, we need the space and light of the hill, the crunch of earth beneath your feet, because these are the experiences we want to understand and document. So, we will have to wait, until we can be together, in time, on a hill.

Find out more about Brigstow funded  project Once Upon a Hill: An action research inquiry into community engagements with Robinswood Hill Country Park in their project profile.

Digital Tattoo

With the covid pandemic we have adapted our research because unfortunately we did not have access to a workshop to play with digital pigment in the way we wanted. But while we did not reached yet the stage of creating digital tattoos, we still looked at how to use the technology to create non rectangular displays as a first step. Interestingly we have had two opposite reaction to this objective.

The first question people asks is “why do you want to have a display that is other than rectangular?”. This question is very interesting because somehow, when we think about the word “display”, we do all think about a rectangular TV screen. But if we really think about it, a firework is a display too. Even throughout the history we have used many topologies to “display” information, e.g. paintings on column in ancient Egypt, vases or plates were very common. The first Cathode Ray Tube TVs were even circular but were changed to fit the rectangular shape of perforated filmstrips who were rectangular. A century later, we still use rectangular displays. Somehow we have biased ourself into thinking displays must be that way.

To counterbalance that, we also have a second type of question that people asks us which is “how can i use this now for X application”. And those people are either artists, or industrials who can clearly see beyond the biases we have toward thinking about display are rectangular and planar. We have had interest from urban artists who want to use it for street art, from more tattoo artists. We also have had interest from phone and car producers. So there is definitely a market for creating displays of any shapes or that can be integrated on many topologies. The truth is that advances in technology have and are enabling to make displays with varying shapes. But the most difficult challenge we are face now is to break those established and static ideas that have accumulated over decades.

We are hopeful that our research could do this, either by inspiring artists who often in the history have enable changes to happen, or either inspiring manufacturers into breaking norms and standards.

Find out more about ‘Digital Tattoo: Designing interface for controlling smart ink in programmable tattoo‘.

I Didn’t Buy

It seems like a long time ago that our project team met for the first time in a crowded, very much un-socially distanced Boston Tea Party on Park Street. It was hard then to envisage a time when we would have a ‘minimum viable product’ available for testing. But here we are! Next week we enter the final stage of the Brigstow funded part of our project – testing a plug-in with sustainably minded consumers.

The I Didn’t Buy project was set up to develop a web browser plug-in that would allow people to rapidly access information on the sustainability of products they were researching. We want to ensure that sustainability features as one of the normative evaluation criteria for online shopping, along with price, appearance, and customer review. Thinking back a few years, online shopping did not take customer opinion into account at all, and that has changed thanks to now assumed technologies that afford user generated content. We suggest that sustainability information should be the same, becoming a completely normal part of everyday online shopping.

Furthering that, we want to encourage consumers to be an active part of the plug-in, rather than simply receiving the information. The plug-in makes it easy to review information and share thoughts with other consumers and with manufacturers – for example, calling for better sustainability information and transparency, or actively choosing a brand because of their policies, and pointing others in the same direction. This approach promotes agency, envisioning a kind of online community of sustainable shoppers who empower themselves and each other.

Since the project launched in January, we have been able to hold two face-to-face focus groups before moving our methodology over to online interviews. These two research phases were focused on understanding how sustainability-minded people shop, and the experiences they have of shopping online. The findings emphasise the confusion surrounding shopping with sustainability in mind, with complex trade-offs making it difficult to act in line with professed values. People found that corporate sustainability language is difficult to follow, often buried, or potentially untrustworthy. Consumers often either rely on the brands they know and regularly use, or simply give up. Often, in order to guarantee the provenance of the products they are buying, many people avoid online shopping altogether. But they still see value in researching products online.

The interviews gave us rich, nuanced data to work with. Using thematic analysis and presenting findings in report form, we developed a set of requirements for the plug-in. We have developed a prototype which we are now ready to test. The final phase of research is the most ambitious: it involves three stages, with seventeen sustainably minded consumers. These range from rapid, largely unreflexive shoppers, to those who are more considered and careful, and keen to share their experiences. Participants will be shown a video of the prototype as a short familiarisation and training exercise online, with a synchronous question and answer session. For a week they then go about their normal lives, but we ask for a short survey to be completed each time they search for something online (or a minimum of three times). These questions prompt reflection about how the plug-in would have been useful. Finally, an hour-long online interview will be conducted, where the plug-in will be interrogated for its design features, depth of content, presentation of information, and usability.

We have had to adapt our methodology considerably during lockdown and it has certainly slowed us down – we were initially hoping to finish the project in April. However, the slower pace has allowed more detailed reflection about our approach and the chance to theorize our findings. It has been fascinating working in such a strongly interdisciplinary team from both academia and practice. Our modus operandi has been communication and clarity at every step. We might have different ways of describing or researching phenomena, but through good humoured conversation have always managed to reach a point of agreement. The next step is publication (for the academics) and securing further funding to facilitate marketisation.

Read more about the I Didn’t Buy research project here.

All mankind is of one author, and is one volume

John Donne’s evocation of human connectedness across space and time is a fitting sentiment for our Brigstow-funded project “Medievals and Moderns in conversation”. Here, we’re asking how the long-history of our rural medieval churches might help us imagine new roles today for church buildings in their communities. As part of this work we’re developing an interactive audio tool to help us work closer with our community partners at Brockley in North Somerset. To date, we have conducted a number of face-to-face interviews with residents concerning rural life; our ambition is now to open-up this process further, bringing other perspectives into our conversations and creating new routes for participation in the process. Thinking beyond our earlier interview approach (see insight post here), we want to support a more open-ended, reflexive, and collaborative engagement with people’s stories at Brockley. In the first stage of this project, we’re asking how new technologies and a deeper engagement with the long-history of Brockley might help us achieve this.

Taking the Long View

In Medievals and Moderns our central interest lies in how the long-view of communities – back to the medieval period – might change the way we think about the future of our under-used historic churches. St Nicholas’ Brockley is one such church. Since its release from the parish into the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, how St Nicholas’ might now best support its community has become a pressing question.

Why are we turning back to the medieval period for new insight on a modern problem such as this? There is, perhaps, a risk that we inherit today too-narrow a view of our historic churches either as spaces ‘isolated’ for Christian worship or as works of ‘religious art’ to be preserved at all costs. Although there is nothing intrinsically wrong with either of these positions, they can act to limit our view of the rich relationships that have sustained churches and their communities (today as in the past), or might make claim to historical continuity (“this is how it is, and this is why”) that misrepresents the past in some way.

Looking back to the medieval period at St Nicholas’, we encounter a very different relationship between faith and community to the one we see today, the subject of a future insight post. Suffice to say, what the long-view can open up is new ideas for creative and meaningful relationships between a church and its wider community. We want to ask if the perceived gap between church sites as “sacred heritage to be preserved” and “community hub responsive to current needs” might be a largely conceptual one – something that can be tackled by taking the long-view. In this insight post, we’ll focus on the new interactive device we’re developing to help stimulate exactly these conversations at Brockley.

A Role for New Technologies

The building block of our interactive device is the Jigsaudio system developed by Alexander Wilson at Newcastle University’s Open Lab research group ( At the base station (Figure 1), Jigsaudio technology allows you to record an audio file and give it a unique identification tag. This unique tag can be associated with any other physical object, such that when the object is placed against the base station, that specific audio file associated with it can be played back on speakers. In this project exploring rural life today and the future of St Nicholas’, the Jigsaudio system can help us record people’s stories, perspectives, ideas, and questions as part of an ongoing conversation – this might be through an organised workshop or opened up to more spontaneous individual contributions over a period of time.

We see this as an example of how ‘slow technology’ can be used to give people more time  in crafting (or reconsidering) a response to difficult questions about place and place-change. It’s an approach that can release time to work together, open up different conversational moods (both formal and informal), and introduce conditions that encourage people to contribute in a thoughtful and respectful way. As slow technology, the physical element of Jigsaudio devices is also very important. Highly portable, it can be setup just about anywhere, meaning that its design and installation can be tied with the special characteristics each space has to offer. Finally, the device’s tagged objects, each with a unique associated audio file, can be assembled together to form a physical community storybook at the site in question.

Figure 1: A Jigsaudio base station with scan, play, and record functions. A special tagged object is scanned and either a new audio file recorded in connection with it or an existing connected audio file played back. In this way, different audio stories can be connected with different objects. Image credit: Alexander Wilson

Connecting Conversations with Objects and Places

In the conversations we want to hold at St Nicholas’, there are three different pairings between place (where a device is situated) and theme we want to explore: The first is the font, where we will focus on themes of community identity across generations – past, present, and future; the second location is an 18th-century family box pew, where we’ll focus on the role of St Nicholas’ in constituting and structuring community in different periods; finally, a third device will be kept entirely portable, focusing on people’s personal stories, hopes, and ambitions for life in Brockley. Through the tagged objects described, we will introduce ideas from the long-history of St Nicholas’, a means of shaping these three “sited” conversations.

As an open-source device (meaning the software and hardware design are available for anyone to use free of charge), the Jigsaudio system comes in ‘barebones’ form. We are treating this as an opportunity to design a casing for the device that is special to the project and its use in a church setting. Getting the design right is an important step (figure 2). If done well, it can help cement the idea that re-thinking St Nicholas’ future is nothing new – an ongoing process with a long pedigree; if done badly, it risks staging this project as a temporary ‘intervention’ – one that can change nothing.

Figure 2: Tom Metcalfe at the Telephone Avenue studio in Bristol.

A Symbolic Starting Point

Our aim is to design a device casing that is firmly the product of our time whilst also one drawing on the heritage of St Nicholas’ and Brockley. A key design position is to avoid coming too close to a ‘religious object’ (something imitative of a liturgical vessel or church furnishing); rather, we want to draw on design motifs that recognise Brockley’s indebtedness to the Christian Faith whilst also acknowledging that St Nicholas’ future lies in its support for the whole community. Our starting point has been the term ciborium, from which both chalice and canopy are derived. Each symbolises divine presence, but in different ways: one – held, contained, and embodied; the other – overhead and all-embracing. The significance of container and covering is a far reaching one in our human story; it both predates and reaches beyond Christianity alone.

With an etymology that describes an open seed pod, the chalice has come to occupy a central position amongst sacred vessels, the cup in which the wine and water of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is contained. Other altar vessels, such as the Ciborium or Patens also echo the significance of a hand-held object that signals divine presence. In a similar guise, the canopy symbolises the heavens above ‘down here on Earth’. Canopies have come to take on an enormous variety of forms, scales and functions. We see them as overhangs for processions, wall niches, tombs, statues, and font coverings. (Even architectural ribbed vaults were understood as canopies by contemporary chroniclers). Here at Brockley, canopies are found over the pulpit, in its stained glass windows, and even over the chimney pot in the southern transept. Our initial design adapts this joint symbolism further.

 A Prototype

The device (Figure 3) takes the form of a cylindrical object, tapered on the underside and with a deep recess into the upper surface, giving it a bowl- and canopy-like quality. Held in the hand, it has the intimacy of a simple bowl – a symbolic centring for personal reflections on community today; suspended over the font, or held-up in position in a pew, it takes on the form of a small canopy – symbolically embracing each of us within community. Recognising our interest in the changing role of St Nicholas’ (from past through present to future), the device casing will be cast in Pewter, a soft and malleable metal alloy commonly used for everyday objects in the Middle Ages and a material that will itself be transformed through use. As with St Nicholas’ itself, this is not the place for design that is ahistorical or resistant to the passage of time.

Over the inner surface of the device, we will depict a model of the medieval universe as imagined by Dante Alighieri at the beginning of the 14th century in the Commedia. A work of poetry – a love poem – the Commedia tackles the pursuit of a good life in the face of lived uncertainty. In the Commedia, to paraphrase Robin Kirkpatrick: Human existence expresses itself through ‘will’ and ‘desire’ – in an appetite, shared with all other forms of life, to live as completely as possible (Dante Alighieri (2007). Paradiso. Translated and edited by R. Kirkpatrick. Penguin Classics, pxiii). That this is a journey fraught with difficulties is beyond doubt, but it is one we must all embrace. Under lockdown, we are reminded that the historic parish church has been witness to the challenges each generation has faced, providing a beacon for renewal in the most difficult of times. It’s time, again, to explore what the next chapter in that journey might be.

Figure 3
A digital rendering of our proposed casing for the Jigsaudio device (see text above for details)
Image credit: Tom Metcalfe, Telephone Avenue

What’s next?

Since the 6th July, the Churches Conservation Trust has begun the process of opening its churches. This means that, soon, we will be able to return to St Nicholas’ with a working prototype of our interactive audio device, a first step to sharing, testing and iterating its design.

Find out more about Brigstow funded ‘Tackling uncertainty across the centuries: medievals and moderns in conversation’ here.

Roll with it: teamwork and research in a pandemic

Image credit: Michael Grieve

Health issues started to impact on our project (Kept Apart: couples and families separated by the UK immigration system) before the UK locked down in response to Covid-19. Just before our first workshop, Katharine (the PI) was struck down by a nasty case of food poisoning. If we cancelled the workshop, with lockdown looming, it seemed unlikely we would be able to meet at all. So, led by Rissa, we pressed ahead, documenting the workshop in photos and notes so that when Katharine recovered she was relieved to find that she could get a good sense of what had come out of the day.

On a practical level the pandemic and consequent lockdown meant moving all project activities after the workshop. online, including the co-creative process with our project participants. Hence, the second ‘workshop’ which would have been an in-person meeting of the group focused on working with the draft material from the first workshop to co-produce final prose and content for the book had to happen through a series of online meetings and correspondences with the participants. Whilst this was disappointing given that the first workshop had provided so much in terms of feelings of unity and support for those affected but it was a good alternative given the insurmountable restrictions. We were able to carry on with most elements of the research – working on the text and developing illustration ideas through email, holding the second workshop and team meetings online using Blackboard collaborate.

As a co-produced project, we relied heavily on the willingness and ability of our participants to stay involved. They had signed up for two face-to-face workshops, but ended up in a more protracted process of developing and refining the work online. The fact that they did continue to contribute was all the more remarkable given that for those still going through the immigration process, the Covid crisis had often made their situations worse – increasing the uncertainty about when they would be reunited with family members, or whether they would be able to meet the requirements for visa extensions.

But Covid may also have created opportunities. The travel restrictions and social distancing measures have  seen a large proportion of the general population experiencing enforced separation from family members and friends. Therefore, there is a sense that this may have opened up new possibilities for empathy and paths of understanding and connection for those people who haven’t encountered the experience of family separation before. Combined with renewed debates about immigration regulations, and greater recognition of the contribution of migrants during the crisis, we see this as a moment of potential for change.  In this context, Reunite Families UK, one of the project partners, launched a renewed campaign to scrap the minimum income requirement for family migration, gaining celebrity support, and providing an opportunity to release the ebook which emerged from our project into what we hope will be a more receptive environment.

We were of course fortunate – for many projects the practical impediments to research plans during the Covid crisis will have been insurmountable. But each stage of the project, as new challenges emerged, a simple core principle emerged that we will take away for the future – that a strong and collaborative team (including the research participants) who are committed to the importance of the research, increases the chances of being able to ‘roll with it’ as the unexpected gets in the way of original plans.

Read more about Kept Apart: couples and families separated by the UK immigration system here.

Ken Pryce: His life, his academic contribution and his relevance today: from a historian’s perspective

I’ve always regretted not meeting Ken Pryce when he was in Bristol. He left in 1973 and I had only just arrived in the city in 1972.  But his book Endless Pressure first published in 1979 was to be a great influence on me, so I was delighted when Jo Kontis came up with the idea of revisting his work including the PhD dissertation on which the book was based. Her aim of finding out what had since happened to some of the people who had featured in his original research seemed particularly important as many were elderly and their experience would soon be lost to posterity.

Photographs by kind permission of Ms Nicole Taylor from her private family collection.

The project was also particularly timely given the present focus on racial injustice and the lack of diversity at institutions like the University of Bristol. What was life like for people from African-Caribbean backgrounds in Bristol (and the UK) in the post-war era and how have things changed since then? What can Pryce’s experience as a Black academic from Jamaica tell us about both mainland Britain and its former colonies?  It also raises other questions which are preoccupying us all. These include issues of identity and the relationship between academia and the public. But the project also makes us reconsider issues around who is best placed to capture marginalized people’s experience and how that can best be done.

Though I never met Ken, I came to know many people whose lives he had touched, from some of the people he interviewed for his study to others outside St. Pauls. Given the anonymity which respondents were supposed to have enjoyed,  I won’t list the names of the people whom he interviewed for the study whom I knew, but only those at the University of Bristol and elsewhere in Bristol. These included his supervisor Michael Banton,  friends and supporters such as Professor Steve Fenton,  and Angela  Rodaway. What follows is a personal assessment of Ken Pryce’s life, approach and contribution, and is based both on his work and on conversations with some of the people (including friends and family members in the Caribbean) who knew him personally. I write both as a historian with an interest in oral history and the history of marginalized groups and as someone long engaged with examining issues of racism, ethnicity, gender and social justice in the public arena.

Who was Ken Pryce?

Photographs by kind permission of Ms Nicole Taylor from her private family collection.

Ken Pryce (1942-1987) was a Jamaican criminologist who is most remembered for both his ethnographic investigation of the African-Caribbean diaspora in Bristol in the early 1970s  and for his untimely and mysterious death in Jamaica whilst investigating international drug networks in  the Caribbean.  At the time of his death he was an academic at the University of the West Indies in St. Augustines, Trinidad. He was born in Franklyn Town Kingston. He always used to say he was a born Kingstonian but his family, though respectable and aspiring, was not a member of the Jamaican elite whose privilege, colourism and elitism he was forthright in decrying.

Bright and aspiring, Pryce was able to get into Gaynstead High School  in Kingston at a time when secondary school facilities in Jamaica were limited. He left school at 18 to earn money taking various administrative posts for 3 years before leaving for Britain in 1963.[i] Once in England he worked at various jobs and studied part-time at a technical college to get his A levels. This enabled him to get a grant from the Greater London Council to study at University of York where he achieved a 2.1 in the Social Sciences and where he first met Laurie Taylor the BBC broadcaster and sociologist who was his tutor. Whilst at York, Ken was the chairman of the newly formed ‘3rd World Society for Overseas students’.

He then came to the University of Bristol where he did his Ph.D under Professor Michael Banton. He found the academics under whom he studied encouraging, but was caught between his own interests and political orientation and those of his supervisor and had to negotiate a way in which he could satisfy both. He sought the support of another Bristol academic, Huw Benyon, for ways to do this. According to Benyon, ‘He was very committed to the work that he had done and to the people of St Pauls and wanted to produce a completely full and “honest” account of daily life there. He was nervous over the conventions of a PhD thesis and how best to develop a text that drew on his field work notes and interviews.’

Finances were tight and throughout his academic career in Britain, he had to supplement his income with other work including doing stints in London as dockworker. Strapped for cash, Pryce stayed for a time rent free with the English community worker and campaigner Angela Rodaway in her house in Windsor Terrace in Clifton who introduced him to many people in St. Pauls where she worked. He owed much to Rodaway but it is telling that when he thanked her in his dissertation he did so for her ‘domestic support’, which reveals some of the gender bias in his own thinking. As one of the few Black people at the university he felt the social isolation and preferred to be in St. Pauls where he socialised with people living there. These included many of the people who were the subject of his investigations, not all of whom were aware of his project. Though identifying strongly as a Jamaican , his friends also included white English intellectuals and activists whose political values he shared, including Steve Fenton, who was then a young lecturer at the University of Bristol. Pryce moved into St. Paul’s briefly but reportedly had to go into hiding at one point when some of the people involved in the local drug culture realised he was a researcher.  He had to leave Bristol before finishing his thesis in order to earn money as a community worker in London before he was able to return to the Caribbean in 1976 to take up a post at the University of the West Indies.

Ken Pryce and his Bristol writing

Members of the public who can now have free access to his dissertation through this project can find out so much about the lives and experiences of Black people in the British diaspora (as well as in the Caribbean). The thesis and the book also contain good accounts of the Bristol Bus Boycott and the earlier Windrush generation.

In some ways his contribution and analysis are dated. His analysis of gender relations and women’s role in the community needed recasting, and his friend Professor Rhoda Reddock  says this was something she did call him on at the time and says it was to his credit that he did get to grips with and address this in his subsequent career.

Ethnographic studies (given the field’s historical associations with Western colonization) are rightly subject to particular critical scrutiny. Ken Pryce’s categorization of the mainly Jamaican cohort he was studying  was particularly controversial. His identification of the people studied into various ‘life styles’ or subcultures (the saints, respectable proletarians, mainliners, in betweeners,  teeny boppers and hustlers) was made even more contentious by placing these groups along a continuum of those who those who were law abiding and those who weren’t. As he wrote in his thesis (Volume 1, pages 2-6):

“These two main directions of behaviour are termed “life-orientations”. They are the Expressive-Disreputable orientation and the Stable-law-abiding orientation. I believe that the fundamental distinction between the people who follow in these two primary walks of life is between those who work and those who don’t work or, to put it another way, those who work and those who “hustle”.”

Photographs by kind permission of Ms Nicole Taylor from her private family collection.

Pryce was criticized by some social scientists for the covert nature of his ethnographic research which did raise ethical issues. But as Jo Kontis has pointed out, he did operate in the days before ethics committees and the routine use of consent forms guided the work of postgraduate students. At the time, however, some people covered in the study felt betrayed and exposed when his book was published both because some of them hadn’t realized they were the subject of investigation and also because their personal identities were recognizable despite Pryce’s attempts to anonymize his findings. This made them very resistant to cooperating with further sociological investigations into their community. But Pryce was also slated for his ‘unwitting perpetuation of negative cultural stereotypes and the effect his research had on the researched community.’ For portraying in such detail the attitudes and  transgressive behaviour of some sections of the African Caribbean population, Pryce is charged by some with giving justification to the hard policing tactics subsequently employed in Bristol which led up to the uprising in 1980.  But this is based on a misreading of Pryce’s analysis.

It’s certainly the case that in the 1960s and beyond, most white Bristolians hostile to or wary of New Commonwealth immigration identified St. Pauls and African-Caribbean people with the very criminal subculture that Pryce documents. But unlike them, Pryce makes the point that these groups are outnumbered by those who are hard working and law-abiding. Also, Pryce historicizes and explains with reference to the history of slavery, colonization and neo-colonization why a hustler orientation has emerged. He treats those inclining to it as individuals each with their own life story and rationales for thinking or behaving in they way they did. To my mind, this honesty is prescient in so many ways and has a relevance for the way we look at issues like school exclusion and policing today. Pryce is resolute in calling out white racism, but sees it as part and parcel of a wider set of historical factors which show the inadequacy of the simple binary perspectives we get on Twitter. For example, his portrayal of the conflict between British-born teenyboppers and their law-abiding parents anticipates issues around family dynamics, mental health and inter-generational conflict which are re-emerging today post Brexit and post Covid  for all sections of the population, but which are differently experienced by people of colour and particularly by those new incomers from global south countries such as Somalia. The groundbreaking documentation of life in St. Paul’s from the 1980s that has been produced by Clive Smith, another member of our project team, does not shy away from some of the complexities of the issues which Pryce first raised.

Pryce’s point about  the tendency of white intellectuals and other progressives to romanticize African-Caribbean communities in the diaspora is something worth considering today, particularly in relation to issues around policing, exclusion, addiction and gang culture and the way they are discussed in the public arena. Stuart Hall and others point to the fact that Pryce’s investigation not only coincided in time with their own investigation of Black youth and crime in Britain in Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order first published a year before Endless Pressure but also reinforced their own their own critique of the way Black criminality was and is understood.

Concluding thoughts

It’s beyond my competence to assess Pryce’s subsequent contribution to criminology, but he has been called the Caribbean’s first criminologist and insisted that

‘“…[we] need to examine the reality of crime from a critical standpoint in the context of the Region’s history of capitalist repression and exploitation, and in terms of the Caribbean’s structural heritage of black working class styles of protest and modes of response to oppression through slavery down to the present stage of neo-colonialism.’ (The Daily Gleaner, 23 July 1969)

The fact that he promoted a criminology which saw criminal acts from the standpoint of local conditions and not in terms of the frames of reference and purely bourgeois assumptions of the Establishment and the local metropolitan-orientated ruling elite demonstrates both the evolution of his views since his departure from the UK (he became increasingly influenced by Pan-Africanist views)  and also his continuing insistence on looking at local circumstances before simply assimilating them to over-arching theoretical perspectives. His looking local and thinking global is a perspective that would serve us all well. The sociologist Robin Cohen who was an associate of Stuart Hall in the early 1970s and who met Ken Pryce in Trinidad in 1977,  testified in a personal email that:  ‘There is little I would suggest he would could do differently if he were with us today. Of course, black British society and British society in general has moved on, so some of his categories would need refashioning, but his method and scholarly integrity remain.’


Find out more about Endless Pressure 50 Years On: Revisiting Ken Pryce’s Study of West Indian Life-Styles in Bristol