Unearthing Disciplinary Defaults

Brigstow’s seven new seedcorn funded projects have just begun working together. As usual, they bring together researchers from inside and outside the university, as well as radically interdisciplinary teams: Engineering Maths meets Education; Modern Languages and History meet Computer Science; English meets Psychology. As they began working, I read an article recently published by one of our former seedcorn project teams that combined earth scientists, literary and art historical scholars and a sound artist. What struck me in their reflections was that rather than using the ‘labels that corresponded to the badges of our professions’ as they worked together, they were drawn ‘to think about our default settings and manner of approaching things’ (Badcoe et al 2020)

The idea of unearthing what I’m calling ‘disciplinary defaults’ is something that has struck me in my own interdisciplinary research. Like other interdisciplinary teams, my own research group of historians, architectural historians, geographers, GiScientists, cartographers and more recently computer scientists who examine the spatiality of the Holocaust, has grappled with ‘finding a common language.’ Writing of our early work together we half-joked that ‘at times,’ our conversations together ‘felt a little like interspecies communication’.

Reflecting back on this experience, we were struck by the way that we tended to resort back to disciplinary defaults. Presented with gaps in the archives, ‘the social scientists among us thought that the way to deal with holes in the data would be through statistical sampling, whereas the humanists turned more toward and interpretative interrogation that would account for absences by analysing how sources were created’ (Beorn et al 2010).

The Unsettled Planet team reported a similar sense of defaulting to ways of thinking about anything from data to time and how to measure it that are seemingly hard wired in us through our disciplinary training. ‘Some of us are more attentive to sounds, some of us to words, some to images, and some to numbers,’ they reflected, ‘some of us thinking mainly in decades and centuries, while others in minutes or even in millions of years’ (Badcoe et al 2020).

Unearthing those disciplinary defaults for ourselves and then explaining them to others we work with on interdisciplinary research takes time. But it is time well spent. In my own interdisciplinary research and this is something that we’ve seen in many of the Brigstow project teams there is value early on for almost a ‘show and tell’ session to help explain where team members are coming from.

It may be that a few questions are useful for structuring these early – and ongoing – conversations in interdisciplinary research teams. Perhaps:

  • What does my discipline do and why?
  • What is understood by ‘rigorous’ research in my discipline?
  • What is understood by ‘data’ or ‘evidence’ in my discipline?
  • What are a few key terms in my discipline and what do they mean?
  • What the weaknesses of my discipline as well as its strengths?

Talking through a few questions like that may help unearth disciplinary defaults that otherwise lie hidden.


Badcoe et al, ‘Good vibrations: living with the motions of our unsettled planet,’ Geoscience Communication 3, 2 (2020) 303-27.

Beorn et al, ‘Geographies of the Holocaust,’ Geographical Review 99, 4 (2010) 563-74.


Brigstow 2021 Ideas Exchanges

The Brigstow Institute has awarded Ideas Exchange funding to thirteen new interdisciplinary research partnerships.

The Ideas Exchanges will explore the themes of: “Covid and Structural Inequalities”; “Research and the Creative Industries”; and “Living Well in the 21st Century”.

We are delighted to announce that we have funded the following projects:

Bristol Carescapes

Involving Matthew Lariviere (Policy Studies) and Morgan Tipping (Artist). 

Encompassing experiential, explorative and collaborative approaches to imagining care futures, this project draws together local creators and people with lived experience of different forms of care (e.g. carers, people with disabilities/chronic illness, frail older adults). The aim is to enable those involved to imagine how they would like to experience care in the near and distant future. 

How to open a print shop

Involving Jennifer Batt (Humanities), John McTague (Humanities), Rhiannon Daniels (Modern Languages) and Rachel Marsh and Angie Butler.

The Centre for Material Texts has recently acquired a couple of printing presses and other materials with the aim of creating a multidisciplinary and collaborative print shop. Academics and students from the university and beyond will take part in a number of pilot projects and experiments that aim to create new knowledge through the process of making together. 

Child Sexual Abuse and Oral Healthcare

Involving Viv Gordon Company (Artist) and Angela Hague (Bristol Dental School).

Adult child sexual abuse (CSA) survivors face barriers accessing oral health care and performing oral self-care. This project will involve a series of conversations to explore approaches to listening and responding to CSA survivors experiences of oral health care in order to establish priority areas for multidisciplinary research, a research framework, and ethical considerations when working with survivor co-researchers/participants.  Longer term, the aim is to understand and embed trauma-informed approaches to oral health care in dental training and clinical practice, utilising creative methods. 

Navigating Time in the Anthropocene

Involving Paul Merchant (Modern Languages), Nicola Thomas, (Modern Languages), Bergit Arends (Humanities), Blake Ewing (University of Oxford/Anthropocene Times Network) and Kaja Marczewska (V&A). 

This project will explore how culture, creativity and ‘critical making’ can promote richer understanding of temporality in the Anthropocene, an age in which humans are leaving an indelible mark on the fabric of the planet.  Specifically this project encourages thinking about time differently, as something that we make and that also makes us.  The focal point is the involvement of the V&A and its ‘rapid response’ collection that navigates multiple temporal scales. The ambition is that this awareness might lead to better decision making and action in both public and political spheres, as well as enhanced well-being and self-understanding. 

Individual actions add up: Finding inspiration in everyday citizen actions to address inequalities in post-pandemic climate and nature emergency responses

Involving Ed Atkins (Geographical Sciences), Ian Townsend (former Bristol Green Capital Partnership CEO and sustainable cities consultant) and Eastside Community Trust. 

This project will bring a group of city partners together to consider an identified knowledge gap around the role of citizen-to-citizen engagement in responding to the climate and ecological emergencies. In particular, it will showcase the ways in which citizens’ everyday actions in the community, which might be overlooked, constitute environmentally-positive behaviour that can provide an inspiration for others to act. The aim is that this project will identify pathwayto increased and more inclusive engagement in the ‘Just Transition’. 

Walking and Re-creation

Involving Eleanor Rycroft (Theatre), Suzanne Audrey (Bristol Medical School), Laura Howe (Bristol Medical School), Jan Connett (Bristol Health Partners)  and Angie Belcher (Artist). 

‘Walking and Re-Creation’ is an interdisciplinary conversation which brings together the worlds of performance and public health, history and the contemporary moment, practice and theory. It takes a long historical view of walking as a form of exercise, transport, healthy activity, and leisure to merge past and present, with the aim of discovering what walking then can tell us about walking and wellbeing now, in the age of coronavirus. 

Living well through the menopause

Involving Jessica Hammett (Humanities), Lisa Nash (Artist) and Narinder Bansal (Bristol Medical School).

How have women found information and advice about the menopause? Is it understood and discussed differently within different families or social and cultural groups? How can creative activities and storytelling help people explore and communicate their experiences of the menopause in different ways, and improve wellbeing? This project will explore how different women think, talk and feel about the menopause, and the kind of activities that women want to engage in as they live well through menopause. 

Developing a methodology for the empowerment of teachers-as-researchers in the context of Sustainability and Climate Change Education

Involving Julian Brown (Education), Shaun Hatton (St Brendan’s Sixth form College), Kat Steentjes (Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations, Cardiff University), Lee Knight (Beechen Cliff School), Elisabeth Barratt-Hacking (University of Bath, Education), Fiona Carnie (Bristol Education Partnership for Bristol Learning City), Lorraine Whitmarsh (Psychology, University of Bath), Dave Rees (Ashton Park School), Emily Barr (Bristol Grammar School), Paul Howard-Jones (Education), Rafael Mitchel (Education), Justin Dillon (University of Exeter) and Claire Hoolahan (University of Manchester).  

This project aims to develop a novel approach for engaging teachers-as-researchers in their own schools, assuring their views and experience is represented in debates around future educational policy and practice (at local and national levels). Specifically, this has been prompted by a pressing need to understand current UK practice in relation to climate change education, necessary for “accelerating the wide scale behaviour changes consistent with adapting to and limiting global warming” (IPCC, 2018).  Despite its low profile in the National Curriculum, over 70% of teachers in England already engage with students on this issue (Howard-Jones et al. forthcoming). However, teachers know little about the nature and efficacy of each other’s efforts in this area. 

Mind the Gap: State directives, Orthodoxy, and living well in 21st-century Britain

Involving Karen Skinazi (Humanities) and Ben Kasstan (Bristol Law School). 

Recent controversies in the UK signal a gap between urgent state directives and their uneven implementation in religious communities, revealing that language, which is intentionally non-specific, coupled with an incommensurability of worldviews, can be dangerous. This project will begin to explore how the gap between generic government language around inclusion (e.g. ‘British values’ discourse), and the burden of responsibility and agency on religious minority groups to navigate legislation, can be better navigated. 

South West Agroecology Network

Involving Jaskiran Chohan (Bristol Veterinary School), Rob Owen (Holistic Restoration), Matthew Tarnowski (Biological Sciences), Rosa Beesley (Centre for Agroecology Water and Resilience), Jim Scown (Cardiff University) and Oluwatosin Shittu (Play Wooden CIC). 

This project will support a network of academics, agroecology practitioners and non-academic experts to work towards a common goal: increasing the uptake and ease of agroecology in the south west of the UK through co-created research. Activities will include mapping a network of agroecological practitioners and researchers in the south west, and sociocratically develop a specific methodology for co-creating research within agroecology. 

Eating Disorder Stakeholder Group

Involving Helen Bould (Bristol Medical School), Lucy Biddle (Bristol Medical School),  Ian Penton-Voak (Psychology) and Jon Bird (Computer Science).

Eating disorders affect up to 5% of the population, and population studies find that symptoms suggestive of likely eating disorders affect as many as a quarter of women aged 16 to 24 years. As only half of people with an eating disorder make a full recovery, this project aims to undertake a qualitative analysis of the views of people with the aim of co-creating effective, novel interventions using VR with a stakeholder group involving those with experience of eating disorders, including adolescents with lived experience and clinicians. 

Who’s in Our Food

Involving Robert Skinner (Humanities), Lydia Medland (Sociology, Politics and International Studies) and Lauren Blake (Bristol Veterinary School). 

This project aims to explore creative approaches to investigate the systems and inequalities that determine the food that sustains us as individuals and communities.  The activities will focus on the research of the Food Justice Network, a growing group of academics and researchers concerned about disparities, social inequalities and environmental problems inherent in industrialised food systems. 

Resilience through international networks

Involving Keir Williams (Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship), Zibah Nwako (Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship) and Ben Carpenter (Bristol City Fellow). 

This project aims to engage with young entrepreneurs (creative, social, commercial) who face structural inequalities in Bristol, UK, and Enugu, Nigeria, in order to understand their needs for support and experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.  This would present an opportunity for them to collaborate with other like-minded young people, and to participate in creating a community that addresses their current realities and develops possibilities for improved lived experiences. 

The Brigstow Institute launches new creative research to explore the politics of immigration and the environment through planting.  

This initiative builds on, and brings together, two Experimental Partnerships that were funded by the Brigstow Institute in 2020 that both used creative methodologies and involved members of Migration Mobilities Bristol (MMB). Researchers from these projects (Prof Katharine Charsley from “Kept Apart: Making prose-poetry with people separated from families by the immigration system” and Dr Nariman Massoumi and Prof Bridget Anderson from “Scrutinising the Immigration System through collaborative filmmaking with refugees and asylum seekerswill work collaboratively with relevant communities, gardeners and artists (Charli Clark and Paul Hurleyto further explore issues around immigration through co-designing and creating two plots in Royal Fort Gardens, University of Bristol on land adjacent to the Ivy Gate – work will begin Spring 2021 

The team will codesign two hospitable spaces with and for migratory humans and nonhumans. The two plots will be thematically connected by themes of north/south and coming/going. They will seek to reflect the human experiences and cultures of global migration, but will also be designed to be welcoming and appropriate to the needs of other species’ migration. The site will take the role of a living laboratory to open up spaces for new conversations and thinking around the politics of immigration and planting. 

These plots will serve as a critical intervention within discussions of environmental and migration policies asking, among other things : 

  • What do we need to create spaces hospitable to migrations of humans and nonhumans? 
  • How might ecological thinking enable the cultivation of understanding about migration and the challenges of hostile environments?  
  • How is the language of invasive others mobilised in debates over both biodiversity and migration? 
  • How do we negotiate the politics of environmentalism and the politics of migration? 
  • What would a more level ground look like, feel like, and who would maintain it? 

‘This is a great opportunity to bring the Brigstow ethos of critical thinking through critical making outside and into the heart of the community,’ explains Professor Tim Cole, Director of the Brigstow Institute.  

Bridget Anderson, Nariman Massoumi and Katharine Charsley agree this ia fantastic opportunity to think about movement and our places in the world, and challenge assumptions about invasive others, migration and national heritage.’ 

Charli Clark and Paul Hurley add, we are really excited to be working with Brigstow and the project team. The garden we are imagining will offer spaces for reflection and conversation, and for encounters between migratory insects, birds and humans. In times that feel quite turbulent, we are interested in what growth and inhabiting might mean in a garden focused on providing for transience and what we can learn from observing change.  

There will be opportunities for everyone from both within and beyond the university to become involved in some way – details and progress will be available soon. 

Brigstow Institute awards two Collaborative Fellowships

The Brigstow Institute at the University of Bristol, has awarded two Collaborative Fellowship awards that seek to critically interrogate structural inequalities that have been particularly highlighted by the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Collaborative Fellowships have been awarded to: “Access and Active Leisure in a Time of the Pandemic: Tales of Two Cities” involving Dr. Melanie Chalder (Bristol Medical School) and Prof. Martin Hurcombe (Modern Languages); and “Including the Excluded: Education and Wellbeing in a time of COVID” involving Dr. Jessica Abrahams (Education) , Helen Thomas-Hughes (Humanities) , Dr. Myles Jay-Linton (Bristol Medical School) and Lana Crosbie (No More Exclusions).

The fellowships will both think through how the social sciences, arts and humanities bring different disciplinary and methodological approaches to critically interrogate these structural inequalities and experiment with solutions driven by the communities most affected.

Access and Active Leisure in a Time of Pandemic: Tales of Two Cities considers how the pandemic has highlighted longstanding social and health-related inequalities around access to and enjoyment of urban spaces, taking a comparative approach based on the study of Bristol and its twin city Bordeaux.  It draws upon, seeks to refine, and extends a range of methodologies that Hurcombe and Chalder have used in earlier work with local communities, combining Hurcombe’s expertise on creative practice, storytelling, and cultural history with Chalder’s wealth of experience in research design, development and ‘real world’ implementation.

Including the Excluded: Education and Wellbeing in a time of COVID brings urgent attention to the circumstances of secondary school pupils who have experienced fixed-term or permanent exclusion from mainstream schooling in Bristol within the last 12 months during the pandemic context. School exclusion rates reflect wider structural inequalities in the education system in England, and Black Caribbean pupils (alongside those who are of Black Caribbean and white heritage) continually experience exclusion in the largest proportions. It seeks to qualitatively illuminate the educational and associated emotional experiences of young peoples who have experienced school exclusion during the coronavirus pandemic, and explore how co-productive methodology and engaged pedagogy can intersect to produce new ways of knowing which inform tangible change in the educational and associated emotional wellbeing of excluded pupils.

Prof. Tim Cole, Director of the Brigstow Institute is enthusiastic about the fellowships: “Fostering new interdisciplinary and co-produced research lies at the heart of Brigstow’s work. We are excited to see what will emerge from these collaborations that focus on interrogating two key areas of inequality – health and education – and co-designing interventions.”


Brigstow presents our 2021 Seedcorn Experimental Partnerships

We are delighted to announce that the following projects have been awarded Brigstow Institute 2021 Seedcorn Funding:

What is the best way to talk about the menopause? Involving Dr Vanessa Beck (School of Management), Yvonne Melville (Fife Cultural Trust), and Fiona Miller (Tricky Hat Productions).

Posed as a Woman: Involving Prof. Josie McLellan (History), Dr Sarah Jones (History), Professor Lois Bibbings (University of Bristol Law School) and Tom Marshman (Artist).

Temperature Life Stories: Feeling the Heat: Involving Dr Alan Kennedy-Asser (Geographical Sciences), Dr Kirk Sides (English), Caleb Parkin (Bristol City Poet), Clifton Evers (Newcastle University), Ellie Shipman (Artist and Illustrator) Karen MacDonald (Bristol Museums), Sarah Mountford (Windmill Hill City Farm).

Metre and Memorisation: Involving Dr William Wooten (English), Prof. Chris Jarrold (Psychological Science), Dr Nina Kazanina (Psychological Science).

Building Instruments: Community soundscapes for urban exploration and sonic architecture: Involving Joshua Taylor (Computer science), Dr Pete Bennett (Computer Science), Jameson Musyoki (Freelance Researcher), Anna Rutherford (Architecture Centre), Stephen Hilton (Global City Futures).

Can audio description make video gaming possible for blind and partially sighted players? Involving Dr. Xiaochun Zhang (Modern Languages), Dr Andy Flack (History), Dr Stuart Gray (Computer Science), Jane Devoy (Freelance Audio Describer), Sonia Castelo Branco (Freelance Audio Describer), Claire Morwood (3-Fold Games), Chella Ramanan (3-Fold Games).

Prehension Blooms: Expanding access to creative spaces for isolated people using soft robots: Involving Dr Hemma Philamore (Engineering Mathematics), Dr Helen Manchester (Education), Adrienne Hart (Neon Dance).


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.