Places to Start From

Hi! I’ve decided to start a blog to document my PhD study and generally share some things that I’m up to outside of academic research. It’s the end of my second full week of PhD study, maybe the first that I’ve spent doing more reading than administration, and I’m thinking a lot about what’s ahead.

For the next 3-4 years I’m researching methods for documenting and archiving UK-based DIY music subcultures in the Department of Information Studies at UCL, thanks to a studentship from the London Arts and Humanities Partnership. Because my research is about DIY culture and motivated by my own position as a participant in DIY music spaces, the politics of counter cultural knowledge production/sharing, skills sharing, mutual aid and co-production are really central to my research. I’m expecting to feel a lot of tensions as I navigate the next years – tensions between insider/outsider, academic/professional/diy cultural producer, institution/community and so on. I’m expecting points in time when I feel part of none of the spaces I occupy, where none of these positions feel right to me. I can anticipate these points, and I also need to strategise about how I support myself in these situations (which will probably be isolating).

I want to disseminate the outputs of this research widely, but I also want to publish as I go (formally and informally), especially to create a space where I can situate myself within my research and discuss it’s impact on me personally. The last few years I’ve been reflecting more and more about emotions and archives, whether cultural objects or archival labour through professional practice. As I move into archival research which will centre spaces that have nurtured and supported my own cultural practice, the intersection between my own subjectivity, relationships, spaces and research will be at the centre of my reflections for a while. I came across fieldwork and research zines through previous DIY academic research (Jones, 2016; Downes, Breeze and Griffin, 2013), which I’ll probably adopt as a method, but I’ve also set up this space so I can publish as I go.

These next few weeks I’m revisiting reading I first encountered on DIY music and cultures, and also revisiting my research proposal to adapt it to where I’m at now. At the point of writing my application I was interested predominantly in the relationship between institutions and subcultures, but unsurprisingly in the nine months I’ve spent waiting to start it’s shifted in focus a lot. Here’s a nice little map I did to re-design my research questions:

influences.jpeg

At the point of writing this proposal I was an archivist in a museum concerned with sound and vision practices. My motivations for this project came from wanting to see more equitable and ethical relationships with subcultural producers, particularly in collecting practice. As I’ve moved out of that space, I find myself motivated differently – in a heritage practice which is led from and rooted in community spaces – particularly those in which I have a pre-existing profile. What I’m interested to start with is the methods of documentation that already exist in our spaces, some of which are politicised and some aren’t. I’m thinking about zines and podcasts and documentary text and photographic sources, fliers and programmes and signs. I’m interested to know what we already do, what micro-methods we employ to capture small parts of our cultures, and why we’re motivated to do this. What don’t we document, and why not? I want to know what archives of DIY spaces look like, both when they’re open and also after they’re gone. How do external factors affect our ability to document our cultures, and how do/could/should external heritage organisations interact with subcultures?

I want to write about how this research makes me feel on this blog a lot, because it does make me feel things and those feelings are central to what I’m doing too. Right now I feel anxious. I’m anxious because spaces I love are under constant threat of closure (DIY Space for London, 2018), and others are long gone (Garland, 2015). Digital platforms delete our content without warning too, we’re all reliant on these external factors that do not have our back. I’m anxious because austerity and precarity are taking a lot of things out of our control, maybe it even takes this research out of my control. This feels urgent, and that’s hard.

DIY Space for London, 2018. Update on our financial situation. Available at https://diyspaceforlondon.org/update-on-our-financial-situation/ (last accessed 12th October 2018)
Garland, E., 2015. Long Live Power Lunches, a Space for Everyone. Noisey. Available at https://noisey.vice.com/en_uk/article/rnva4z/long-live-power-lunches-a-space-for-everyone (last accessed 12th October 2018)
Downes, J., Breeze, M., Griffin, N., 2013. Researching DIY Cultures: Towards a Situated Ethical Practice for Activist-Academia. Graduate Journal of Social Science 10, 100–124.

Jones, Ellis (2016). “Autocomplet”. Self-published zine, Leeds.