Distant Voices: Coming Home

I had the honour this morning of giving a talk at the European Social Work Research Association Annual Conference in Lisbon (yes, the sun is shining). My title was ‘Distant Voices: Coming Home — Creativity, Reflexivity and Research’. People were very kind about the talk and asked me to make it available, so here is the audio recording and the PowerPoint (which has 2 songs embedded within it).

Distant Voices: Coming Home (PowerPoint)

The talk (and the songs) may be of interest to readers of this blog, since they both emerge from a new (and developing) project that is a legacy of the Desistance Knowledge Exchange (and of this blog). One of the key messages of the workshops that we reported on this site a couple of years ago was that we needed to find ways to engage communities in rehabilitation, and to challenge public attitudes about punishment and reintegration.

The big question was: ‘How?’

The partial answer that I’ve been working on, with a host of collaborators, is through creative practices. That’s why I supported Alison Urie to set up Vox Liminis; a new Scottish charity that aims to bring creative practice to criminal justice and its reform. The research centre where I am based (SCCJR) has formed a collaboration with Vox around a project called Distant Voices. The presentation explains something of the genesis and development of Distant Voices since 2014. In particular it draws on the knowledge of Jo Collinson-Scott (aka Jo Mango) about popular music and participatory music-making, and on the knowledge of Oliver Escobar about participative and deliberative democracy, as well as on my own learning (and that of the whole Vox team) from the project so far.

In essence, we are trying to use the making and sharing of music to explore, practice and enable reintegration (or homecoming). Turning conventional understandings of rehabilitation on their head, we are interested in how and why citizens and communities meet returning citizens (people leaving prison or community punishment) with hospitality or hostility.

As well as exploring the evidence base for and rationale of our approach, the talk includes two songs written in related workshops. One of them (Pixellated Pictures) is performed by Jo (and others); it was written in a workshop in a women’s prison and recorded and released last year on an EP called ‘Distant Voices – Silent Seconds’ by Vox Liminis (you can download it through all the usual services). The other (Blackface) was co-written by ‘TJ’ and me in a workshop reflecting on people’s experiences of being supervised. You can find out more about that workshop and hear all of the songs produced here: Seen and Heard. The version in the presentation was (home) recorded yesterday by Louis Abbott, who also led the workshop (thanks Louis!).

I’d love to hear your thoughts, so comment away…!

P.S. I also made mention of Beth Weaver’s excellent book Offending and Desistance and of an important new article by Briege Nugent and Marguerite Schinkel: The pains of desistance. You really don’t want to miss these…

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