Saturday, December 24, 2016

A few words about my father

My father, Robert Jeffery, died on the morning of 21st December. It wasn't unexpected; he had spent the year in a slow deterioration, with lymphoma coursing through his body. In the end, it felt like a kind of deliverance; the last couple of weeks were really painful and hard to witness. But typically his mind was whirring almost until the last few days, working things out, dredging up hymns, poems, limericks and jokes from his huge reserves of knowledge and language. He entertained visitors and medical staff, joked about doing conjuring tricks with pills and cups, and we had to keep telling him to slow down, to rest, to conserve what little energy he had left. I'm not sure he quite realised how very ill he was until the final couple of weeks, and then there was something of a psychic battle in his mind as he faced the abyss and the great unknown of death. A few weeks ago he wrote a piece about dying which expressed equanimity and acceptance; but in the end that relinquishing of life is a tough thing to accede to, especially a life lived so full of people, meetings, conversations, writings, histories and places as my dad's.

Growing up in an ecclesiastical family, you're always aware of the wider community of churchgoers, parishioners and just endless people of all sorts coming through your life and in and out of your home. I leaned much about networks, power and hierarchies more generally by observing ministers and priests and bishops and all their apparatus of symbolism, ceremony and tradition which surrounded us, and the way in which Bob dealt with them. Bob had a huge respect for all those traditions but never gave into forms of saccharine piety, oversimplified doctrine, easy answers or smug pomposity which has so alienated so many people (myself included) from the church's work. And the end of his life is taking us on a tour of our childhood; the hospice where he died is in the parish of Headington, where he was the vicar from 1971-1978 ; the funeral will be in the rather more grandiose surroundings of Christ Church in Oxford, where he ended his career as the Sub-Dean; there will be a burial at Tong, where we lived while he was Archdeacon of Salop in the 1980s, and there will be a memorial service later in 2017 in Worcester Cathedral, where he was the Dean from 1987 -1996.  He was part of a post-war generation of radical, liberal clerics who focused more on making an almost secular, humanist, outward facing Christianity - of the idea of God's work, service and care for others in this world - than on any idea of the next. When we asked him "what happens after you die?", he would say "nothing". But there's something very profound about a deep, eternal, total 'nothing' - which also points to the sanctity of everyday life and the importance of deeply valuing and caring for other people.

As well as having all these titles, publications, services and sermons to his name he was also our dad. Everything changed for the family when my mother died very suddenly in 1995, followed by the swift passing of Bob's sister Clare - and in the middle of all this my son was born. We are now at the end of another 21 year cycle. Over the next few months as my brothers and sister sort out his belongings and affairs we will have to sift through all the remnants and fragments of our own lives, and all the artefacts of the generations before accumulated in his little flat in Cowley. We owe everything, in a way, to our parents. There is still much to do, plenty more to say and lots to celebrate.

Once we have all the details of the funeral arrangements I'll share them. In the meantime we are trying to have what will hopefully be a quiet and peaceful Christmas. 

Monday, October 03, 2016

Pollinator or parasite?

- notes from some adventures in intervention, participation & place based performance

I'm doing a talk at Glasgow University on Thursday 6th Oct - details below.

Over the last few years my research has focused on documenting, supporting, analyzing and sometimes producing a number of live, experimental, artist-led initiatives in a diverse range of places, many associated with aspects of the AHRC’s Connected Communities programme. All of this work claims to foreground knowledge that is ‘co-produced’ as part of university–community partnerships, drawing on different traditions and histories of participatory and public art-making practice. It makes use of ‘live methods’ which aim to encourage participation and engagement in the research process.

I will share some examples from a number of projects designed or produced as part of Remaking Society (AHRC 2012 – 2014), the Govan-Gdansk knowledge exchange project (Royal Society of Edinburgh, 2014 – 2016) and Challenging Elites (AHRC 2014 – 2015), reflecting on the obstacles and opportunities encountered through this way of working.

All depend, crucially, on sustained collaboration with an ever-changing roster of artists, activists, designers, researchers and citizens. This approach raises important questions of responsibility, authorship and agency, as well as academic practice.  To what extent has my role in these projects been fundamentally to act as a ‘parasite’? And might this, paradoxically, be a useful role to play? The interfaces between art, design, performance and the city are a rich source of material for speculative and opportunistic projects which might point to alternative futures for people and places – but in whose interests are they being carried out?  I will share some dilemmas and emerging thinking around these issues.

Thurs 6th Oct, 5.30pm, University of Glasgow, Gilmorehill (Room 408). 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Changing the conversation?

Here's a shortish video of me, looking rather tired, that I recently unearthed, talking about training in community/participatory arts and my own routes through the field. This is from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation's Artworks conference at Lancaster University in April 2013.

Graham Jeffrey - Changing the Conversation from Erin Maguire on Vimeo.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Troubling the Academic Thesis

You are invited to engage in a public seminar with 
Dr Chris Dooks (UK) and Dr Nick Sousanis (USA), who along with others will trouble the notion of the academic thesis and consider its alternative.
The primacy of words over images and sounds has deep roots in Western culture. But what if the three are inextricably linked, equal partners in meaning-making? Chris and Nick and others will trouble this question in relation to the doctoral thesis. 
Chris just completed his PhD at the University of the West of Scotland using a mixture of audio-visual materials, music and found sound, encoded into vinyl records with accompanying text, ( and Nick completed a comics-based doctoral thesis at Teachers College, Columbia University, as an 'experiment in visual thinking’ (
They will be in conversation this Saturday 6 February from 11.30 at the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow. 
Convenors The School of Education (Diarmuid McAuliffe) and School of Media, Culture and Society (Graham Jeffery) at University of the West of Scotland in collaboration with the CCA and Glasgow Museums.
Saturday, February 6, 2016 from 11:30 AM to 3:30 PM (GMT) WHERE
Centre for Contemporary Arts - 350 Sauchiehall Street Glasgow G2 3JD GB 

Last year's presentations.. (2015)

Put here just to keep track of them:

  • Performing Methodologies, CCA Glasgow, 26th November 2015
  • Making Theatre in the Age of Austerity, University of Manchester, November 4th 2015
  • Ways of Knowing in Neighbourhood Planning, University of Sheffield, 1st October 2015
  • Labour in Transition and Urban Transformations, University of Bath, 9th September 2015
  • Community Development Journal 50th Anniversary Conference, 1 - 3 July 2015, University of Edinburgh
  • IPSS Ayr, 23rd June 2015
  • The Image Event: What Happens When You Become the Story? CCA Glasgow, 19 - 20 June
  • AHRC Symposium on Utopias, Futures and Social Change, University of Bristol, 19th - 20th May 2015
  • Generation Media Startup 2015, 17 April 2015, Stuttgart City Hall
  • Lateral Thinking: the value of collaboration between the arts, health and environment, Glasgow, 9 April 2015
  • MECCSA 2015, University of Northumbria, Newcastle upon Tyne, 7 - 9 January 2015