Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The Kingdom of God is like a Yoghurt Plant

One of the things we've managed to do over the last year is to pull together a small volume of my father's writings - we gave it out to friends at his Memorial Service in June 2017. There are still a number of copies sitting in my garage looking for a new owner. If anyone would like to buy one, (a potential Christmas present?) they are available to order here.

The description on the back of the book reads as follows:

"This is a collection of sermons, lectures and writings by Bob Jeffery, selected by his children from his considerable archive. We have chosen pieces that particularly caught our attention and that seem to retain relevance and resonance in the 21st Century."

I'm hoping to put together an e-book version as well that we can distribute; maybe a job for some downtime around the midwinter break!

There are a number of very kind and thoughtful tributes and obituaries for my dad out on the web - for example, Michael Sadgrove's sermon from the Memorial Service; and an extract from the book - the opening parable about the yoghurt plant - transcribed by someone who stumbled across it at a friend's house can be found here.

All of the papers relating to his theological research, a large number of sermons, and his work in the  ecumenical movement have been lodged with Gladstone's Library, so that researchers interested in the history and politics of the Church of England in the second half of the 20th century can access them - it will be interesting to see if any projects emerge that make reference to his work.

In the meantime, we are also thinking about what might be a suitable physical memorial for him and my mother - it's likely to be something embedded into the fabric of Tong Church, like a restored window, but we're not sure yet. Bob's grave is still unmarked (according to his wishes) and as he fades into the ground and into memory we'd like to ensure that there is still something left apart from all the words - the conversations, the encounters, the relationships (which perhaps, as Michael said, are possibly their biggest legacy) to mark their time with us.

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
  • Thursday, September 17, 2015

    Performances of Hope

    Kerrie Schaefer and I will be talking about this at the "Poor Theatres" symposium at the University of Manchester on the 4th of November: 

    Performances of Hope: minor acts of cultural re-imagining within austerity's 'extreme economy'

    Remaking Society set out to ethnographically document and critically analyse four community-based arts and participatory media practices in contrasting contexts of socio-economic deprivation in the UK. No longer viewed as a grassroots movement of counter-cultural activism (Kelly 1984), but as publically subsidised cultural provision, community-based cultural practices have been criticised (from within and without) for facilitating (unwittingly or not) neo-conservative government policies of ‘social inclusion’ (Merli 2004; Belfiore 2006) or the ‘Big Society’. Writing on the broad ‘turn to community’ in the arts, Wyatt, Macdowall and Mulligan (2013) posit a close link between the recent ‘instrumentalisation of the arts’, wherein the arts are geared to the production of government determined ‘social impacts’, and Nikolas Rose’s theory of ‘governing through community’ in which “governance in a post-welfare state shifts from the ‘disciplinary’ governing of society to a more collaborative and consensual” (p.83), or community-based, mode. Whereas Kelly bemoaned the increasing ‘mini-welfare-stateism’ (Kershaw 1992: 181) of community arts in the 1980s, the shift noted by Wyatt et. al. (2013) appears to tie community-based cultural practices to a mode of governance that aims to economically rationalise the welfare state itself. Community is at its most ideologically slippery in this genuflection to the forces of market capitalism, offering the chimera of ‘solidarity’, or at least a loose (post-modern) sense of ‘togetherness’, while actually instituting precarious social conditions through the decimation of the welfare state and associated public services and infrastructure. 

    This paper proposes an active, critical and dialogical engagement with the politics of intersecting community–based practices – cultural and governmental – in relation to discourses of ‘austerity urbanism’ (Peck 2012). Community-based cultural practices are situated, contextualized and activated through partnerships across social divides, agencies and categories. This fundamental interdependence produces messy, contingent and unpredictable outcomes. Our account aims to acknowledge these ambiguities, and the critical problems and social possibilities they generate, while teasing out frameworks of meaning and value. 

    Thursday, September 03, 2015

    the politics of community, documentary and policy

    Hugh Kelly and I are speaking at this event in Sheffield as part of an ESRC seminar series on 'Ways of Neighbourhood Working' on October 1st - here's what we are talking about: 

    Reflections on regeneration: the politics of community, documentary and policy

    Hugh Kelly, as Swingbridge Media, has been making films and videos with communites on Tyneside for 35 years. What can be learned from his engagements with various regeneration initiatives? At various times his work has been cast in the role of documenting social and physical changes, campaigning for alternatives, celebrating apparent 'successes' or challenging the failures of urban policy. Underlying all this are ethical, political, pedagogical and representational dilemmas about how participatory approaches to film-making might open up spaces for people to speak out, share their worlds and offere responses to the local impacts of policy initiatives that almost invariably originate from 'elsewhere' and which often fail to acknowledge underlying structural inequalities. Who decides what a 'challenging neighbourhood' is and in whose interests are policy 'solutions' implemented? 

    This presentation/conversation reflects on 35 years of practice and draws on material produced for Remaking Society, an AHRC Connected Communities pilot demonstrator project (2012 - 2014) that sought to address the value(s) of participatory arts and media practices in communities experiencing high levels of deprivation. A film that Hugh and Graham made, exploring some of these issues, can be found here

    In this conversation we will share some brief extracts from Hugh's work and discuss some of their implications, in the context of wider debates about community media, inequalities, and community politics. Can a participatory film-making process confer some power on its participants? Are there ways in which it might frame more constructive dialogues between unequal communities? 

    Saturday, June 06, 2015

    June 2015

    I walked down to an almost-deserted UWS Paisley campus this afternoon to pick up photocopies and materials for our Govan-Gdansk symposium on Monday and Tuesday; the rest of the university seems to be packing up for the summer holiday but the pace of events and activity is still pretty relentless in my world. We're welcoming a group of activists, academics, artists and civic leaders from Glasgow and Gdansk for the first workshop for our Royal Society of Edinburgh - funded research networking project. This will be followed up by the third Gdansk Shipyard Summer School at the start of August. Govan (and specifically, Water Row and the Graving Docks) is one of the sites that we have selected for our AHRC Connected Communities large grant proposal: Challenging Elites: rethinking disconnection and recovering urban space. That went in last week, and will now be chewed over by peer reviewers: we will hear if we've got through to the next stage in September. Whatever the outcome, it has been a useful and productive process and has enabled the team to crystallise some thinking about 'austerity urbanism', elite theory and the cultural politics of contested urban sites. It would be great if we get the opportunity to put some of the ideas we have developed into action.

    Working with Remco de Blaaij, the Curator at CCA Glasgow, I have organised the first of a series of workshops/seminars in the run-up to an exhibition in 2016, which will happen on 19th and 20th of June. The 2016 exhibition, provisionally titled The Image Event,  will examine the relationships between journalistic practices, contemporary arts practices, politics and citizen/social media. For this first workshop, we're delighted to be welcoming Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat to Glasgow, for screenings, presentation and discussion with Joanna Callaghan (University of Sussex) and my UWS colleague Peter Snowdon. It promises to be a stimulating evening: tickets can be booked here.

    Drawing on work I did a decade ago, I'll be contibuting to an RSA symposium on Creative Apprenticeships in Manchester on 23rd June. I need to do some more thinking about how the 'creative learning' agenda has mutated/evolved in a possibly more hostile policy environment (at least, south of the border) and this might just be a stimulus for that. Then, back in Ayr on the 24th June we will be hosting a small psychogeographic adventure as a workshop for the Scottish Graduate School for the Arts and Humanities Summer School, which will be led by our erstwhile PhD student, now Dr Ben Parry. (Ben and I are also working on a book which draws on the marvellous range of presentations from the Cultural Hijack Contravention at RIBA, which we hope will see the light of day towards the end of 2016).

    Finally, before taking a couple of weeks off, most of which will probably be spent dealing with a garden and a house that has got massively out of control, Kerrie Schaefer and I are presenting at the Community Development Journal 50th Anniversary Conference at the University of Edinburgh. We'll be talking about the messy and pragmatic (but also political and ethical) negotiations that take place in community media/film practices, drawing on work from the Remaking Society project. Kerrie and I are also presenting later this year at the "Poor Theatres" symposium in Manchester; drawing together some work on deprivation, austerity and community performance (which also links to the work that Ben Parry has done on the politics of representing poverties in Dharavi, as well as the films that Hugh Kelly and I are continuing to unpack together). But that can wait for another post.

    Saturday, May 09, 2015

    24 hours in the media bubble (a rant)

    I've got that aching tired headsplitting feeling that comes from spending most of the last 24 hours sprawled on the sofa watching the election spectacle unfold, eyes dulling. It started once I'd finished a drive around Paisley, my son Finn hanging out of the window taking some photographs (a selection of which are below), calling in at two different polling stations to allow him and his girlfriend to cast their votes, just as the sun went down. 

    I think this is the first election in my lifetime that the votes our household cast actually did count for something, as most of them contributed to the downfall of the smooth but utterly ineffectual Douglas Alexander, who has just become a Portillo-esque poster boy for the failure of the Labour Party to connect with the concerns of people who live here. He promised austerity lite and 'nicer cuts' and tedious gradualism: nothing to connect with the urgent politics of climate change, total capitalism and constant attacks on the poor, let alone offering a vision of a more positive, inclusive Scotland.  For decades the Scottish Labour Party has taken the 'ordinary people' it claims to represent for granted, and in the last 24 hours they have kicked back with a vengeance. Some more forensic historical thinking is needed too - this starts, after Kinnock and John Smith with the Labour Party's accommodations with Thatcherism - the continuities between Thatcher, Major and Blair and even Brown. Perhaps it could also end here, although with a newly empowered bunch of Thatcherites in charge from the South it's likely that the SNP will be reduced to shouting from the sidelines while the Labour Party retreats into of deep introspection - and possibly chooses to align itself more back to Thatcherism as well. And no doubt there will be some hardcore economic 'medicine' to swallow in the dealings over devolved finance, which will lead to more austerity, less public service, north of the border as well as in the south. 

    I can only hope that some sense prevails and that Jim Murphy is forced to resign - I'm sure he's keen to get a top of a list seat for MSPs in 2016 but unless the Scottish Labour Party buries its attachment to Blairism it really could be well and truly on suicide watch.  A vicious combination of municipal paternalism and command and control Blairism just will not cut it, particularly when offering an apologia for Trident, and failing to grasp the deep sense of disempowerment and disillusion in communities which have been constantly told to shut up, be grateful and enjoy the spectacle - in Glasgow, all civic circuses and no bread. The Yes movement offered something else, and the fallout from that and the fateful decision by the Labour high command to campaign alongside the Tories set up this particular showdown. Just as with the lethally tight embrace of power-greedy LibDems in coalition, Labour allowed itself to be suckered in too close to the Conservative brand of UK-plc nationalism - although since 1992 it's always liked to talk about "Britain", aping Thatcherism without really doing any serious thinking about what "British" means any more. Clearly it's now very different depending on where on these islands you happen to be. And the Tories have executed an textbook example of divide-and-rule in this election process. If in 2014 we'd been offered a serious constitutional conversation, a serious consideration of what a federal state might look like, some serious devolution, we might not be at this point now. 

    No doubt there are many decent people who were on the 'No' side in the referendum and who still have a deep loyalty to the Labour Party who have very decent motivations, but we are beyond that now - there is a need for a complete rethink of how to oppose endless marketisation and endless neoliberalism, and it could perhaps be that the UK state is something that will need to be sacrificed along the journey, as the contradictions become too much to bear. If the EU referendum looks like it will comes out with a 'No' at UK level then isn't that also a green light for a SNP government to call a second independence referendum?  My much more articulate London-based colleague Jeremy Gilbert summoned the energy at 3am to write something that encapsulated the mood better than me - it's here - and as he says, it's democracy or neoliberalism, we really can't have both.  

    And all the constitutional problems - federalism, the voting system, the relationships with Europe, the West Lothian question, are going to come into play - and even a tiny Tory majority means that these will be negotiated in the context of a continued, relatively unchecked, power grab by the wealthy. The only silver lining is that perhaps we may see a re-run of the '90s Tory civil war, only with an even tinier majority at stake. Cameron was there, as a bag-carrier for Norman Lamont, and it'll be interesting to see if he learned anything from that: all the Tory demons will start howling around in the wide open gaps between the dual Pandora's boxes of global capital/free market ideology and Little Englander anti-Europeanism that sit on the backbenches waiting to be fired up.  

    No doubt that the SNP has been opportunistic - they've always had a neoliberal streak too -  and no doubt that the idealistic sheen will wear off as the realpolitik between Edinburgh and London unfolds, but the stark contrast between how Scotland and England voted (with perhaps the exception of Brighton Pavilion, bits of other cities and London) is self-evident. The failure of the Labour Party even to match the results of 2010 will open up all the sores of the post-2007 Blair-Brown splits or even the more serious wars of the 1980s.  I've never been a fan of the Labour Party but I completely agree with the Compass call for some serious thinking about how to build a new kind of left that is open, pluralistic, engaged, and above all able to talk intelligently and make a serious offer about the future. Earlier this evening The World Tonight offered a kind of face-off between Matthew Taylor and Neal Lawson but they both navigated the conversation intelligently - insisting that offering more than just 'better jam tomorrow' was needed but actually thinking about what a 21st century politics needs to look like, drawing on the experience of Syriza and the other European left parties in aligning with social movements and opposition to the dull drum of deregulated globalised marketisation (although they didn't exactly say that, so perhaps I'm being too rose-tinted). 

    And so it unfolded: the return to the sinking feeling of 2010's drift rightwards, and even more perhaps, 1992, and I watched one politician and pundit after another parade across the screen, most with little to say and most with the smug look of people who even if they have lost their jobs, have plenty of cash in the bank and plenty of options, unlike their constituents, most of whom are hard pressed and worried about the future.  The campaign was dull, politicians sealed away from the people in manicured photo-ops, endless repetition of slogans, straplines, and messages: fairness, better plans, hard working families; what about a politics which actually opened up some conversations about possible futures? We had that in Scotland around the referendum and after that experience I'm not sure sub-Blair and sub-Thatcher tactics work so well. 

    I watched Cameron's polished Jaguar cutting through the dawn at high speed en route back to the Whitehall palaces; leaving the tired faces at the counts and easing itself back into the smooth choreography of the state, confirming that there would be no transfer of power; and then, later, the defeated and victorious 'leaders' lined up together in front of the union jacks at the Cenotaph. It was ironic; it was boring; it was business-as-usual. But underneath the statecraft and ceremony there are some deep traps and faultlines waiting to open up for all sides

    So I guess we are back to the everyday politics of action and doing things - of not waiting for someone else to step in, of getting on with everyday solidarities and everyday resistances. I'm fed up of being a spectator in someone else's crap story - back to that dull aching televisual feeling...One of the great advantages of living in contemporary Scotland is that there are plenty of good people around who also want to make things happen. We just need to make sure we build networks of solidarity and hope that reach across the simplistic divides of nationalism and political parties to form alliances which are informed less by market values and more by human values - values of trust, hope, of generosity, of gifts; values which will be in short supply as the political rhetoric cranks up the money machines,  the economic bullshit, the fear, greed and hate, over the next few years.