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Listening to voicesListening to Voices: Creative Disruptions with the Hearing Voices Network

‌Early Career Researchers:

  • Dr Gail McConnell (PI)
  • Dr Jo Scott (Co-I), University of the West of Scotland (School of Creative & Cultural Industries)
  • Dr Deborah Maxwell (Co-I), University of Edinburgh (Edinburgh College of Art) 

Project Partners:

  • Time and Space (Glasgow)
  • Hearing Voices Network Dundee
  • Hearing Voices Ireland
  • Hearing Voices Network Belfast 

This project will be funded from 1Feb 2015 for 12 months.

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In the field of mental health research, voice hearers feel the effects of academic language-use in their everyday lives through the hierarchical language of ‘others’ (e.g. ‘researcher’ and ‘researched’) and stigmatising labels. This project seeks to learn how to listen to ‘others’ and to counter oppressive structures of language-use by building a network of expertise in listening. It brings together voice-hearing networks, independent artists and academics to develop a suite of resources for creative listening practice. These stakeholders will collaborate to design the project activities and outputs.

Listening to Voices asks, ‘what would it be like to learn to listen together/differently?’ How might creative listening practices enable individuals and communities to become more attuned to the voices of ‘others’ previously marginalized, repressed or ignored? It focuses on listening as the site of meaningful exchange and collaboration between the academy and those outside it, recognising that voice hearing networks in Scotland and Northern Ireland (HVNs) are experts-by-experience in developing innovative and carefully thought out challenging listening practices in relation to multiple and complex voices. Similarly, the early career researchers facilitating the research are also experts in listening practices in three different disciplines: in this case focusing on a cross-disciplinary approach that relates to the multiple voices of (1) poetic, (2) musical and (3) narrative texts, and across the wide range of definitions of ‘listening’ practices and notions of ‘voice’.

Members of Time and Space HVN group will join HVN representatives, the project researchers, and sound artist Pedro Rebelo (Sonic Arts Research Centre, Belfast) at a weekend retreat co-designed by HVN community partners and researchers in order to reflect on, share and broaden their experiences of listening and being listened to. Leadership and facilitation of the activities will be shared between leaders of the local voice hearing groups and academics, and the activities will be designed collaboratively in the months leading up to the retreat. The retreat will result in the co-production of a best practice guide to listening, as well as a public sound art project.

The aim of this exchange is to disrupt hierarchies of knowledge and power, where ‘expert’ academics conduct research on ‘subject’ communities and then create texts that reproduce aspects of this power structure. All co-created texts that result from this project (for example, the Listening to Voices Guide) will be subjected to the disruptive effect of ‘other’ voices, by re-presenting the texts to community partners for the purpose of disruption. Creative means (musico-, poetic, lyrical) will be used to display the results of those disruptions within the text itself, and in associated works of sound art. The Latin for 'text' is 'tissue' or 'woven' thing. The resulting Listening to Voices Guide (and all other outputs) will make visible the layers of meaning that represent the struggle for authority in the tissue of a collaborative produced text, woven from the voices of voice hearers, academics and artists.

By making visible and audible the creative disruptions (in, for example, overwriting, erasure or annotations), these texts will foreground what is challenging and meaningful about the collaborative process and the politics of authority written over and into the fabric of the 'finished' text. The focus of this practice is to challenge the single-voiced authority and claims to objectivity conventionally constructed in academic writing. These academic practices force the suppression of certain forms of voice but these voices resurface, for example, in the footnotes of academic texts, which become places where ‘other’ voices (e.g. subjective, doubting, meandering, hyper-critical, comic) are allowed to be present. These places also clearly echo some aspects of voice hearing experience and therefore demonstrate resonance between the forms of expertise outlined above. This is not to say that the practice of footnoting is analogous to the experience of voice hearing, but to foreground how academic texts claim to be objective, rational and authoritative, and place subjective, personal and multiple at the bottom of a hierarchy of knowledge, yet academic footnotes reveal that these texts always already contain within themselves a kernel of recognition of precisely the kinds of knowledge they deem ‘other’.

The project also aims to give early career researchers the opportunity to develop and incorporate good listening practice as a critical aspect of their academic activities and careers, and as a result, to develop radical creative writing practices in response. These writing practices will allow creatively disruptive voices within academic (and other associated) texts to become obvious, present and ‘heard’, using listening techniques developed in collaboration with communities of voice hearers and translated into creative methodologies at the forefront of practice.