Marianne McAra

Marginally Defined; a participatory practice for youth engagement

How can participatory design engage young people at risk of non-participation in education, employment or training, and lead to a better understanding of the factors that mobilise their sense of agency? 

Set against the current political and economic climate, at-risk groups, vulnerable to falling through the educational net or who have done so already, are generally subsumed under deficit-based rhetoric such as NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training), disengaged and disaffected. Whitewashing this highly heterogeneous demographic is further camouflaging the most vulnerable individuals, diluting salient issues and needs. Placing fault and holding responsible the supposedly demobilised capacity of individuals fails to acknowledge the fundamental adversities highly disadvantaged young people face. A more comprehensive understanding of how agency, combined with external factors, conditions and available resources, is actualised and harnessed is required in order to establish more effective pro-participation interventions.

In response to this, I am exploring how my participatory design practice can open up a more reflective and representative dialogue. I seek to innovate the method of Participatory Video through transporting the technique of Direct Animation into a participatory design context. Inspired by the pioneering work of animators Len Lye (1935-1980), Norman McLaren (1933-1983), Stan Brakeage (1961-2003) and Man Ray’s Rayographs (1923-1929), Direct Animation is a filmmaking technique whereby you illustrate directly onto the surface of celluloid film, which is then projected through a reel-to-reel projector. This technique affords the creation of highly abstract imagery requiring the participants to translate their ideas conceptually through metaphors and connotations, working in shapes, colours and textures, and does not demand a strict drawing ability. Applying it in practice, I collaborated with a group of young people to produce a series of 16mm videography exploring their ambitions, motivations and anticipations for the future. While seeking to elicit new insight into at-risk groups, my aim was to methodologically catalyse meaningful conversations with the participants, empowering them to take an active role within the research.  

Supervisors: Dr. Lynn-Sayers McHattie, Dr. Maddy Sclater.

Contact: [email protected]

Marianne McAra