Co-creation is central to the AHRC Connected Communities’ Creative Interruptions project in which researchers from five universities and several non-university based collaborators have come together to explore the role of the arts and creativity within diverse communities. Creative Interruptions also involves the production of co-created outputs including a theatre production, films, a photo exhibition and digital installations, as well as academic papers/reports.

Collaborators include migrant and long-term resident, food factory and warehouse workers in the East of England; African, Caribbean and South Asian screen practitioners and activists in the UK; refugee, migrant and LGBT communities in Northern Ireland; Palestinian filmmakers and solidarity networks in the UK and internationally and a cross-section of faiths in Punjab and the Punjabi diaspora in Scotland. The research team is based at Brunel University London, the University of Sussex, Sheffield Hallam University, Queen’s University Belfast and University of Strathclyde.

One of the key theoretical insights underpinning our approach to co-creation is the idea of ‘lived theory’ conceptualized by A. Sivanandan, Sri Lankan novelist, Director of the Institute of Race Relations and founder and advisory editor of the Race & Class journal. ‘Lived theory’, as Sivanandan elucidates in an interview with Avery Gordon,[1] emerges from a reorientation to people’s actual experiences and unfolding struggles for equality. It is a call for lived experience to be translated into action while resting the authority of that experience in the people themselves. This approach calls for a break with academic orthodoxies about race, immigration, class and dispossession (some of the central themes in our research) – a move from the general to the particular and then again to the general. It involves prioritizing the experiential and the subject’s authority over that experience, using the central concerns and desire for social change in the interests of ‘the oppressed’ as well as considering their well-being as the yard stick for theoretical and practical inquiry.

Applying this idea of ‘lived theory’ within the Creative Interruptions project, we take the perspectives and actual experiences of diverse research collaborators and participants as our starting point. We seek to create a space in which people in various contexts of disenfranchisement can discuss how their creative work seeks to be ‘interruptive’, by challenging current and past practices of exclusion in society. Our conceptual ‘leaps’ lie in the fact that members of our research team are connected to and part of lived and on-going struggles of communities on the ground in a number of ways: either they were born in these communities, worked with them for long periods of time, or have been part of organisations that support marginalised communities. Following Sivanandan, our “thinking is constantly being fed or being challenged by our immersion in ‘the facts on the ground’.”

Motivated by a concern to listen to largely unheard stories, Creative Interruptions engages with past and emergent grassroots creativity that has specifically been intended as a response to migration, racisms and forms of social exclusion. Co-creation facilitates the assembling of new public memories based around themes such as heritage, race relations, intensive employment regimes and the effects of colonialism. Insights into the actual, ‘creative’ experiences of those that have been disenfranchised, also helps to deepen wider public understandings of diverse creative practices and the values placed on different forms of ‘culture’ and ‘creativity’.’ By co-creating research on these particular experiences of creativity, the role of creative processes in challenging exclusion is also foregrounded.

Our method of co-creation also seeks to build on existing studies by developing an alternative, decolonised paradigm where disenfranchised communities are actively part of the research process and are situated as agents making claims on their own terms, including through creative practice. Thus an additional dimension relates to our concern with engaging in a decolonised research process in which knowledge about race, racism, intensive work regimes and coloniality is resituated and reclaimed within the project through the act of co-creating knowledge.

We have combined this decolonised paradigm with the research approach facilitated over the past decade through the AHRC Connected Communities programme, and specifically the collaboration on methodologies it has supported through the Centre for Social Justice and Community Action at Durham University and the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE)[2]. In their Guide to Ethical Principles and Practice in community-based participatory research, the collaboration between Durham and the NCCPE emphasises principles of mutual respect, equality and inclusion, democratic participation, active learning, making a difference, collective action and personal integrity—all of which we endeavour to embed within our project through adhering to the practical steps outlined by the Guide and through other, cognate research, for example on co-created theatre.[3]

Thus this is a collaborative research endeavour that also requires us to be deeply reflexive about inherent power relations within our own study, including in terms of the established (colonial) dynamic that is often inherent between researchers and those being researched. We attempt, within the research process, to also engage with the decolonisation of research methods by centring the concerns of those who have been colonised, or impacted by coloniality, in order to understand theory and research from their perspective.

Creative Interruptions provides a basis for further scholarly inquiry into co-creation, community-based participatory research and how it links with experiences ‘at the margins’ including the power to define what the ‘margins’ are. Questions also arise about the role of public arts and humanities projects in working in solidarity with people experiencing disenfranchisement and exclusion.



[1] See Avery F. Gordon, ‘On ‘lived theory’: an interview with A. Sivanandan’, in Race & Class, Volume: 55 issue: 4, page(s): 1-7, First published online: March 31, 2014; Issue published: April 1, 2014 DOI:

[2] Centre for Social Justice and Community Action at Durham University and the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement, Community-based participatory research: A guide to ethical principles and practice (2012). Accessed online: [4 August 2017]

[3] See for example B.A. Walmsey, ‘Co-creating theatre: Authentic engagement or inter-legitimation?’, Cultural Trends 22:2 (2013), 108-18; Luisa Enria, ‘Co-producing knowledge through participatory theatre: reflections on ethnography, empathy and power’, Qualitative Research 16:3 (2015), 319-329.