I’ve been involved in the Brighton Hub of ‘Sexology and Songwriting’, a collaborative project that brings together academic researchers with songwriters and young people. The workshops are part of the Wellcome Collection’s current sexology exhibition and are inspired by the findings from the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL III). The aim of the project is for the young people involved to become active researchers and song-writers, disseminating their research in the form of their own songs to be performed at Brighton’s Dome and potentially included in a recorded form at the Sexology exhibition in February 2015.
The different people involved in the Brighton Hub represent all the different elements of the project, academic researchers (myself, Prof Rachel Thomson and Ester Mcgeeney), musicians (Marina and Zoe who are associated with Rhythmix) and youth worker Joe from Safety Net. To some degree we also represented different agendas, filtered through our own skill sets and our own institutional comfort zones. Significantly Ester’s experience, for example in the Good Sex Project, meant that she could bridge all the different elements as she is equally comfortable in practice and in academic research. The other practitioners involvement in the young women’s music project Miss Represented meant that they were familiar with longer term music projects and with some of the young women involved with Inside Out. This really helped close down the artificiality of the divisions between training, supporting young people, and research supervision. For the young women involved in this project the reality is that that their motivation was to be involved in a music project, either as performers or as song writers. One of the tensions in the project was about the complexity of a project that was about songwriting, and the history of sex, and learning to be a researchers. The danger, I had felt, was that the research methodology and sexology in particular was to some extent the hoop that the young people would have to jump through in order to get to do the bit they really wanted; the music. Over the first two days of the project it has become clear that the lines between music, sexology and research practices are imposed externally, and not necessarily by the young women involved in the project.
At our initial planning meeting on the first day it was decided that myself and Rachel would withdraw in order to keep the project practice led and to help make our function in the project clear to the young people. The academic researchers are there to help the young researchers, not the other way round. The decision was made that we would come and share some ideas with the group once it was established following which our precise role in the project would respond to the needs identified by the young people as their own projects develop. We did have a list of suggested roles we could play, organising archival visits, sharing and analysing digital archives, talking through our own development as researchers. We had already produced a set of resources that trace the history of sexology, thinking particularly about the relationship between prescription, practice and cultural representation. So, for example, I included the Hayes Code what sexual content could be shown on screen alongside the Little Kinsey survey on sexual behaviour form 1949, and mass observation writing about sex in the 1980s alongside activist pamphlets around AIDS.
When I met the group on the second day of the workshop they were already well established, which was aided by the pre-existing close connection between the young women and Jo from Safety Net. On the second day there was a group of 13 women established and working together at Brighton Youth Centre. Myself, and the three practitioners and Ester working as both researcher and practitioners, as well as the 9 young women involved in the project who are aged 14 – 18. Ester has written a more detailed discussion of the activities and processes of the first two days in her own blog. (credits to Ester for the pictures)