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The social significance of artistic representations of former coal and steel communities

Davies, Peter Henry 2018. The social significance of artistic representations of former coal and steel communities. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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The former industrial heartland of South Wales is a complex mix of urban and rural morphology with a long history of male-oriented employment in the heavy industries of coal and steel. Now, in a post-industrial era, pernicious literary and media representations position the area as suffering from multiple deprivations leading to a pervasive territorial stigmatisation. As my original contribution to research, this thesis explores the nature of community and sense of place to show through arts-based methodologies that people have a rooted connection to their home that can be conceptualised through Raymond Williams’ ‘structure of feeling’. The work has allowed for a re-appropriation of spaces sometimes regarded as ‘Other’, placing them unequivocally in the centre rather than on the periphery. Working through a range of qualitative approaches including group encounters, walking tours and co-produced writing and photography activities, the research shows that there is a positive desire to assert that these communities have much to contribute and to challenge negative representations. The project examines the notion of homeland as expressed through the Welsh term hiraeth, reflecting Pearson and Shank’s assertion that the language of the Welsh landscape is ‘folded in the land’. Homeland is also explored through a writing model which addresses notions of belonging and dislocation from place. The work produced speaks to themes of nostalgia and remembering but also articulates a way to come to terms with the reality of life in a post-industrial environment. Drawing on the complex social and cultural histories of the area, the work moves through time, space and place to provide a platform for feelings and emotions that are expressed through poems, prose and pictures. These artistic representations carry an intimation of a utopian vision of communities which is conflated with an ontology of the ‘not yet’, in which traces of the future can be located in remnants of the past. The temporal shifts in narrative contribute to this perception of a world that moves between past, present and future in an interplay of affect and agency. Through explorations of inter-generationality, the research also shows the level of help organised through ad hoc, familial networks that contributes to the development of social and cultural capital.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Funders: ESRC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 10 May 2019
Last Modified: 04 Aug 2022 01:44

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