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Living in a plastic world: problems, places, people, and perspectives on developing ‘Plastic Literacy’ through participatory arts

Lei, Xiaoyu


Xiaoyu Lei


Deirdre McKay


Creative practice is experiencing a revival as both research method and vehicle for impact and public engagement in geographical research. Academics are increasingly collaborating with artists to deliver public engagement and impact with an emphasis on the role of fine arts (e.g., Hawkins 2013a, 2013b, 2016). More grassroots-oriented participatory arts projects also tend to assert the benefits of art collaborations but often fail to acknowledge what happens in the space of artmaking. Recognising artists’ roles in designing and delivering research challenges academics. To explore the gap between academics and artists, this project examines participatory art and artists’ contributions to public education on plastics and the creation of public plastic literacy. Tracing the lessons learned through a series of public plastic junk-modelling workshops and exhibitions held in six different locations in the UK and the Philippines, the analysis draws on participant observations. This data is combined with autoethnography, site visits, interviews, questionnaires, and creative surveys undertaken with artists and workshop participants. Seeking the best methods and methodology to deliver participatory arts education on this messy but vital theme, the researcher’s own journey remodels her into a creative geographer and a participatory arts facilitator/practitioner. The approach developed here generates a social typology of plastics and demonstrates participatory art’s potential to deliver research while engaging publics and inspiring transformative behavioural change. This project thus fills the critical gap between celebrations of fine arts and the insistence on the value of an open-ended ‘artfulness’ (Pigott, 2020) that fails to fully consider artists in the research process. It demonstrates the intellectual and transformative power of research that fully incorporates artists’ methodological contributions into its design.

Thesis Type Thesis
Additional Information Embargo on access until 21 September 2026 - The thesis is due for publication, or the author is actively seeking to publish this material.
Award Date 2022-10

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