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This chapter explores the role of theory in the work of collaborative research. To try to explain how theory comes into the lives of our projects, we tell personal stories about moments of realization where the reading of theory directly connected to how we understand the world of our projects. In the middle of the process of making and doing within the thick of it, new concepts of research and knowing emerged.

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In this chapter, we introduce some of the reasons that drove us to compose this book in the first place. The book is written to challenge a singular view of the university and to move towards more collaborative modes of enquiry.

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Here, we introduce the reader to some of the key concepts in this book: (1) unplanning, (2) work, (3) story, (4) embodiment, (5) polyphony, (6) worthiness, (7) audiencing and (8) dis/enchantment. These concepts enable a set of insights to be built up about collaborative interdisciplinary research and constitute a poetics arising from that work.

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This piece is an encounter with a school which went wrong, but something was retrieved. It shows how it is important to factor potential failure into collaborative research. It is also about what happens when a team of artists go into a school and work together.

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The Poetics of Letting Go

This book invites the reader to think about collaborative research differently. Using the concepts of ‘letting go’ (the recognition that research is always in a state of becoming) and ‘poetics’ (using an approach that might interrupt and remake the conventions of research), it envisions collaborative research as a space where relationships are forged with the use of arts-based and multimodal ways of seeing, inquiring, and representing ideas.

The book’s chapters are interwoven with ‘Interludes’ which provide alternative forms to think with and another vantage point from which to regard phenomena, pose a question, and seek insights or openings for further inquiry, rather than answers. Altogether, the book celebrates collaboration in complex, exploratory, literary and artistic ways within university and community research.

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In this article we explore the ways in which universities and communities can work together drawing on our experience of a community-university co-produced project called ‘Imagine’. We reflect on our different experiences of working together and affectively co-produce the article, drawing on a conversation we held together. We locate our discussion within the projects we worked on. We look at the experiences of working across community and university and affectively explore these. We explore the following key questions:

  • How do we work with complexity and difference?

  • Who holds the power in research?

  • What kinds of methods surface hidden voices?

  • How can we co-create equitable research spaces together?

  • What did working together feel like?

Our co-writing process surfaces some of these tensions and difficulties as we struggle to place our voices into an academic article. We surface more of our own tensions and voices and this has become one of the dominant experiences of doing co-produced research. We explore the mechanisms of co-production as being both a process of fusion but also its affective qualities. Our discussions show that community partners working with academics have to bear the emotional labour; by ‘standing in the gap’ they are having to move between community and university. We also recognise the power of community co-writing as a form that can open up an opportunity to speak differently, outside the constraining spaces of academia.

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This chapter provides an overview of the value of getting lost in research and refers to arts-based methods as a way to do this. It proposes the idea of ‘unplanning’ as a way of exploring what it is to get lost. Using the concept of the ‘clew’ is helpful in this process. This provides new insights into the processes and practices of doing collaborative research.

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