Social Art and Participatory Action Research in Contested Urban Space

Julia Heslop, Hannah Marsden, Alison Merritt Smit


This article examines creative co-research with groups experiencing homelessness and the effects of rapid urban development. It draws upon two projects which combine social art practices and a feminist participatory action research (PAR) approach. The paper argues that bridging PAR and social arts practice, whilst underutilised and under theorised together, is an approach that offers some key opportunities as well as challenges. In highlighting these challenges, the paper acknowledges the role of power dynamics and broader issues associated with artists working in urban development contexts where relationships between local authorities, developers, the culture sector and residents are increasingly complex and entangled. In analysing the difficulties and risks within creative, participatory projects, the paper calls for an ‘ethic of care’ and a focus on collectively building knowledge about unequal political, economic and social structures with groups affected by rapid urban development and displacement.


Article received: May 31, 2021; Article accepted: June 23, 2021; Published online: October 15, 2021; Original scholarly article

How to cite this article: Heslop, Julia, Hannah Marsden, and Alison Merritt Smith. "Social Art and Participatory Action Research in Contested Urban Space." AM Journal of Art and Media Studies 26 (October 2021): 115-128. doi: 10.25038/am.v0i26.475


social art; participatory action research; gentrification; housing; artwashing.

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