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A Labour of Attentiveness: the emergent place-responsive praxis of matter and context in R.D Laing’s Archway community

Brixey-Williams, J. (2022) A Labour of Attentiveness: the emergent place-responsive praxis of matter and context in R.D Laing’s Archway community. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00110019


The ideas within this thesis emerged via a place-responsive Practice-as-Research investigation of psychiatrist R.D Laing’s Archway community, depicted in Robinson’s film Asylum (1972). My examination focusses on Laing’s system of material and contextual engagement I define as a Labour of Attentiveness: an emergent nexus of relationality and care that fosters closer authentic relationships via small material acts, in contexts, across qualities of time. Laing was much criticised by the psychiatric establishment of his day for not producing a repeatable scientific methodology, so I analyse these critiques with reference to key debates from New Materialists Karen Barad, Jane Bennett, Rosi Braidotti and Donna Haraway, to question whether Laing’s legacy can be better understood by being repositioned within the “turn to matter” philosophies of New Materialisms. My second question investigates whether Laing’s model of navigation through matter towards playful, unexpected co-constitutive outcomes establishes more authentic relationships with place, with particular value for place practitioners who, by embracing the boundaries of multiple disciplines in their practices, identify as “edge-dwelling”. Drawing from Laing’s methodology, I originate two personal place-responsive projects and two participatory events (PLACEing Objects exhibition and Day of Dialogue) that explore relationships with place, where dialogue is fostered on an equal platform. My results show that a Labour of Attentiveness holds a space for a nuanced dialogue via vulnerability, where co-constitutive dynamic engagement through small acts may be radical and personally transformative, and where interrogation and trust deepen through time. This challenges the traditional concepts of tangible artistic production, raising questions of how the processes of edge-dwelling practitioners may be valued and supported within interdisciplinary exchange. To allow analysis to shift across theory and practice, my thesis comprises this written exegesis, an experiential visual essay as sculptural object, image, installation and video documentation supplied on a supplementary USB, and a documentary film.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Healy, C. and O'Connell, T.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Arts & Communication Design
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design
ID Code:110019
Date on Title Page:December 2021


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