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A blog on women, community and volunteering from Maggie Laidlaw

Posted on April 19 2016 in Uncategorised

Maggie Laidlaw is a PhD Research Student in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh and her PhD project ‘Women, community and volunteering: Who’s got time for that?’ is part of the Imagine Project’s Democratic work package. Her project focusses on the volunteered time of women, the ways these women manage the competing demands on their time in their everyday lives, and how different groups sit alongside each other, uncovering interesting contrasts and commonalities between them.

Maggie has been writing a blog about her thoughts as the project progresses. Here we highlight a selection of posts from Maggie’s blog:

Just because I can’t sing, doesn’t mean I won’t sing: Democratic participation & women’s community engagement.

Snaw White and the Cemlin Eight - cropThe focus of my PhD research examines the achievements, and temporal challenges of women who participate in community groups or organisations: In this short article for the Imagine website/newsletter, I explore the processes and practices surrounding the realities of community participation with women who engage in various forms of civic engagement – from volunteering and activism, to activities the women themselves described as ‘just having a laugh’. Participation in community organisations is viewed as an important way of developing social capital for neighbourhood communities (Putnam, 2000), and while social capital has been defined and conceptualised in different ways, it is often understood as consisting of social networks and connections between people, and the resources that may be available from such connections. So who gets to participate? As the three case study groups show – community participation is wide and varied.

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Case Study: ‘Tangled Boots’ (Line Dancing group)
“It’s a laugh, and we raise lots of money”

This group of energetic women, who are (almost) all over retirement age, script-write, rehearse, and perform seasonal pantomimes for their local community (video below).

While suggesting that it’s all just a bit of fun to raise money for various causes, the friendships and community building appear to go a long way beyond fund-raising and cheeky innuendos. The use of the vernacular, local and social references within the script, political, and saucy jokes, and their varied personal reasons for being part of this project, build a picture that is much richer than ‘just having a laugh’ – although that is as good a reason as any to participate, and an important aspect of human need that is often overlooked. Not one of these ladies will suggest that they can either sing, or act professionally, but they approach this project with a level of enthusiasm and dedication that is hard to resist…. so passionate were they of their project that I found myself stepping onto the stage with them.

The poetics of women and civic engagement
Poetry workshop with ‘Women for Independence (WFI) Clackmannanshire’, December, 2015

While exploring what time is to the individual in the community, how do we also recognise temporalities in relation to research methods, and what the democratisation of knowledge about communities means in practice? How can we capture the temporality of women’s lives, and what methods are available to researchers to allow them to work collaboratively with groups of women? New forms of knowledge are emerging about creative research methods: opening opportunities for voices to be heard that have previously been marginalised, and making it possible for these views to be expressed.

One method chosen for this research project is the use of poetry. Poetry surrounds itself with time – in its repetitive, rhyming, pausing, stopping, pondering nature, and in the temporalities held within the creating process of writing poetry. In a framework of private public dichotomies, where women’s civic engagement and temporal experiences could be suggested to still circulate around the private – even when concerned with the public, poetry might allow those personal experiences, spoken by women themselves, to reveal the purposeful, public nature of their work, while also reflecting the overlapping multiplicities of time connected to the home. As a complementary method, to perhaps interviews and ethnographic study, poetry seeks to reveal the diversity of people, emphasising the complexities of lived experiences, allowing voices to be heard, and “captur[ing] the essence of the how, the why, the what”
(Carroll,et al, 2011. p.624)

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