Saturday, June 15, 2024

consenting to digital activism

Whoop! A first signed consent form in a research project is a moment worth celebrating. It takes hours of work to get to this stage of a project.

First there is the funding application, seeking resources to undertake research (thanks IASH Edinburgh). This is mixed with a literature review to develop a research question that builds on what others re thinking. Next there is the ethics application, thinking through the risks and benefits of various approaches to research. For this project, this required a lot of reading in ethical research with social media data and ways not to compromise the safety of children in domains that allow anonymous comments. Then there is initiating contact, connecting with organisations and explaining the research to participants. Hours of work make the first signed consent form a moment worth celebrating.

The digital activism in justice-making is briefly introduced here. I am using a mixed methods approach. This involves seeking permission to undertake a visual grammar analysis of online images on social media, alongside offering conversations (focus groups) about the online images. This side-by-side approach should help understand the visual public theologies being offered by grassroot organisations as they activate for climate justice.

Whoop whoop. After positive interactions this week, a first signed consent form!

Posted by steve at 12:09 AM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

sea rising labyrinth and the ethics of love

Strolling Portobello Beach in Edinburgh on Sunday with a friend, we spotted a labyrinth on the sand.

With the tide coming in, the shoes came off and the jeans were rolled up. One way to walk the labyrinth is to take a question in with you. I took “why are you here?” It’s a question I’ve been asked a few times in the last week, as a Kiwi new to Edinburgh and a long way from home.

One response to the question is technical. I am in Edinburgh for 7 weeks, as a Visiting Research Fellow at IASH (Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities), at the University of Edinburgh. I’m doing work on digital activism as justice-making by Christian organisations, working with Dr Alex Chow, from the Centre for the Study of World Christianity.

Another response to the “why are you here?” question is  topical.  As I walked the labyrinth, the tide was coming in. At pace. The path of the labyrinth circles in toward a centre, then back out. My journey out would be through deepening water, as the tide continued to rise.

I might be safe, but I found myself thinking about the futures of others impacted by rising sea levels. This might feel remote on a sunny Sunday in Edinburgh. Yet earlier that week I had read about indigenous families being forced to relocate in Panama. So a second response to the “why are you here?” question is topical. I’m researching climate change and how organisations use online images to activate for change. So that less communities will need to relocate in the future.

At the centre of the Portobello Beach labyrinth I found a heart of love. It was yet another delightful touch by the unknown labyrinth makers. I stood, my feet immersed in water, pondering love.

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus is asked what it means to love our neighbour. He tells the story of a robbery. Perhaps if he was telling it today, he might tell the story of a rising sea. And how easy it is to walk on by. Busy. And how some religions use beliefs to justify walking by. Hoping another person might come along to act. Or that God will somehow provide another place to replace this earthly abode. Yet the Parable of the Good Samaritan ends with an unexpected Samaritan, motivated to act.

So a third response is that I’m here to research those motivated to act with love. I’m researching Christian organisations who use online spaces to call for climate-justice. I’m researching people who understand themselves as stewards with creation, rather than profiteers from creation. I’m researching how they use images to spread a message of love.

Perhaps through my research I might see things that help their actions. Perhaps I might see things that help other organisations to find ways to act. So a third response to the “why are you here?” question involves the ethics of love.

PS – A big thanks to the unnamed labyrinth makers on a Portobello beach, who enabled me to immerse myself in a rising tide and ponder a heart of love.

Posted by steve at 10:19 PM | Comments (2)

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

UK research June and July 2024

I’m busy at the moment making plans for a June and July research sojourn in the UK, where I am juggling 3 research projects.

First, I have around 6-7 weeks in Edinburgh, where I am a Visiting Research Fellow at IASH (Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities), at the University of Edinburgh. I’m doing work on digital activism as justice-making by Christian organisations, working with Alex Chow, from the Centre for the Study of World Christianity.

Second, I will be popping over to Glasgow, thanks to the generosity of Trinity College, where I am doing further work on the Race, Justice and Mission project, with archival research into the complicated nature of Presbyterian mission engagement in Pacific blackbirding.

Third, I will be in Birmingham for 2 weeks, where I am commencing a Birmingham University Cross-training theologians in Psychology Fellowship. This has several intensives, online connections and mentoring to equip with skills to undertake psychologically informed theological research. It is a second round of what Lynne Taylor has been enjoying.

Lynne Taylor is on sabbatical in the second half of the year and originally it was planned that she would join me toward the end of this time. However some family matters have changed the landscape and she’ll be heading over later for a shorter time.

I’m stoked to be awarded these Fellowships and excited about the chance to work internationally across a range of research projects. While I’m not looking forward to being apart from Lynne, I am looking forward to seeing a daughter in Oxford, England.

Posted by steve at 09:16 PM

Friday, May 10, 2024

reflective listening to knitters for change

Currently I’m writing up 45 interviews with makers who have knitted for change. Some knitted scarves to activate for climate change, others knitted angels to yarnbomb local communities or strawberries to support survivors of church-based abuse.

As I prepare to write, I listen back to the interviews. One of the things I hear myself doing in the interviews is active listening. Particularly toward the end of an interview, I might reflect back to knitters some of the connections I am pondering. This allows me to check what I’m hearing and to gain their feedback.

Sometimes what I reflect back gains excited and enthusiastic agreement. Like this:

Judging by the excited response, this connection seemed important.

Next week I will print this connection onto a A4 sheet of paper. I will brainstorm, writing out links to other interviews and wider reading. It might well be that this piece of reflective listening is actually an important theme for the research. If so, then it has emerged from reflective listening. I like the way that conversations with people can shape thinking and help develop ideas.

Posted by steve at 06:20 PM

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

tactile patterns in analysing research data

woollen themes Wool is central to knitting. So I’m using wool to help me as I analyse and write up my Ordinary knitter interviews. Wool helps me focus on the tactile and material dimensions of the research.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve worked through interviews. As I read and reflect, I’m looking for patterns both within the interviews and between the interviews. These patterns become themes. Within each pattern there are elements that explain the pattern. Sometimes these elements blend. Other time these elements clash, and in the tensions important insights emerge.

From a first round of reading, I identified five patterns (themes), each of which have several elements that contribute to the weave of the pattern.

Then I assigned different threads of wool to each pattern. It was partly playful, a distraction from the hard work of coding. It was also a good way of reminding me that the patterns are grounded in practice, a knitter reflecting on the hundreds of stitches that make up a Christmas angel, or the thousands of stitches that make up a Knitted Climate Scarf.

I’m now reading all the interviews for a second time, using the wool colour chart to help me look for ways the five patterns are present. I’m also checking nothing important is being overlooked.

The colours catch my eye as I code. The wool is from projects I’ve personally knitted. So it reminds my of my own interests, my own satisfactions and frustrations as I learnt to knit.

Posted by steve at 02:36 PM

Thursday, April 11, 2024

stashes as research methods in researching making

coding I’m writing!!

As I planned the 2024 year, I set aside April and May to progress analysis and writing on the Ordinary Knitters research project. Since Ordinaryknitters began, I have been privileged to interview 43 people from 4 countries who knitted for a public project, collected over the last few years.

There are knitters who cared for their community by making Christmas angels. Other knitters cared for creation by knitting climate scarves, encouraged peace-stitches through “French knitting” peace loom installations or personalised their place through knitting remembrance poppies. Each person making as a way of connecting their Christian faith in public ways with the wider world.

To understand these experiences of making, I’m using reflexive thematic analysis. Reflexive thematic analysis values three things. First, the intuitions and interests of the researcher. Second, the unfolding nature of analysis. Third, the ways in which the particularity of one experience can illuminate the particularity of another experience.

I see reflexive thematic analysis as a way of making. I’m sifting through a rich stash of wool. My stash is unique, shaped by the active role my interests and networks have played in gathering the wool. I compare balls of wool, believing that fresh and new connections can emerge as different colours and textures (interview quotes and stories) are laid alongside each other. As I make, the unique colours of each ball will remain. In all I do, gathering, comparing, knitting, my craft as a maker will be visible. Yet the whole will be greater than the individual parts.

Practically, I undertake reflexive thematic analysis not with an existing set of themes to look for. Rather, I read “reflexively.” I start with the first interview and read it noting what I think are key words (codes).

I try to cluster these key words (codes) around big ideas (themes). I read further interviews. As I do, I work in “pencil” (reflexively) because the key words (codes) and conversation (themes) shift as I read. The experience of one knitter invites more codes, or a reworking of a theme, to better cluster a range of unique experiences. These reflexive changes require me to reread the earlier interviews. As a result, experiences from a range of interview are informing the experiences of another interviews.

I track the shifts in reflexivity by using mind maps and tables. These make visible my unfolding analysis. The mindmaps and tables allow me to keep track of my decisions and reflect (reflexively) on my assumptions.

This approach, of reflexive thematic analysis – assumes that I as a researcher have an interest and a set of values (why else would I be asking for an interview) which I bring to the interview and the analysis. This approach assumes that naming my interests and the way I make decisions will decrease the chance of imposing my research agenda on those being interviewed. It also assumes that insights emerge over time, particularly as the uniqueness of each interview is brought into conversation with the uniqueness of other interviews.

I love the making of reflexive thematic analysis.

Posted by steve at 10:24 AM

Monday, March 25, 2024

Digital activism as justice-making: Evaluating decolonial public theologies on Christian social media platforms

I’m thrilled to have an academic paper accepted for GoNeDigiTal24. The conference organisors requested a short video introduction to Evaluating decolonial public theologies on Christian social media platforms.

This paper is part of a larger project on Digital Activism, with Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh in June/July 2024. Here is a summary of the IASH project from my application:

SUMMARY OF PROJECT
This project analyses how Christian organisations deploy social media to advocate for justice. While toxic discourse abounds online, so do impactful moments of digital activism. Digital ethnography is used to analyse what might be distinctive about Christian decolonial digital activism. How might digital acts of public theology create viral justice?

Update: Thrilled to have a second academic paper accepted, this one for the British Sociology Association Sociology of Religion (SocRel) Annual Conference 2024: Religion, Justice, and Social Action. Here’s the abstract for that conference:

Digital activism as justice-making. Evaluating decolonial public theologies on Christian social media platforms

There are widespread examples, both positive and negative, of digital activism among religious communities. Methodologically, digital ethnography provides ways to understand the mundane aspects of everyday digital life (Hine, 2015) and analyse the interplay between online and offline performativity. Theoretically, salon, contentious, law-abiding and Ghandian typologies have been used in evaluating digital activism (Neumayer and Svensson, 2016). However, Oceanic scholars have challenged theoretical categories circulating in the Global North, arguing that indigenous approaches to activism centre identity, well-being, and kinship (Tupou et al., 2023).

This paper presents initial findings from a Visiting Research Fellowship with the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh, June/July 2024. To better understand the limits and possibilities of religion, justice, and social action, this paper analyses digital activism by selected Christian groups in Oceania. The place of race is foregrounded by analysing groups that are active in ways that express indigenous ways of knowing. The paper will draw on data from interviews with key leaders of digital activist organisations and participant observation of digital activist campaigns. Content analysis of emojis as representations of digital emotionality and interviews with key participants/retweeters/commenters will be used to clarify motivations and analyse what might be distinctive about Christian approaches to digital activism.

The research has the potential to impact decolonial discourse through the study of lived practice and provide insights for organisations working in digital spaces to facilitate online justice-making.

Posted by steve at 11:25 AM

Monday, October 02, 2023

Keeping faith in divine service at AngelWings Ltd

holding Keeping Faith book I recently reviewed Keeping Faith: How Organisations can stay true to the way of Jesus by Stephen Judd, John Swinton and Kara Martin for the Australian Journal of Mission Studies. Wonderful was the response from a grateful editor and the 840-word review will be published in December 2023. (This was a first output from our “rummaging in the research stash” season I chatted about last week).

The phrase “keeping faith” is a fascinating way to understand the research work we do at AngelWings Ltd. Organisations want to keep faith with funders, so they contract us to evaluate change projects and innovations in mission and ministry. Organisations want to keep faith with their founding vision, so we work with them to review programmes and gain stakeholder feedback on future plans.

Every organisation has a unique charism. Marist priest, Gerald Arbuckle in Refounding the Church: Dissent for Leadership talks about the need of every organisation to go back to their roots. While Christian organisations have a shared story in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, every organisation lives that story in unique ways. I connect Arbuckle’s refounding with the gifts and graces of the Spirit. As Romans 12:3-7 reminds us, there is one body and many members, one Spirit giving different gifts. So every organisation needs to work to continually refound itself in relation to their unique gifts.

We at AngelWings Ltd provide outside eyes and grassroots feedback to help organisations in refounding. Sometimes we interview and conduct focus groups and through listening at grassroots, next steps are discerned. Other times we survey or provide demographic data, collating experiences across multiple stakeholders. Or we read recent cutting edge literature and bring each organisation’s particularity into conversation with current best practice.

In every case, we are listening, seeking to understand the unique gifts by which the organisation might “keep faith.” Every project is unique, as we bring a range of research methods to offer bespoke solutions. If your organisations needs some refounding, then do be in touch for a pro-bono conversation, to see if we at AngelWings Ltd might be to service (kiwidrsteve @ gmail dot com).

Posted by steve at 01:39 PM

Thursday, September 28, 2023

rummaging in the research stash

Stash – defined as a store or supply of something, typically one that is kept hidden or secret.

brightly coloured objects

Photo by Chris Hardy on Unsplash

I’m currently enjoying rummaging through my research stash. I’ve had a deadline pressured 14 months, delivering 6 different substantial research projects to various groups in Australia, New Zealand and Scotland. It’s meant days, weeks and months of deadlines, in which a whole range of personal and pro-bono research projects have been paused. It’s also meant the bulk of my research, reading and thinking has been less than visible, as I have served the specific internal needs of these organisations.

I currently have a bit more space and with that space I am enjoying rummaging back through my research stash. There are copious computer files. There are books in piles on the floor. There are audio interviews on the Iphone and Zoom storage. There are scribbled ideas in my personal life journal.

As I rummage, I have identified three types of outputs

  • Short pieces, like book reviews of missiology books I’ve read, along with blog-like pieces
  • Journal articles, that develop the insights gained from the research, while working within the confidentiality frameworks agreed with those among whom I have researched
  • Book project, a longer piece of work, gathering up my interest in craftivism over the last 5 years, conducting more interviews as part of the Ordinary Knitters research project and seeing if there is a potential book project on the craft of mission among what is now a substantial file of work

AngelWings Ltd exists to resource the church and so rummaging through the stash is part of exploring what has been tucked away out of of sight, and what might be made appropriately visible.

It’s also been a lot of fun. Like on Tuesday, opening an evernote file of notes on a book, and realising the 1400 words of notes could, with a few hours work, become a book review for an Australian missiology journal. Which was sent this morning. A book review of Keeping Faith: How Christian organisations can stay true to the way of Jesus – submitted to Australian Journal of Mission Studies.

Now what’s next in the research stash?

Posted by steve at 09:38 AM

Monday, July 24, 2023

Retrieving practical theology from the archives paper proposal

Glad to submit a conference paper proposal for Association of Practical Theology in Oceania (APTO). It’s in Dunedin in 2023 so nice and close to home! The conference theme – migration – gives me the opportunity to offer some research emerging from my Race, justice and mission project, thanks to my upcoming University of Glasgow Library Research Fellowship.

Retrieving practical theology from the archives: a reassessment of race and justice in Oceania migration

In the academic study of lived experience, practical theology often draws on empirical research. However, practical theology’s engagement with lived experience, as presented in archival material, is less common. The Glasgow University Library and University Archives hold a unique repository of pamphlets, sermons, reports and minutes. The archives include accounts of how Scottish missionaries experienced “blackbirding,” a coercive approach to migrant labour in Oceanic history. How might these historical accounts of lived experience help us analyse race and justice in the practices of mission?

This paper considers three methodological approaches by which practical theology might research migration histories in Oceania. First, McDougall (2016) used oral histories retrieved through ethnography to outline a distinctive cosmopolitan openness that shaped migration amongst the Melanesian peoples of the Solomon Islands. Second, Modjeska (2014) used embodied imaginaries and drew the work of historians and anthropologists into a “fictive” narrative that asserted indigenous Melanesian agency. Third, Halapua (2001) wove documentary analysis, interviews and action research in seeking to sing God’s song of solidarity with marginalised Melanesians in Fiji.

These three Oceanic methodologies provide ways first to approach archival history as lived experience and second to reflect on race and justice in the practices of Christian mission.

Posted by steve at 09:21 AM

Sunday, July 02, 2023

Listening matters

Listening matters.

I’m now well into two AngelWings Ltd research projects for organisations in Australia. 45 interviews and focus groups for one. 24 interviews and focus groups for the other.

This is hours and hours of information. Each interview is distinct, packed with quotes and unique insights. I use a range of processes to ensure I listen carefully to every conversation’s unique and rich nature.

research tools like highlighter, pen, journal

1 – A consent form, sent prior to clarify expectations as we start.
2 – An interview schedule to keep track of time and help with consistency.
3 – A research journal to record notes.
4 – A highlighter for key moments and insights as I listen.
5 – A short research memo was written to myself as I finish each interview to record my impressions and observations.
6 – A listening back to the recording and writing of a summary.
7 – The sending of a summary to each participant, so they know what I’m hearing and can give further feedback if they need to.

These seven listening processes all help when I come to write a report. Each conversation is honoured. Participants know what has been heard. My developing thoughts, feelings and intuitions are data to enrich the discernment.

Posted by steve at 04:25 PM

Friday, June 09, 2023

AngelWings Review of Missional Needs and Opportunities for Synod South Australia

A piece of research I’m part of doing with AngelWings Ltd has been written up in New Times, the online magazine of the Uniting Church Synod of South Australia (New Times – April/May 2023).

The Murray River mouth is one of the more dramatic places in South Australia to consider transitions. Upstream floods create new channels, while drought increases pressure on fish and migratory wading birds flying in from Alaska. Those living near the river mouth and close to the Coorong know things constantly change.

Aware of constant change, the Mission and Leadership Development Board has commissioned a Missional Review of Needs and Opportunities. The review seeks to clarify missional priorities, develop creative options and to identify threats, and is being undertaken by AngelWings Ltd, a New Zealand organisation. The three researchers – Steve Taylor, Lynne Taylor and Kayli Taylor – bring different professional skills to the mix.

They also share experience having lived in Adelaide and been among the Uniting Church in South Australia between 2010 and 2015. One special family memory was watching Narrandjerri elder Uncle Tom Trevorrow dig into the sand at the Murray Mouth. The water Uncle Tom offered was fresh, not salted. It was a powerful experience of how water exists in surprising places.

Those serving in Christian ministry today face shifting pressures and new opportunities in offering Christ’s Living Waters (John 4). The global pandemic has opened new channels for connection yet generated increased pressures on local communities seeking to nurture faith and express God’s love.

Over thirteen weeks between May and July, the review will seek to understand these needs and opportunities. There will be many different ways to engage:

  • Lunchtime conversations during the Synod meeting, 22nd-24th June
  • Listening through focus groups with Presbyteries and Synod
  • 1:1 conversations with existing Mission Resourcing staff
  • Investigating new approaches to mission resourcing beyond South Australia
  • A Synod-wide online survey of missional needs
  • An online survey of how Ministers stay up-to-date in mission thinking
  • A snapshot of resourcing being currently promoted in local congregations.

To receive weekly updates, please connect to the online website located at here.

 

It’s so good to be reconnecting with a part of the church I served between 2010 and 2015 and to be offering a diverse range of research strategies to offer missional clarity.

Posted by steve at 10:46 PM

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Art at creation’s extinction

The Art of Creation looks so interesting – interdisciplinary and what a fantastic location in which to think theologically.

So in response to the call for papers, I have really enjoyed proposing a paper. I love how working visually opens such different ways of thinking and being. My proposed paper is titled Art at creation’s extinction: Ecological theologies in Ruysch’s Flowers in a Vase and Regan O’Callaghan’s St Paul and the Huia.

My proposed paper will work with Ruysch’s Flowers in a Vase, an artwork at the National Gallery in London and in dialogue with Regan O’Callaghan’s St Paul and the Huia at the Gallery’s neighbour, St Paul’s Cathedral.

Posted by steve at 09:21 AM

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

an AngelWings Ltd research s/ending: kawakawa chyrsalis and kāhui whetū in 2023

How do you mark an ending?

A few weeks ago, a long and demanding research project came to a s/ending. I hit “send” on a 54,000-word research report, along with four executive summaries, each six pages long. Like any s/ending, the lead up to the deadline involved stress, the juggle of depth and readability, edits and visual appeal.

Once sent, another set of stresses emerge. How will the funders respond? The time between sending the report and gaining feedback can be lengthy. Funders need time to read and process. Can I move on, or will more work be needed?

In all this waiting, the sending is still an ending and the s/ending needs celebrating.

What was sent a few weeks ago was a unique project. First, at 26 months it was longer than usual. The report drew on hundreds of interviews and interactions, and over 250 pages of written notes.

Second, it was a research collaboration, working with someone who brought unique and different skills. So this research project meant forming a team, learning to work across cultures, appreciating each other’s strengths, navigating each other’s weaknesses and respecting each other’s realities. With research spread over 26 months during a global pandemic, the realities included lockdowns, catching of Covid during fieldwork, work and family changes. Lots to navigate! So with the sending came an ending, of a productive collaboration.

So as part of s/ending, last week over coffee, we exchanged gifts as we prepared to meet the funders. Here are both gifts, sitting on top of the four research journals full of notes and findings from the 26 months of research.

My colleague found a beautiful pottery bowl. She was drawn to the stars (kāhui whetū). The research project had been shaped by an indigenous whakataukī (proverb) about the nature of voyaging. As part of our research, we had identified stars (kāhui whetū) that we suggested could guide the funders into the future. The pottery bowl, with stars, named this unique strand of the project.

I offered a pair of hand-crafted chrysalises of the kawakawa loop moth (Cleora scriptaria). The kawakawa plant is endemic to Aotearoa, the chrysalis is sign of potential. The research project had invited us to pay attention to land and place, to value indigenous learning in new ways. The six recommendations might offer potential new ways of living for this funders.

These objects now sit on my desk, along with other objects from other AngelWings Ltd research projects. Each object reminds me of work done. Each suggests a different dimension of the craft of researching. In this case, the value of working with indigenous ways of knowing. Each invites me to keep praying for the project, in this case, for those seeking to bring change in theological education and ministry training.

What about you? How do you mark an ending?

Posted by steve at 06:18 PM