Friday, 31 October 2008

Transforming environments

This is a short piece to go with my presentation as part of the Transforming Environments seminar at the National Children's Bureau - the first in their Listening as a Way of Life series.

My presentation is about my experience of coming to an old 1950s nursery school in central London 2003, which I found personally a depressing and grey place, and where I felt many of the children were experienced and thought of as difficult, defiant, like animals to be tamed. I was fortunate to be able to work with Wendy Titman, a uniquely talented designer and builder of nursery school gardens. We were able to engage in a kind of conversation with the children and their families; a conversation which is resulting in the design of a beautiful nursery school garden. It’s a conversation which has also had many broken phrases and antagonisms, especially at the beginning. I still think of the community consultation event as the worst night of my life, partly joking.

I was putting these slides together when I was supposed to be learning about interview techniques in qualitative research. I came across Steinar Kvale’s description of ‘…the original Latin meaning of conversation as “wandering together with”’. Kvale also cites Rorty’s comments on inspired criticism to elaborate on his idea of a transformative conversation that is “the result of an encounter with an author, character, plot, stanza, line, or archaic torso which has made a difference to the critic’s conception of who she is, what she is good for, what she wants to do with herself; an encounter which has re-arranged her priorities and purposes”.

This is one way of thinking about the garden, as a type of wandering together with the children; learning something of what a garden might mean to a child growing up in a small flat; how a garden could transform a child’s feeling of what she is, or could be; and thinking about how and why the desires of the children could often seem at cross purposes to the intentions of the adults.


Steinar Kvale (1996) InterViews: an introduction to qualitative research interviewing