International Women’s Day, Manchester Central Reference Library, March 2020

It was only 3 weeks ago, but it seems like another life-time already – a reminder of how the arrival of a new, untreatable virus can change the world.

The Reanimating data team travelled one last time to Manchester on the evening of March 6th in order to prepare for our finale event at the Library. We had sent ahead some of the physical documentation of the project to be housed in the vitrines of the archives plus section of the library: the original WRAP questionnaires, pamphlets and some data; feminist youth work posters and magazines from 1989 taken from the Feminist Webs collection and examples from our different youth work projects in Manchester which during the last 9 months have ‘reanimated’ the WRAP data. It was exciting to see these materials behind glass and preserved as history.

We then went upstairs to get our meeting room ready – spreading banners, craft materials, and ephemera from 1989 around the room. We had a playlist with some musical highlights and we waited to see who would turn up.

Before long we had a room full to bursting. Young people from all the different youth groups were there. Our critical friends. The original researchers and new generation researchers working with the materials. Youth workers and sexual health workers from across the city and the lifecourse. We all got to know each other by playing human bingo – looking for members of the original research team, a youth worker, a member of a youth projects.

Niamh Moore opened the workshop by welcoming participants and explaining how the old WRAP project links to the new RAD project. We began the day by sharing the film that Sue Reddish and Jim Dalziel have made explaining what it means to ‘reanimate data’ and capturing the different youth work projects in Manchester. Huge thanks to Sue and Jim for documenting the work and helping us make sense of it all.

After this young people from each of the projects then had the opportunity of talking about their experience of the project – sharing what they had done with the data, what they learned and what surprised them. We started with Emma Okomoh from the Levenshulme Youth Project who showed and talked about the short animated film that she had made working with one of the WRAP interviews, noting how important it is to find someone you can identify with in the material as a starting point for connection. Emma had been supported in this by Paula Carley and Siobhan O’Connor and Marianna Vareli, the lead youth worker for the Levenshulme girls group.

Next youth worker and artist Hebe Phillips and young people from one of the Proud Trust ‘s LGBT young women’s groups talked about their work with the ‘purple pamphlets’ and how they had used music to try and get a taste of the 1980s. The group were uncertain whether any of the original interviewees had identified as lesbian or bisexual and in their work on the project had tried to read between the lines of the interviews. They also had a go at asking some of the questions posed on the interviews of themselves as a way of filling the gap. This group’s creative work developed into the creation of self portrait squares that capture their identities as this is what they came to realise was happening in the original interviews as each WRAP participant was invited to tell her story. The making of squares was opened up to participants on the day and in the library after the event. These squares will be stitched together by textile artist and youth worker Hebe Phillips to make a banner that celebrates the voices of young women and takes their stories into the future.

The best thing about the data for this group was the lack of subtlety of the interviews making it possible to talk explicitly about sexual practise and feelings. What surprised one of the young women, Bethan, was how little has changed in terms of formal sex education despite big shifts within the culture towards openness. Answering the question of how they had learned about sex the young women at the Proud trust were surprised to find that their answers were very close to those of young women in Manchester thirty years earlier.

Listen to some of the Proud Trust group talking about what the reanimating data project was like for them in their own words.

Young people from the Women’s Theatre Society talked about how they had worked with the interview material since September, using drama exercises and bringing it to life in different ways and in the process creating a show that included skits, extracts, and personal testimonies inspired by reading the stories of others. Again, the directness of the original questions were valued, even if they had been surprising and transgressive at the start. By working with these direct questions the group found themselves having conversations that they would not otherwise have had, making themselves vulnerable and naming experiences in such a way that they were able to identify with each other and with an audience. The positive reception that the show received had taken them aback, being so wrapped up in what the process has given them the young women were surprised and moved to realise that this process would continue with the audience who also identified with and responded to the authenticity of the material, feeling that they had been understood through the story of another.

Hear from some of the Women’s Theatre Society in their own words (and bear with the bad audio – it gets better!)

Lecturer and former youth worker Jayne Mugglestone from Manchester Metropolitan University talked next about working with her final year Early years and Childhood studies students to explore the WRAP data. Jayne reflected on how the creative and participatory methods used to work with the data had transformed the students’ understandings of research but also how she had been reminded herself about what was possible in a university classroom setting. From a predominantly South Asian backgrounds and living in Greater Manchester the young women Jayne works with had been fascinated both by the continuities over the thirty years (nothing has changed) but also positive changes such as the way social media facilitates community for those who might otherwise be isolated. The experience of being in a community of women, asking difficult questions about sex that spanned thirty years was a powerful experience for the group – opening up their understanding of well-being and the role of women’s spaces of inquiry in making this important work happen.

Next up was Claire Fox Reader in Educational Psychology at MMU and Charlotte Bagnall, PhD student and associate lecturer – who shared with the audience how they had worked with BSc Educational Psychology students to use two transcripts from the WRAP archive to teach qualitative research methods, including the coding and interpretation of qualitative data. The richness of the material meant that students could focus on just three pages each from two transcripts generating rich findings about the inadequacy of school sex education and the workings of an informal sexual culture characterised by a sexual double standard and governance by sexual reputation. Here is their blog about their experience of using the archive as a teaching resource in higher education(and how to make methods teaching lively, ‘experience-near’ and feminist!)

Ali Ronan who acted as the coordinator for the youth work projects thanked all the projects and shared her view that the work has only just begun.

The final part of the event involved sharing the archive that has now been formally published in the University of Sussex repository where it will be preserved. Rachel presented this and thanked Rosie Gahnstrom for the huge amount of work that she has been doing in anonymising and cataloguing the data set. Janet Holland and Robert Albury were also thanked for the tricky and time consuming work of freeing the original data from obsolete media and machines. The archive will also be available through our Omeka platform (FAYS) where we will be creating ‘exhibitions’ using material we have collected and generated over the course of the project. This will give potential users a taste of how the WRAP archive can be used and explored and will help build a community around the archive.

The archive has been reverse engineered, and Manchester has been put back into the material and made visible. The archive will also remain in Manchester and people were encouraged to use it. 

Over the course of the project we have been exploring different versions of sharing and exploring and animating the archive, including the kinds of youth work and creative practice shared at this event. To conclude the event Rachel shared some initial reflections from another experiment we have been working on – the feminist chatbot. This has been developed in collaboration with a group of women learning to code at the University of Sussex as we explore new ways of asking questions directly of the archive. We introduced the room to the bot and asked everybody to write down one question they would like to ask of the archive. We tried one and the bot couldn’t answer, but we’ve kept their questions to help us understand what potential archive users might want a feminist chat bot to do and what future work might be done with the WRAP archive.

At this point the group went downstairs to the archives section of the library which was buzzing with people who had come for the International Women’s Day celebrations. Members of the public were invited to make their own felt square using material from the archive, an invitation that they responded to enthusiastically.

A huge thank you goes to Ester McGeeney who managed the reanimating work from a distance and planned and lead the day. An exhausting, exhilarating ending for an extraordinary project.

Teaching qualitative research methods using the reanimation data project archive

Charlotte Bagnall

Research methods are a core component of most degree-level programmes, but nonetheless renowned for being students’ least favourite component of their course. Tasked with the role of developing new content to teach qualitative research methods, within the Faculty of Education at Manchester Metropolitan University, I was keen to demonstrate the usefulness and real-world implications of key qualitative methods and analysis to inspire my students. In doing so, I came across the ‘reanimating data project’ funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (for more information see: http://reanimatingdata.co.uk/about/), which gave my colleague Dr Claire Fox and I what we needed and ‘reanimated’ our students.

We had three weeks to work with the students on this project. Week One, students firstly learnt about the importance of archival data-digitising, sharing and re-using data, in addition to ethical considerations to take into account when conducting such work. This led on to Weeks Two and Three, where, following lectures on qualitative data analysis and more specifically Thematic Analysis, the students had the opportunity to conduct their own Thematic Analysis on real-world extracts taken from two interviews collected as part of the Women, Risk & AIDS Project (WRAP) social research study conducted in Manchester in 1989-90. Each student worked with three pages of data. Their research question was:

‘What are young women’s perceptions and experiences of sex education in the 1980s?’.

Prior to delivering the sessions, Claire and I had analysed the data ourselves. We were working with two interviews from the WRAP archive:  The interview with Simone, 18, White British, working class, Roman Catholic (Ref: NMC12) and the interview with Stacey, 20 – 21, White British, working class (Ref: MAG12). Two main themes emerged from our analysis: Basic or limited sex education and Gendered Double standards.

Basic or limited sex education was a semantic theme, in other words it described explicit, surface-level meaning within the data. This theme included talk about the basic and limited sex education the young women received within the 1980s. For example, sex education lessons were selective, passive and detached, with teachers only focussing on the biological aspects of sex and discussions about emotions and the relational aspects avoided. These gaps were in part shaped by teacher embarrassment and their assumptions of hopelessness, which meant that, as a result, sex education lessons had little impact, students instead having to take their education into their own hands and seek out magazines as a source of better information.

In contrast, Gendered double standards is a latent theme and looks beyond what is said to identify deeper-level implicit meaning within the data. Gendered double standards were evident in that boys and girls faced different pressures in relation to sex in the 1980s, girls particularly fearful about being labelled as ‘loose’, a ‘slag’ and acquiring a negative reputation if they engaged in sexual behaviour or discussed sex. This ultimately underpinned young women’s perceptions, experiences and relationships during this time.

In the session with students we presented our analysis findings by sharing one table for each theme with the codes and supporting quotes. We also shared a short write-up of the theme Gendered double standards as an example (You can read this here). Students were then asked to write up the other theme. 

It was clear through the students’ write up of the Basic or limited sex education theme that they had engaged well and become immersed within the data. Here is an example from one of our students.

The young women detailed the amount and depth of the sex education they received within Catholic schools in the 1980s. The idea of basic or limited sex education was shown by mentions of few lessons given, e.g. ‘we got a lesson once’ (Simone) and ‘there was no sex education at all’ (Stacey). Teachers would rush over lessons, or miss out crucial information. ‘She didn’t really go into detail; she just went very fast. So we didn’t have much time to think’ (Simone) and ‘she just said – you can’t get AIDS from this, you can get it from this’ (Simone).


Sex education largely had a biological focus, as opposed to informing students about safe sex. ‘Yeah, just like how babies are made, and that’s it’ (Simone), ‘Q: Did they talk about contraception? A: No’ (Simone). Students were not informed about the ways to prevent pregnancy or transfer of STIs: ‘Q: So did she say that if you use a condom you’ll be protected? A: No way’ (Simone) and ‘Q: Did they talk to you about contraception and STDs at school? A: No, nothing like that’ (Stacey). Furthermore, teachers did not explain relationship dynamics, or what emotions may arise when a student became sexually active, e.g. ‘nobody ever talked to you about the problems and the entanglements, and what it means to be in a relationship when you start having sex’ (Stacey). The girls also noted that any sex education they did receive only involved the teacher giving a short session of ‘just the basics’ (Simone), with no time allotted for further discussion or an opportunity to ask questions. ‘All we did was read from a book. We didn’t really discuss it or anything’ (Simone).


Sex education for the general student population was described to be a bare minimum. Some further education would be given if students opted to study biology; ‘only if you took biology in the fourth or fifth year, we did quite a bit’ (Simone). The feelings towards sex education within biology in later school years seemed to be more positive, with more extensive education on how the body works: ‘I learnt a lot from biology, you know, about sort of …and the insides and things’ (Stacey).  However, this more detailed teaching was reserved only for those who chose to study biology, and was not offered to other students.


The basic or limited sex education led to students having to take their education into their own hands. Girls would seek out magazines as a source for better information, namely ‘man and woman’. Stacey explained that ‘we read them all! I think I learned a lot off that’. School sex education sessions left large gaps that the girls filled independently outside of school.
Overall, the girls explained that they received quite poor sex education. Between teachers rushing lessons, and only providing factual information, to more information being kept back from the wider student body, and only being taught to fulfil the exam curriculum, students’ sex education was basic and limited.

Angel Mellor-Davis, Year 1 Educational Psychology, MMU

There was such a depth to the data, that we were able to give students just three pages of data and a simple but constructive task to get them enthused and engaged in qualitative data analysis. They can take this learning with them and apply it to a different dataset for their assignment. Students discussed similarities and differences between the sex education they received and that of the young girls within the transcripts. However, with hindsight we could have done more of this and perhaps used it to teach students about ‘reflexivity’.

It has been great to be part of this project and use the WRAP data to the benefit of our students, and I am looking forward to involvement in further projects stemming from the reanimating data project archive.

Feminist chatbot 2: front /back, questions/ answers; now/then

Rachel Thomson

This workshop (second in the series) focused our attention on the relationship between the front end of the bot (written in Java and creating the interface with the user, designed to hear and decipher their question) and the back end of the bot – the potential answers to the question that takes the form of a data base or archive (and created in python code within a flask container). Workshop leader Suze Shardlow encouraged us to think through all the stages that might be involved in a simple question and answer cycle – each action requiring construction. Here we see one attempt to map the stages involved.

Suze encouraged us to juxtapose a typical commercial application for a chat bot (for example online Pizza ordering) and our attempt to use a chat bot as an interface for an archive made up of interviews conducted in a conversational style. So for example, the question ‘how can I help you’ on a pizza order site is limited in its potential answers to the menu offered by the restaurant. The questions that we might ask the WRAP archive and the kinds of answers that could be evoked are not so constrained.  So how do we begin the process of focusing down the kinds of questions that can be asked and the potential answers that can be given?

We could offer our users a limited set of FAQs to choose between. This would make things easier in the short-term, but it would also mean that we miss out on discovering what it is that contemporary audiences want to ask. It would also derail our desire to mimic conversation – to create the feeling that the user is talking directly to Mary and to the past that was so powerful in the first workshop when we first met Mary.

Thinking about potential questions also prompted a discussion about what was feminist about our bot. Would she for example refuse to ask certain questions, suggest that people reflect a bit more or simply suggest that they ‘google’ that one. How censorious and how curious would our chat bot-be?

We also had to think through the relationship between the questions asked through our chat-bot today (which would be relayed to the archive) and the questions asked thirty years ago by researchers. At one level this is an entirely practical matter – perhaps we could simply piggy-back on the original questions, re-using these to call up original answers. The problem with this strategy is that the interviews were highly conversational in style – it can be hard to isolate a single question and answer as we see below in this extract from an interview with Melanie:

Q: How about ways to stop it being sexually transmitted? Do you know how you can not catch it, I mean what safe sex is?
A: Oh yes, using a condom.
Q: Is there anything else that would count as safe sex other than using a condom?
A: No.
Q: Right, I’m not testing you. I’m generally trying to find out what type of things people know.
A: I think this is terrible actually, I really haven’t thought about it and I’m realising that I know so little about it’
Q: For instance would something like oral sex, would you know if it had any risk attached to it or not?
A: Well no I wouldn’t, but I would imagine that I would say it has.
Q: Right. So you’ve got a general idea of how it’s …
A: I’m assuming it has, is that right?

So, if we don’t piggy-back on the old questions, do we simply ignore them? In relation to the above example we might train the chat bot to hear a question that includes the word ‘safe sex’ – how do you understand safe sex? Do you practice safe sex? And we might select this particular extract from Melanie as an answer ‘I think this is terrible actually, I really haven’t thought about it and I’m realising that I know so little about it’. This allows for a direct relationship with the contemporary questioner and Melanie. Alternatively, the original researcher could be treated as an integral part of the conversation. Following this logic our contemporary user might ask a question of the archive along the lines of ‘how was safer sex talked about in the interviews’ – allowing an extract of conversation to count as an answer.

For the members of the workshop, this question linked directly to our explorations of who/ where/ how the feminism of the project sits and the relationship between feminism then (as captured in the approach of feminist researchers), feminism now (as captured by our decisions as to how to engineer the relationship between the front and back end of the bot) but also feminism (?) of the user whose questions have the potential to open the archive up in new ways.

And this takes us to the final key area of our discussion during the workshop which was the relationship between a rule-based design for training our bot to make links between questions and potential answers and a machine learning approach  (Artificial Intelligence) approach where the bot works directly with the language of the data set rather than the way that it is coded – having been already trained for the task using rule based approaches that are no longer visible to us. In thinking through these alternative strategies we considered the primary role of the chat-bot as a user-facing tool that would helps people access the archive – rather than a tool for analysis of the archive. In terms of the ambitions of the FACT workshop and the RAD project our aims are relatively modest – to collaboratively build a simple chat-bot and to gain an understanding of the labour involved in this process (FACT), and to experiment with ways of reanimating the data set to encourage new users and to learn about the questions they may have (RAD).

As with the previous workshop we also learned about the painstaking process of coding and that things take much longer than you might think – both in building the front end of the chat-bot and in preparing the data for the back-end. Our immediate plan is to mark up 5 interviews with around 10 key words as a first stage of creating a relationship between possible questions and potential replies. On Saturday March 7th we are introducing our pilot version of the chat-bot to her first audience at an International Women’s Day event at Manchester Central Reference Library where we will showcase some of the  ‘reanimation experiments’ that have been part of the RAD project.

A feminist chat bot?

Rachel Thomson

Our latest experiment for the Reanimating Data project is the creation of a chat-bot that forms the interface between the WRAP archive and users. The project is a collaboration with FACT// Network, Feminist Approaches to Computational Technology, and part of their CHASE funded programme of work which promotes feminist expertise in coding. The project is lead by Cecile Chevalier and Sharon Webb of the University of Sussex, and the first in a series of workshops was lead by Suze Shardlow who is co-director of Women Who Code London. Over the course of three sessions, we are working together to complete a project whilst learning and applying the fundamentals of both the Python and JavaScript programming languages.

So what is a chat-bot, and can they be a feminist? Most of us only have experience of chat-bots providing help in our online banking, drawing on an archive of possible answers trained by AI to match up with recognised questions. Cecile and Sharon explain: ‘Our feminist approach to computation means that we are not just coding for coding’s sake, we are interested in critiquing both the means of production (e.g. the process of making) and the outcomes (e.g. the software/object created). This also means that the data and the context of our coding work are important. Therefore, we are delighted to announce that we have teamed up with the Reanimating Data Project to create a chat-bot that speaks to the Women’s Risk and Aids Project archive (WRAP).’

So Friday was the first in the series of workshops and Suze worked patiently with a diverse group of participants whose expertise ranged from ‘complete novice’ to ‘rusty’. We learned about the difference between the ‘front’ and ‘back-end’ of applications and gained a sense of the painstaking work that goes into to creating the kinds of interfaces and functionalities that we take for granted. As part of setting up the task I brought along some of the original pamphlets from the study. However it was when we connected our coding to dummy data from the archive that we got a taste of what it might mean to create an interface. The chat bot asked us who we wanted to talk with in the archive. We said ‘Mary’. And then Mary appeared, ready to answer our questions: a voice from the past meeting us in the present. At this point there was an avalanche of questions about the original study, how old were they now, were they even alive? What had the original consents entailed and how it might be possible to translate them into a new media landscape. The conversation moved into our own teenage experiences, questions about what had changed in intimate relations over 30 years and how much we had in common as women from different backgrounds and cultures. We also began to understand the power of the chat-bot as a tool for a new kind of data analysis: what kinds of questions would she be asked, how would these shape her approach to the archived material. Even though we knew “Mary” was a sequence of Python statements there was still an overwhelming emotional response to “Mary” speaking back – especially for those, like myself and Sharon, who have been working on the data for the last year. 

Our plan is to work towards building a chat-bot over the next two months and for this to be part of our presentation of the fruits of the Reanimating Data Project in  Manchester on March 7th. We don’t know what this will look like, we expect that Suze will need to finish it off for us. We are also unsure whether the chat-bot-and-archive will need supervision – probably. We know that there are difficult stories in this archive, including stories of bad and non-consensual sex, or loneliness and self-doubt. These are also part of the historical record and while we have made sure that the interviews are anonymous we are unwilling to censor or erase the substantive content. So we just need to think carefully about the situations in which the chat-bot is used and to understand a bit more about the black box of AI that we evoke when we say the bot is trained with the data. In what ways might we need to intervene in order to encourage her to be a feminist-bot?

Yet again, the project of reanimation has brought up vital contemporary questions.  Starting with an archive is an exciting prospect, opening up many opportunities for discovery, collaboration and play. I am very grateful to Sharon and Cecile for agreeing to work with the WRAP project. Not only are we developing some of the skills and awareness necessary for understanding how to make things in a digital age, we are also bringing together tools and materials in new ways that open up the possibilities of what a (feminist) chat-bot might be. I am especially intrigued to fund out what people want to ask the past as well as to discover if these questions reveal aspects of the archive that have as yet been occluded.

Learning about sex in teen magazines of the 1980s and 1990s

Elizabeth Lovegrove

In April 2019, I gave a paper, “How did portrayals of ‘disruptive sex’ change for teenage girls in the magazines of 1950–2000?”, at the Rethinking Disruptive Sex conference at LSHTM; my paper referenced WRAP paper 4, ‘Learning about sex’,  by Rachel Thomson and Sue Scott. Later at the same conference, Rachel spoke about WRAP in connection with her current reanimation project that explores changes and continuities in girls lives and gendered sexual cultures over the past 30 years.This started a conversation about possible connections between the WRAP data and my own research, which explores girls’ interactions with magazines in the late 20th century. 

My research is a historical study that uses readings of girls’ magazines of the late 20th century, and results from a survey of adult women about their recollections of the magazines they read as teenagers. Many of these women were reading the same late 1980s and early 1990s magazines that the original WRAP participants could have read. My research focuses on the letters that girls wrote to magazines, exploring the ways in which they engaged with and critiqued magazine content. What’s clear from the letters that girls wrote to magazines, and which repeatedly emerged from my survey results, was that girls had very limited ways of accessing information about sex. They described being unable to talk to their parents, having no siblings (especially those who have no brothers needing to learn about boys), and about the inadequacies of the school curriculum in covering these topics. Both the WRAP data and my survey data make it clear that for some girls, magazines were able to fill this gap and provide some straightforward, helpful advice: 

[I learned] Far, far more about sex and relationships [from magazines] than I would otherwise have known; safe sex, healthy relationship advice that no-one else was giving.

(My survey respondent 1)

Jackie magazines were quite good actually. They’re really sexist but they were good for things like [periods].

(WRAP interview ALS20)

Girls were not all uncritical readers – some of them recognised that much of what they read was romantic generalisations, which turned out to be at odds with the girl’s experience of relationships with boys:

[I read] Jackie, and My Guy, and  […] You know you just get an idea somehow from these magazines that the boy will take you out, and will be really nice to you, and at the end, they’ll kiss, and you think […] That’s the way it’s meant to be

(WRAP interview MAG12)

The lifestyles described seemed so far from my own that it was more like reading fiction than fact. Especially […] ‘dating’ as an event rather than something you sort of slipped into. The idea of ‘going on a date’ was totally alien to us.

(My survey respondent 9)

Nevertheless, magazines remained a major source of information for these girls, and the 1980s and 1990s represented something of a turning point in the way they covered sex and relationships. The girls’ magazines earlier in the 20th century were navigating a difficult balance between the dangers of too little information, and social pressures opposed to magazines offering too much information.  In the 1980s however that balance slowly began to change, in the wake of influences including AIDS and second wave feminism. In girls’ magazines of the 1970s and earlier, coverage of sex was almost exclusively along the lines of ‘boys want it, and it’s up to girls to say no’, with no acknowledgement of any reason girls might want to say yes at any point before marriage. In the 1980s, that began to change, as demonstrated by this reader letter published in Jackie:

I’m 17 and I have a boyfriend I love very much. I’ve been having sex with him for over a year and up until now I’ve been lucky, but one day I won’t and I’ll get pregnant. We usually use a condom, but I’m still worried. I mean to say ‘no’, but I love him so much I can’t.

(Jackie, 9 May 1987, p. 25)

The landscape had changed enough that the magazine response entirely ignores the last sentence, and focuses instead on advice about contraception. Teenage sex between couples who are in love (perhaps especially when the girl means to say no) was no longer always frowned upon.The WRAP captured similar experiences of women who were having regular unprotected sex with a partner – knowing that they shouldn’t, scared they might get pregnant, but unsure how to have the conversation about contraception or to know who to turn to for help and advice. 

QU: This boy you went out with for 9 months. Did you use any contraception?
AN: No.
QU: Why?
AN: Cos he wouldn’t wear a condom, I weren’t on the pill.
QU: Were you worried about that?
AN: Yeah.
QU: Was he?
AN: Yeah, both of us was really. I kept on thinking, oh no, I’ve got.. [unclear]…yesterday.. I was really scared, I thought, cos I came on early, so I thought, what’s happening, what’s going on? It’s quite unlike me to come on two weeks early.

(WRAP, interview AMB18)

Experiences like these sometimes prompted girls to write in to magazines to try and help others learn from their example, as in this letter in the Just Seventeen problem page: 

Recently, I was at a party and met a boy I thought was really nice. We both got drunk and ended up having sex without contraception. I wouldn’t have done it if I’d been sober, and afterwards I felt so cheap and dirty. I was a virgin before this happened and I’d always hoped that when I lost my virginity it would be with someone I cared for, and it would be a loving and pleasurable experience. It didn’t turn out that way. When my period was late, I became so worried, thinking I must be pregnant. Eventually, my period arrived late and the relief I felt has led me to write this letter. I feel I nearly ruined my life because I got drunk, and I’m never going to let this happen again. I’ve learned my lesson the hard way, and hope you print this to help other people realise how stupid it is to behave like this.

Tricia, Edinburgh. (16 November 1988: 51)

Just Seventeen at this point carried quite a few similar letters from girls who had taken risks with sex and wanted to help others avoid making the same mistakes, despite the fact that they themselves must have previously read similar stories and made the mistake anyway. This is however, part of increasing acceptance in the magazines of girls’ sexuality, and experimentation with sex, even if in sometimes-risky ways.

The late 80s was also the era of a beginning discussion in girls magazines about pleasure in sex for girls and women, which participants in both my survey, and the WRAP interviews, picked up on, albeit somewhat tangentially:

I just sort of knew vaguely that women can have orgasms [from] problem pages

(WRAP interview MAG12)

I learnt the word ‘orgasm’ in magazines, and an awful lot of tips for pleasuring boys. Disturbing considering the age bracket…

(My survey respondent 27)

So although magazine readers of the late 1980s and early 1990s discovered the theoretical possibility of pleasure in sex for women, it would take longer for this to translate into the right to expect pleasure. The conversation was still focussed on girls’ right to say no to sex, with the possibility of saying yes often only implicit in the discussion, or otherwise portrayed as problematic in some way. For example, 19 magazine, aimed at older teenagers, ran an article in 1991 about girls who sleep around, which includes the statement that ‘girls have as much right to do it as boys’, but moderates that right with questions about their motives in doing so:

But are they really happy? Tricia Kreitman thinks not. ‘There is something missing in these girls’ lives,’ she says. ‘They are looking for a sense of worth, to feel attractive and wanted, and they are hoping to find it through sex.’

(March 1991, p. 16)

This example from Just Seventeen is unusually explicit about girls right to say ‘yes’ to sex and in its critique of the slut-shaming discourse that could be read elsewhere:

[T]he only reason why you should have sex […] Because you want to. That means not feeling threatened or bullied and not having sex to appear mature […] being a virgin is nothing to be proud of or ashamed of. You shouldn’t feel inadequate if you’re lacking in experience, or ashamed if you have had sex before […] If you feel ready to have sex with your partner, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t make the first move. It doesn’t mean you’re “loose”. Just that you’re taking the lead.

(Just Seventeen, 15 June 1988, p. 37)

The WRAP captured young womens’ experiences of negotiating sex and relationships against this shifting and often contradictory backdrop. Interviewees were frequently asked about their experiences and expectations of pleasure in sexual relationships and although the authors of the study concluded that sexual pleasure was largely ‘missing’ from women’s experiences of heterosexuality there were also examples of young women enjoying sex and trying to make sense of their pleasure using the limited discursive frameworks available to them, as this field note shows. 

First sexual rel. at 15 with a 17 year old boy. Did it because she wanted to, says she was not pressured. Her mum is a health visitor and wanted her to stay a virgin until she got married, she didn’t think that that was realistic anymore. 

Present relationship with a boy who she thinks she will stay with permanently. I asked her what made him different and one of the central reasons was that he was good in bed, and/or  she actually enjoys sex with him. This lead to a conversation about expectations of sexual pleasure. I asked her if men and women had sex for same reasons, she said that women had sex for different reasons, they were more interested in the emotional side and men in the physical.

(Fieldnote for interview AMD10). 

Despite the increasingly liberal approach to young women’s sexuality in girls magazines, participants in both WRAP and my own study looked back at their younger magazine-reading selves with some anxiety, and took pains to distance themselves in their present-day critical-thinker personas: 

I think […] you always sort of learn things from magazines but I don’t know whether they’re the right things. Because they are all biased aren’t they especially the problem pages.

(WRAP interview BT08) 

I didn’t really know how to read this critically, I just absorbed everything.

(My survey participant 55)

Some readers of the magazines did, however, read critically, and some magazines even encouraged this. Mizz in the 1990s was one such, running frequent debate articles on topics like abortion, and sex before marriage, featuring readers arguing the case and responding to each other; the magazine also encouraged readers to write letters arguing with things they’d read in the magazine, and frequently published these. Also appearing in the 1990s, a few years too late for the WRAP participants, was a magazine which whole-heartedly endorsed pleasure in sex for women and girls: more!, fondly remembered by my survey respondents for the ‘position of the fortnight’ and the idea that sex should be fun:

I remember that more! was really sex positive. Giving positions of the week and generally telling girls how to enjoy sex.

(My survey respondent 11)

Every issue of more! in that period contained a double-page spread on sex, including the position of the fortnight, reader letters, mini articles and trivia, as well as the usual amount of sexual content on the main problem pages. But readers’ recollections of this are coloured by their adult ideas about age-appropriate reading matter, for example:

In more! they had ‘position of the fortnight’ which I always thought was quite highly sexualized given the reading age.

(My survey respondent 31)

The WRAP interviewees who complained about the content of their magazines might have been consoled by some small improvements in these magazines in the following decade, with magazines like Mizz encouraging readers think critically about the world around them, including about issues of sex and romance, albeit while still portraying a world where girls must act as gatekeepers for the sex that boys want from them. For the daughters of the WRAP interviewees, and the daughters of my respondents, seeking information about sex in the twenty-first century is a very different proposition. There is infinitely more information available, but finding the good stuff in amongst the bad can seem impossibly difficult. The next challenge may be how to help today’s young women to navigate that.

Queer rematriation

Niamh Moore

We are working with the notion of ‘queer rematriation’ to account for some of our hopes and intentions in bringing back to Manchester, thirty years later, interviews carried out with young women living there in the late 1980s as part of a foundational ESRC research project, the Women Risk and Aids Project (WRAP). We are creating an open archive of these interviews and we are engaging in projects to work with that archive with groups of young women in Manchester now. We take up the concept and practice of rematriation from indigenous feminist scholars and activists (Muthien n.d.); Moro 2018; Tuck 2011; Gaztambide-Fernández 2013) to ask how we might put this to work in UK sociology, and especially UK-based feminist research, to explore what is at stake in plans to re-turn and share data with the communities where the data was originally created.

While for some it may seem counterintuitive to bring indigenous feminist theory and methodology to the UK, to Manchester, we suggest that taking seriously indigenous critiques of the colonial logics of research practice can also be revealing about the practice of research closer to home. The colonial logics of research don’t only unfold overseas and do not disappear in the UK but may seem harder to trace and unravel. Bernadette Muthien (2011) in her advice to ‘European allies’ suggests a focus on ‘rematriating [one’s] own ancient knowledge and practice as women-centred (instead of gawking at Native women as exotic and ideal)’. And while our knowledge may not be so ancient – although sometimes the 1980s do seem an unimaginably long time ago – we are committed to generating and sharing feminist knowledge across and with different generations.

In trying to take seriously the question of what it means to return these interviews to Manchester, rematriation is a challenging ambition. Rematriation is not just about a simple act of return, not a repatriation of objects or artefacts back to a point of origin, not just dumping the data and us returning to our universities (which this team never exclusively inhabited anyway). Rather we are challenged to work through the ambivalent gift (Diprose 2012; Hird 2010) of revisiting their making, 30 years later, to create new connections, to recognise the need to do the work of cultivating new relationships. Rematriation takes the politics and practices of return seriously. Rematriation asks how do we revisit a moment in place and time in order to give birth to new feminisms and new feminists, or perhaps just to create a new space of possibility. This revisit is best understood not as a search for origins but as retracing and remaking genealogies and about creating an opening for different points of departure, different lines of flight. Against Descartian ‘I think therefore I am’, Muthien proposes ‘I am because I belong’ – I am because I am connected. Rematriation is a generative relational conceptual and ethical framework  for making our intentions explicit, shifting from research ‘on’ to research ‘with’ – from us using the data to also asking how communities might use the data, and to doing the work to create and forge new relationships. In this sense, rematriation is not about deferring to a reified ‘sense of place’ but rather about making a commitment to what Val Plumwood has called ‘an ethic of place’ (Plumwood 2005); that is paying attention to how places are connected and related and how some places – ‘shadow places’ – flourish at the expense of others, how universities might flourish at the expense of the geographical communities, or communities of practice which resource them (Plumwood 2008).

At the same time, given the provenance of ‘rematriation’, we also signal to the complexities of power relations in research. UK social science has often been an extractive economy, with stories and lives renamed data, recorded and removed from communities, repackaged in journal articles and books, and hidden in filing cabinets or behind the licencing arrangements of more formal archives so that communities and individuals do not have access to their own stories. Just because much sociological work tends to be done ‘at home’ rather than abroad does not mean that it is necessarily less extractive, any less bound up in complex power relations, than disciplines such as social anthropology that have had to begin to deal explicitly with their own origin stories. As with other academics, feminist academics are not innocent here, committed to creating knowledge, but also at times complicit in the extraction of stories and knowledges; at the same time feminism’s commitment to reflexivity and questions of power also provides conceptual resources and politics for thinking through some of these complexities, and drives our work here. 

For indigenous scholars and activists rematriation commonly signals a reclaiming of an entangled commitment to life, to germination and regeneration, which necessarily includes land, and nature, as queer kin in an ongoing project of co-creation. Yet the very strangeness of an injunction to reclaim knowledge and return it to a generative source, seems indicative of just how instrumentalised and distant our relationship with land has become. The idea of such a return seems incomprehensible. Land has become property; or perhaps landscape, suggesting a view from afar; at best as social researchers we might explore relationships with ‘place’. What on earth could a relationship with land in Manchester mean? It seems no accident to me that it is in the intergenerational and transgenerational practice of feminist youth work, taken up in Feminist Webs, and now working through this project of Re-animating Data: experiments with people, places and archives, that we find new ways of telling stories of women’s knowledges. There was some hands-on relating to the land involved in the emergence of our efforts to rework relationships with data. I first became involved with Feminist Webs a project partner, through talking with Amelia Lee while digging on a small patch of overgrown allotment in south Manchester being worked by the Young Women’s Health Project. It was a cold wet day when Amelia mentioned a possible funding application for a participatory oral history project which would see girls and young women in youth groups interviewing older feminist youth workers across Manchester and the north west. Since then I have been drawn into the sticky Feminist Webs, where the importance of the LGBT Centre in Manchester and other youth groups, and generations of feminist youth workers, in holding tight to spaces for girls’ work and girls’ groups, has been key.

The passing on of stories by older feminist youth workers which were about the fight for working with girls, made possible in the context of a participatory feminist herstory-making project, was necessarily a project of re-making feminism with different generations. Against the gatekeeper logic of social science where the idea of the archive has at times been presented as a paternalistic protection of data, to be made available only to bona fide researchers – a ‘protection’ which means that research participants themselves were unlikely to be able to access their own interview transcripts, we explore what it means to share stories with the communities that generated them. Muthien stresses the importance of rematriation to the feminist movement more widely. She speaks of the need to reclaim women’s knowledge of feminism. So foregrounding rematriation is a way to demonstrate that our project is informed by histories of feminist theory and practice that have troubled any sharp distinction between theory and activism, academia and communities. At the heart of rematriation is a commitment to reclaiming the regenerative power of feminist story-telling and/as knowledge co-creation and sharing with and through generations, in order to give birth to new queer feminist kin and new movements of feminism. 

Questions abound for us – will anyone in Manchester now want our ambivalent gift? What kinds of feminist genealogies might we remake? (How) will our invitation to work together be received? Who will speak back? 

References

Diprose, Rosalyn. 2012. Corporeal Generosity: On Giving with Nietzsche, Merleau-Ponty, and Levinas. SUNY Press.

Hird, Myra J. 2010. ‘The Life of the Gift’. Parallax 16 (1): 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1080/13534640903478676.

Moro, Andy. 2018. ‘DECLARATION: When Indians Act’. Canadian Theatre Review, January. https://doi.org/10.3138/ctr.173.014.

Muthien, Bernadette. n.d. ‘Rematriation of Women-Centred (Feminist) Indigenous Knowledge’. http://www.gift-economy.com/articlesAndEssays/rematriation.pdf.

Plumwood, Val. 2005. ‘Decolonising Australian Gardens: Gardening and the Ethics of Place’. Australian Humanities Review: Ecological Humanities Corner, no. 36 (July). http://australianhumanitiesreview.org/2005/07/01/decolonising-australian-gardens-gardening-and-the-ethics-of-place/.

———. 2008. ‘Shadow Places and the Politics of Dwelling’. Australian Humanities Review: Ecological Humanities Corner, no. 44 (March). http://australianhumanitiesreview.org/2008/03/01/shadow-places-and-the-politics-of-dwelling/.

Tuck, Eve (2011) ‘Rematriating Curriculum Studies’. Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy 8:1(34–37). 

https://doi.org/10.1080/15505170.2011.572521.

Tuck, Eve, and Rubén A. Gaztambide-Fernández (2013) ‘Curriculum, Replacement, and Settler Futurity’. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing 29:1. https://journal.jctonline.org/index.php/jct/article/view/411.

Wormholes

Rachel Thomson

One of the ways that we have been thinking about our methods of reanimation is through the metaphor of the ‘worm-hole’ (thanks to Caroline Bassett at our kick-off event for this). The definition of a worm-hole is something that connects two points in space-time – allowing travel between.  We think that this is a great way of thinking about the different experiments that we have been making in this project – using documents from the Women, Risk and AIDS project as a medium through which to connect now (2019) and then (1989). Wormholes can take many different forms. Auto-biography is one way of doing it – maybe the easiest for me: connecting me-then and me-now. But it is a bit exclusive. Opening up a worm-hole so that others can join in is where the action is.

On October 21st we will be showcasing one of our worm-hole experiments as part of the Brighton Digital Festival. We are working with fragments of original audio recordings in which young men and sociologists talk about sex (collected as part of the Men Risk & AIDS Project).  If it works, our experiment will communicate something of the 30 years of time encompassed by the project – a period characterised by a revolution in technology alongside spectacular yet elusive changes in sexual culture and values. The question of ‘what really counts’ focuses attention on number and marking time – including a sensitivity to timing in making a relationship; how the passage of time makes things look different; and the struggle over time that underpins an attention economy.

In creating this worm-hole we have layered and combined different practical strategies for connecting moments. It is a ‘spell’ that brings together heterogeneous materials with focused intention. We have included biographical time (by inviting original interviewers to re-speak and record questions with questions first asked in interviews in 1990). We have included material time (by changing analog into digital and digital into analog), methodological time (counterposing two generations of feminist methodology) and aesthetic time (connecting a 90’s ‘cut and paste’ aesthetic to a contemporary cut and paste political economy). Paradoxically, the intensity of the mash-up creates space – between questions and answers, between contexts and media and between generations. We hope to have forged a worm-hole that is inviting, inclusive and collective.

Please join us on 21st October at the Sussex Humanities Lab (Silverstone Building) where the installation will be open all day culminating in a question and answer session at 4pm where collaborators Rachel Thomson, Alex Peverett and Janet Holland will hold a Q&A.  All welcome.

Falling down wormholes

Ester McGeeney

Today I went to Levenshulme and back to go to a session with the project that Ali Ronan has been running with the Levenshulme girls group. Our pilot reanimating data project where we work with a group of girls aged 12-18 to explore different ways of working with data from the WRAP archive and finding out what it means to ‘reanimate’ it in 2019. We want to see if the girls are interested in the archive and in the 1989 young women’s stories, to develop some reanimation techniques and in doing so see what we learn about sex, gender and social change. I travelled up for what would be their fifth session. So far they have looked at clips from 1980s Top of the Pops and discussed black women in music. They have read short extracts from the WRAP archive, usually performing the roles of interviewer and interviewee in pairs. The extracts have kicked off conversations about lying to your mum, being a Muslim in Britain, sex education, periods, taking risk sand gender roles. The group have also played games, got to know each other and discussed research ethics and confidentiality.

Former youth worker and historian Ali has been running the project, working with youth worker Toni who has now left to start another job and project lead Marianna. I don’t live in Manchester and for me to take part in what will be session 5 its an 11 hour round trip. A long day for a 1.5 hour session but well worth it. Because it ended up being much more than a 1.5 hour session. It was a meeting with Ali in the community café at Inspire, where the Levenshulme girls group meet to reflect on the work so far and plan the next stages. A chance to see the STUFF the group have been creating – long rolls of paper with body outlines on them, where the girls have had a go at naming and fleshing out the WRAP interviewees. They imagined one WRAP girl – until now called MIS09 – as Haleema. 15 years old, really smart, a small group of friends (but popular), loves sport, running and football, 6 siblings. Very strict and religious. She wears a headscarf but remains otherwise faceless. The other girl (we’ve been calling her AMB18) is Malaika. She takes pictures of nature, she doesn’t wear make up, she’s pretty, beautiful, she can sing, she’s artistic, a nice person, she’s popular, she cares about the world and she’s finished school. She wears her hair half up and has one big eye open.

My trip was also a chance to meet Paula Carley, a fantastic new addition to our project team who is working with us on several of the Manchester projects as part of her engagement role for Manchester libraries. Paula is a digital artist who brought along 6 ipads, a bag of sharpies, paper and microphones to the session. Just seeing this STUFF got me excited about the possibilities for reanimation. Paula also brought print outs of some of the images the group had made the previous week when she had come along to the session with her colleague Siobhan. Siobhan had worked with half the group who were interested in comic strips. They had experimented with using the app ‘Comic’, taking photos of themselves (and of Malaika) and adding captions.

My trip was also a chance to see Marianna Vareli, who leads the Levenshulme girls group, again. Marianna was just back from Greece and had missed a couple of sessions. Ali brought her up to speed and we planned for what would happen over the summer. Marianna explained that the numbers often drop off over summer as most of the girls come straight from school and when school finishes they have quite a distance to travel. We agreed to keep the project going if the girls are interested. It was volunteer youth worker Nadine who first introduced us to the project but she hasn’t been able to come for a few weeks. Whilst Marianna has been away youth worker Toni has kept things going but she has now left to go to a new job. Ali has been running the project but she’s also now off on holiday for 6 weeks so now the project is over to Marianna and Paula and me. A rotating team of youth worker, researcher, artist women.

Sitting in the community café we also had a chance meeting with Dez who heads up the Levenshulme Youth Project. Dez was interested in the project and what we were doing and asked us what would happen at the end of it. He’d like us to have a community event in the café at the end of the project, perhaps with screen showing any films the girls have made. He says he always looking for ways for the community to see what the youth project is doing. We reflected that we weren’t quite sure how the project would end as it depended on what the girls would like to do. The group have been working in a participatory mode. Allowing time for the girls to consider how they might want to take the project forward and what kinds of creative modes they might like to explore. Four weeks in and we are still not sure where the project is going or what the focus might be. There’s an interest in illustration and comics and themes have emerged around risk, respect, periods, mothers, boundaries and race. But we’ve yet to negotiate where the project might go or what the end product might be. Ali reflected that going into a project without your agenda (Right! We are doing a drama project) is much slower, more uncertain and unpredictable. We all reflected that youth work is slow. In this project each session is only 1.5 hours and by the time everyone has arrived, chatted, introduced themselves and played some games, there’s not much time left. Each week Ali has observed that there has been too much to say and too much to do. The previous week had been particularly hectic as film-maker Marie had arrived and consent forms and permissions needed to be negotiated and Paula and Siobhan from Manchester libraries had been there. There were lots of adults and time was needed to get to know each other and start to build relationships.

Outside of the sessions it has also taken time to sift through the data to find extracts that might be suitable. The archive is not yet in any order. Not all of the transcripts have been anonymised and there are certainly no codes or tags to help navigate easily to extracts or interviews that would ‘work’ for this particular group.  Most of the Levy girls are younger than the WRAP girls (sometimes by about 10 years) and it appears that sex, sexuality and relationships are not hot topics that are easily discussed within the group. We were told from the outset that the girls are young and that many of them are from strict religious families. A warning perhaps? And one that was somewhat confirmed In the first session when Ali showed a clip from Top of the Pops as a safe and easy starter to the project and one girl remarked that she isn’t normally allowed to watch that kind of thing at home. A risky move when we thought we were playing it safe.

Starting our creative work in Manchester with the Levy girls has been productive. Forcing us to think about what it is possible to do and whether the work is possible at all. It has challenged me to think again about what it means for material to be ‘appropriate’ in education contexts. I keep checking that in my selection of extracts from the group I am not censoring material unnecessarily, falling into the age old sex education trap of giving young people too little and too late, perhaps shaped also in this case by (my own?) racist ideas about what young religious and migrant girls do and don’t need in relation to sexuality and relationships.  Not that it has been hard to find extracts. Each interview is full of material about women’s lives, families, career choices, friendships, social lives, bodies and health. There’s material about politics and discrimination, migration, poverty and social mobility. It’s within this context that the interviewees talk about (and as a reader you come to understand) their sexual experiences, relationships, desires and decisions.

For session five we had decided to focus on risk. This was a theme that had emerged from earlier discussions, with one young woman reflecting that she doesn’t take risks but would like to die her hair purple. Ali and I decide that we will re-ask one of the questions that the interviewer asks to lots of the interview participants: Are you someone who likes to take risks? In the WRAP archive the responses are beautifully varied. One young woman says she sometimes doesn’t pay the right bus fare, another says she once smoked dope, another has booked a holiday she can’t afford and another stole some tampons from a club toilet. Our plan is to explore this data and reanimate it, using Paula, the iPad and the comic app.

Unusually most of the girls don’t turn up, perhaps because it’s the end of term. So we only have the two older girls who act as peer educators within the group. We all introduce ourselves and then Ali opens up a conversation about confidentiality. E and A say that this isn’t something that they talk about much at school, only when the teacher wants to take you outside of the room to have a talk. It comes up a bit in E’s health and social care course and in A’s psychology course and in her photography course where they are told that they need to get people to sign model release forms. Although as Paula reflects, as a photographer you don’t actually need consent to take photos of people in public places.

We work in pairs, two peer educators, two youth workers, a researcher and an artist. Paula gives each pair a mike and we record ourselves being asked: are you someone who likes to take risks?  Paula and I reflect on how this has changed over time with both of us feeling like we used to be a lot more able to take risks than we do now. We all reflect as a group that this is a hard question to answer. Much like many of the WRAP girls we struggle to come up with something to say. Next A and E perform a couple of extracts, audio recording so that we will have material that the group can use to play around with in making animated material. The first extract is about the girl who says the only risk she takes is going on a holiday that she hasn’t paid for. This doesn’t seem that risky initially, although it leads to A telling us about the time she went to Lonodn on her own on the coach. This was scarey (and something E. definitely feels that she would never do) and A. didn’t feel brave enough to leave her friends house much in the three days she was there. When it came to getting the coach home she couldn’t find the coach stop and found herself wondering up and down the Hammersmith Road looking for the coach and then crying as she realised she’d missed her coach and had no idea what to do. All the adults imagine that young people get taught lots of about ‘risky behaviours’ at school but A and E don’t seem to have. There’s not much on drugs and when we read the extract about the girl who smoked dope once, A and E reflect that this doesn’t seem that risky anymore. Lots of people do it and the police don’t care. Next we read about the girl whose risk is sometimes not paying the right bus fare and once taking tampons from a club toilet. Not paying the right bus fare isn’t possible anymore the girls say although you can back pass your bus pass, slipping it through the line of people so that more than one person can use the same pass. And stealing tampons is fair enough. They should be free anyway. We all agree.

We run out of time and there was none left for doing and making. Its hard to find the balance between unpicking and discussing and creating and doing. Ali observed that the previous week they had split into two groups, one led by Ali and one by Siobhan. Youth worker Ali focussed on process, discussion, meanings and group relationships. Artist Siobhan focussed on product – creating the comic strips and using the comic app. We agree we need a combination of both and that perhaps its time to orientate this group towards making a product.

We are learning that the work is slow, that we need to talk as we do or the doing will never happen and that youth work is unpredictable. We are also learning that the WRAP extracts will take us in unforeseen (and forseen) directions. Or as Rachel Thomson has suggested –  that the WRAP extracts are wormholes – tunnels through space-time that you dive in to at one end and never quite know where in space-time you will journey to. Jumping into one story from 1980s Manchester about NUR19’s ‘risky’ decision to go on a holiday she can’t afford takes us straight to London in 2019 and A’s story of getting lost and panicky in London. Then we are off to 1980s Paris as Paula tells us her partners story about getting separated from her friend on the metro and roaming around the city to try and find her in a pre-mobile, pre-digital era.

We plan for future weeks to try out creating a comic strip or using the book creator app to create a book that animates the WRAP girls stories. The girls are interested in stories of migration, of fitting in and not fitting in when you move to a new place. More wormholes to fall down and see where we end up.

Rematriating and reanimating

Ester McGeeney and Ali Ronan

Rematriating

In March we held two workshops in Manchester. The first was an academic workshop: Rematriating the WRAP: Connecting academic and community archives. Centring around the key concept of ‘rematriation’ we explored what it means to bring an archive back to the place it was created and abstracted from. We were a mix of mainly historians and social scientists drawing on our different traditions to explore the following themes of revisit and return, archiving and digitzing, reanimating and accessing.

Rematriation: We were in Manchester – one of the two cities from which the WRAP material was extracted. We are working there over the next year to return the data – to give it back to the communities from which it came and see if anyone wants it. An ambivalent gift. The term rematriation helps us to make complex the process of ‘repatriating’ archives materials – taking objects out of museums and returning them to the communities they came from. Drawing on post-colonial indigenous movements we can understand this process as more than the gifting of materials but a process of (re)building relationships with and within communities.

We are already deep in the process of doing this – working with youth and community groups, to reanimate the data and work out what we can ethically show and do with the original material. Some of these are the 2019 versions of the 1989 communities that the WRAP team worked with but we are finding that the landscape of youth groups and sexual health outreach work has dramatically changed in the past thirty years, as Rachel reflects on in her post Digging where I stand. (re)building relationships has been slow, exciting and painful.

Digitizing and sharing: Jenna Ashton reminded us that it is important to think about why you are digitizing an archive beyond the desire to ‘save’. She called our attention to the desire to digitize and get everything ‘out there’ without thinking about Who, why and what is it for? Jenna also cautioned against the allure of shiny tech and VR, reminding us to pay attention to sensor experience and the digital. Julie Mcleod also reminded us of the need to think about ‘ordinary people’ as well as ‘teccy people’ when considering how best to ethically and effectively show our digital archives to others.

Our work in Manchester helps us to work out who might use the archive or to whom the archive might matter. We will be working with university students, school pupils, youth workers, teachers, community workers, community members and activists – exploring what is interesting and useful, what resonates.

Anonymity: to harm or protect? Andrew Flinn and Niamh Moore’s discussion unveiled the different ways in which anonymity is viewed within oral history interviews and social science traditions. Within the oral history tradition people it is presumed that people will be named. This is an important way of giving people voice and connecting people with places and historical events. To remove someone’s name in this context is to do harm.

Within the social science tradition it is presumed that participants will be anonymised. And this is usually to protect them from harm.

We are currently anonymising the WRAP material and facing challenges in working out what is ethically ok. We are removing participants names and the names of the boyfriends, ex-boyfriends and friends. But we are leaving many of the details about place. It often feels uncomfortable as we try and work out how much of the detail about place should we remove to protect participants anonymity without erasing the rich details about Manchester city life and its communities thirty years ago? Talk about Hulme, Moss side, Moston and Salford tells us much about how socio-economics, community and place shaped sexual cultures and responses to HIV and AIDS in 1989. One young woman tells us that she feels less at risk from HIV from having unprotected sex with men than she does from working with children at a school in Moss side. A community she images as risky due to drug use and prostitution. Although she also (along with other young women in the archive) wonder how their own sexual behaviour differs from that of prostitutes. They are sure it does. But they aren’t always sure how.

Emotional communities. Historian Claire Langhammer has been working with Rachel and reading some of the WRAP interviews. She observed that there is a ‘raw’ emotional quality to the data. She encouraged us to think about historically situated ‘emotional communities’ and ‘affective ecologies’ to help us work with the data and understand the heterogeneous nature of social change in Manchester as uneven.

Claire observed that there is little talk of love in the WRAP interviews but rather an overwhelming sense of anger and disappointment. She shared a moment from the archive in which a young women expresses frustration about the amount of emotional labour she has to do in her relationships. She wonders, in conversation with the interviewer, whether the relationship might not be worth doing. Claire invites us to see this in the context of wider shifts in the 1980s in gender and sexual relationships in which women were starting to see themselves as having greater choice in their relationships, compared to their mothers, and a desire for greater equality, but were not always seeing these choices and desires translating into safe, contented and equitable relationships.

That’s not my Manchester! Rachel Thomson presented an account of 1980s Manchester as captured in the Manchester based magazine City Life. There is a public concern about sexual violence. Manchester is a trendy city and there is a feeling of change – City council privatisation. The arrival of ecstacy. Entrepreneurship. International travel. We see scallies and yuppies and education, gender and class trouble. This Manchester – an increasingly privatised, global and globalised Manchester – was not familiar to many of the participants in the room who had lived in the city in the 1980s. They reminded us of the many other archives – in particular queer archives – that tell different stories about the city and its communities. We were reminded by Liz Stanley of Borges and the powerful deception of the archive in making you think that it is give you ‘the’ story.

Feminist webs. The WRAP project developed out of a web of feminist academics and community activists. It was not a purely intellectual project but as a response to work that the WRAP team and others were doing in community groups where they met women who were angry about the way that women were meant to be solving the problems – by getting men to wear condoms.

The feminist web is an important metaphor for this project we revisit a project that took place as part of a feminist web whilst also using modern day webs and connections to make our project happen. As participants reflected, these are webs with messy boundaries where academics and communities are in conversation, not without tension.

Reanimating

Day two was a workshop for youth workers in which we had a go at reanimating the WRAP data through poetry and craft.

Images from our craft workshop are available here. Below is a summary of the poetry workshop, led by Ali Ronan and some examples of the poems created with/from the archive.

We started with brief introductions to relax the group. The group takes the lead from the workshop ‘leader’ so I was brief and informal in my own introduction and because the day was intense and with lots of questions/memories to discuss – I decided to work more quickly than I usually would. I used ‘flow writing’ to start.

Flow writing:The task was to just write for 2 minutes without stopping about a young woman. It could be you or someone imagined. This exercise was just to get the workshop going and to get people relaxed. I made it clear that there was no sharing of material at this stage. This was important so that people were not feeling vulnerable or exposed.:

Clusters:The next task was Clusters, which is an exercise using a word to link with other words that are evoked. For example: :

Sex –Fun-Funny-Awkward-Secret -Bodies

So the next task was to ask people to start a cluster of words with Sex in the centre. We worked quickly to avoid overthinking the task.

Lists and patterns:I then asked people to create a list/patterning poem by starting with the phrase Sex is …. I kept it simple in this workshop but you can make it more complicated by adding different ideas such as Sex is .. Sex is not… This time I made it clear that we might share some of these lines/lists if people wanted to.

After 5 minutes I asked people to read out one line each, I started and then we went round the table so that a poem was created line by line – some lines were repeated and or echoed which made people laugh in wonder.

Working with WRAP

Then I distributed two short WRAP extracts and asked people to read them and circle ideas and works that sparked a response in them. We then used the same patterning / list making technique with these words to start to write a poem.   I used short ones – just one side of A4

QU:  Do you talk to your dad about this [a sexual experience with someone who refused to wear a condom, which led to Michelle refusing to have sex with him]?
AN:  Yeah, and my mum.
QU:  That’s great. Have you always been able to?
AN:  Yeah, I mean I had a one night stand when I was only 14, and I’ve not told my mum and dad, not for the fact that they would have done anything or said anything, but the fact that I was so ashamed. It’s part of something that I’d rather forget, it’s personal to me. And I think it would have disappointed them both if I’d’ve told them, and if I told them now they’d..(unclear). But that was something that was for me, that I wanted to block away, my little skeleton that goes in my little cupboard. I mean everybody’s got them. But from then on we talked about this, that. They came home and I told my dad. And he said – What would have happened if he had actually have gone through with it, if he’d have worn it [a condom]? I said – Well, I’d have been regretting an act then, not a near act. I said – It’d’ve happened and I would be regretting it, I would have found out the hard way that that wasn’t what I wanted. 
QU:  It might have been fun?
AN:  Yeah, it might have been fun, but that’s..
QU:  Would you feel guilty, or alright about casual sex for the fun of it?
AN:  No, I don’t think, I felt fine, I felt lovely up until the time when he said – I won’t wear one of them’. But I mean that’s all I wanted at the time. And if it had gone through that I would have been quite prepared to continue. But that was all I wanted. But time passed, and I realised that it’s not what I need from a man. I mean if I’m going to do it I’m going to do it properly. You know, have a bit more up top behind it, as well as down below. I mean he was really, we didn’t even talk, and I fancied the arse of this lad, and that was all.

Michelle, (EDD135) Aged 20. The WRAP archive.

Wonderful poems emerged. And we shared what we had written, to laughter and astonishment.

Thank you to everyone.

Digging where I stand

Rachel Thomson

The term digging where you stand was introduced in 1978 by Swedish oral history activist Sven Lindqvis who called upon factory workers to investigate their own workplaces as a form of self-organisation. I know this because Andrew Flinn provided a compelling overview of community history making and archiving at the Sussex Humanities Lab. Andrew has used the slogan ‘Dig where you stand’ to describe and organise community heritage work – inviting people to research their own communities, and localities. Sometimes this means literally digging where they stand.

Last time I was in Manchester I went to the Whitworth Art Gallery to see an exhibition about the Reno night club, demolished in 1990 and dug up in 2016. Lead by community activist and playright Linda Brogan and funded by the HLF, archaeologists at Salford University literally dug at the site of the Reno, with community members joining in to reveal treasures including the original dance floor, old library cards and a thirty year old bag of weed! The Reno had been a haven for a generation of young people who identified as ‘half-caste’, the children of white Mancunian mothers and African or west Indian fathers. On the back of the excavation an oral history and community memory project has been undertaken that documents how groups of friends installed themselves within the club, had their own spaces of standing, watching and dancing – how the Reno was part of a network of community spaces in Liverpool, Nottingham and Cardiff . The Whitworth Art Gallery has given a large space over to the project and includes vitrines displaying objects, screens for listening to A/V recordings of interviews, collections of memorabilia, an in-memorium wall marking the faces of the many players in the story who are now dead, long before their time. The project and the website that accompanies has the feeling of a community endeavour. Interviews are full of laughter, reminiscence, shyness and pride. Taking over the museum is a political intervention as is the task of maintaining control over the character and methods of the project.

I found out about the Reno revival on one of my trips to Manchester for The Reanimating Data Project. I lived in Manchester between 1985-90, for a time just over the road from the Reno. Between 1988-90 I was research assistant on a project documenting young women’s sexual cultures. My job was to interview young women in Manchester and I found them in lots of different ways: through youth clubs, through colleges, through workplaces, trade unions and universities. The reanimating data project takes me back to Manchester thirty years later to find out about whether there are still traces of these places and people and whether there is meaning or purpose in bringing this body of research back to the place in which it was generated so long ago. It would be so much easier if I could dig where I stand, but I stand two hundred miles away in the south coast of England, not far from where I started before I left for Manchester in the autumn of 1985. So I have instead to try and work out how to dig where I stood.

In 1988 when the WRAP project went about recruiting young women into the project it was able to collaborate with a vibrant network of youth clubs across the city, where feminist youth workers were intervening in creative ways. Our project talked to young women at Ardwick and Moston Youth Clubs – encouraged by youth workers such as Nora Davies and Cath Lambert to capture young women’s views and experiences of what was often a tough life for young women but which produced wit, insight and ambition. The YWait project was a jewel in the crown of Manchester youth work, a peer education project promoting sexual health for and by young women. With the help of Pam Muttram we made contact with a young mothers group in Higher Blakeley who were self-organising and speaking at schools just as teenage pregnancy was beginning to be articulated as a problem in a new way.

An article in Manchester based magazine City Life in 1988 called ‘Pregnant Thoughts’ by Penny Anderson reports how ‘high teenage pregnancy rates have shocked local welfare workers …according to new Government figures Greater Manchester has more teenage mothers than any other English county’. The piece comments that there is ‘no real stigma to illegitimacy any more’ with early and unmarried pregnancy operating as an intergenerational phenomena ‘if Mum gets caught the daughter is likely to get caught out as well’.

Fast forward thirty years and Ardwick youth cub has been demolished, targets to address teenage pregnancy have been met (partly by the widespread use of long lasting contraceptive implants) and the last strand of support for teenage pregnancy city wide disappeared two year earlier when pregnant school girl units were disbanded and FNP was not replaced. ‘Once we hit the target non-one was bothered’ explains Maggie Flint, who has worked with young women include the 1980s, a time she remembers fondly as a golden era, where ‘everything was possible’. Tracking around the new and shiny academies and youth hubs that have replaced the post-industrial landscape we notice that teenage sexuality and public health are no longer on the agenda. At the Academy we hear lots about early intervention, about tracking progress and intervening to address obstacles to progress. The intervention is more likely to be time-limited speech therapy for a parent in order to facilitate educational progress in a child than a service built around notions of equality or collective empowerment. The whole area was ‘swept clean’ for the Commonwealth Games explains Maggie. Local slums and local services where rationalised into strategic plans for the whole city – a multi-agency approach lead by a common assessment framework. The end of bottom up services. Activists become contract managers, freelance trainers, retire. How do we dig in this landscape? Where do we stand?

At the 2016 Tory Party conference Theresa May declared ‘if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere.’ She counterposed elitist cosmopolitan drifters with ‘the people down the road, the people they employ, the people they pass in the street’. This phrase has come to my mind several times during this project as our team searches for traction with communities in present day Manchester – finding ways of connecting an extraordinary set of interviews generated in the city thirty years ago with the city today. An obvious problem is that the team is not based in Manchester, we come as visitors, attempting to drum up interest in a past that is complicated. I find a similar ambivalence to the past in the archive where I read a Jim Reeve review from 1989 of and exhibition of Shirley Baker photographs that suggests that in the 1980s this past was too close – Reeve comments on how in these images ‘the 60s can be seen creeping up on a timeless people, tower blocks looming up over back-to-backs, bee-hives and mini-skirts against a background of outside toilets. If you close one eye you could imagine a scene from the 30s. Its alarming to think that the fairly momentous 20 years covered by the pictures still saw flabby arms folded around wrap-around pinnies, men with trilbies and spectacles covered with Elastoplast, which is why anyone over 30 should steel themselves before perusing these pictures. They are a grainy reminder that you are becoming part of history…. The book left me with a dull feeling. That is not to say that it is a dull book’.

I am very aware that I left Manchester in 1990 and the city I return to now is a different place. Skyscrapers are sprouting up in the centre of the city, rumoured to be funded by Chinese capital. Trams connect neighbourhoods in new ways and the University expresses a new-found confidence and ownership of the civic space. We convene a reunion of the old sociology department where the study was born, attempting to retrace the lines of town and gown that characterised the city in the late 1980s. We discover fellow travellers who also passed through Manchester University during this era and appreciate their nostalgic connections to the project. Yet for those still living in Manchester, still working in the department, it is an unconnected history – perhaps producing dull feelings. Our various gambits to capture interest are productive but not always successful as our agendas slide away from each other. Drama students in 2019 appear more interested in the stories of working class girls that revisiting the dubious sexual cultures of middle class drama training culture of the 1980s. Our hottest connection is with the Proud Trust, still meeting in the Sydney Street building that is a living connection with the Manchester of the past, celebrating the city’s history of activism around section 28, of radical feminism and activism in the area of young women’s sexual health.  Workers and clients see themselves in a local feminist activist tradition that includes our study. As an organisation the proud Trust move easily across the lines of academia/ local government, the voluntary sector and corporate fund raising. They have not been swept away or built over, in fact they are key players in building the new Manchester as they begin a major building project of their own.

I like the idea of digging where I stand. If I had stayed in Manchester I would be able to align the geographical, biographical and historical – but working peripatetically in this way alerts me to Manchester’s place in a history of cosmopolitanism, of exporting and drawing in talent, of reinventing itself and of looking forward rather than backwards. The metaphor of digging where you stand is powerful and compelling. I want to be able to do this and to claim the dubious authority of a living local. Instead I seem to be burrowing, making channels below and along the ground, sometimes my personal worm holes trap me alone in an auto-biographical past, but increasingly these become connected spaces where I bump into others following their own leads.