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08 March 2021

Celebrating collaborative, 'messy' feminist research as a space of healing this International Women's Day 2021

Dr Tamsyn Dent

CMCI Research Fellow, Dr Tamsyn Dent, celebrates feminist, community-driven research collaborations that are committed to developing a change-making agenda for parents, carers and filmmakers.


In her book on feminist cultural theory British sociologist Bev Skeggs made a claim for “messy” research. She highlighted that research is a “difficult, messy, fraught, emotional [and] tiring” process but the process is rarely shared. Instead, we celebrate the final clean project, the crisp findings clearly and objectively set out. And yet, much of feminist research practice comes from the personal, the emotional, the fraught and the unjust. 

I came to theory because I was hurting--the pain within me was so intense that I could not go on living. I came to theory desperate, wanting to comprehend--to grasp what was happening around and within me. Most importantly, I wanted to make the hurt go away. I saw in theory then a location for healing.

Theorist bell hooks in Teaching to Transgress (1994)

On this International Women’s Day 2021 which falls at a time of multiple experiences of pain exacerbated by the global pandemic I want to use this space to celebrate collaborative ‘messy’ research as a form of healing. For the past five years I have collaborated with Raising Films, a campaigning organisation and community of parents and carers in the film and television industry. Raising Films was founded in 2015 by a group of screen sector workers who wanted to start a conversation about being a parent, a carer and a filmmaker. Informal conversations developed into a movement of voices all frustrated with the structural challenges and the absence of a supportive, collective framework that sufficiently addressed their views. I have worked with Raising Films on two research reports, one written to highlight the absence of a robust employment accountability framework in the context of project-based screen labour and another that examined screen workers who either had or required caring responsibilities and the ability of the industry to recognise and support their caring needs. Raising Films has collaborated with others from HE, resulting in a series of richly qualitative reports addressing questions raised from within the community but also including myself and other scholars in that community.

These collaborations between creative workers, scholars and activists all at varying stages of their career, create an opportunity for disruptive interventions in how to conduct and manage our work. The image of the single, lone researcher or the single, genius artist is not a healthy one, but particularly so when exploring experiences of pain, ambivalence and loss which our research has documented. Collective research practice enables a community to share the responsibility of working with and from anecdotal data. This is not to prioritize the pain of the researchers over their participants, but to acknowledge that the power of listening to and documenting painful experiences enables researchers to reflect on their own messy narratives. The process of reflection makes us accountable to create a space that can hold messy research practice that reflects lived experience.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2021, I want to highlight the body of work that has emerged from a community-driven collaboration committed to developing a change-making agenda. Our work has applied the rich history and knowledge derived from feminist research practice that is committed to creating opportunities of learning and healing for all.

This blog post is a shortened version of a book chapter titled Messy Play: Privileging Anec-data and Messy Research Practice to Understand Creative Working Lives authored by The Raising Films Research Collective: Herval Almenoar-Webster, Mounira Almenoar, Tamsyn Dent, Cat Forward, Laura Giles, So Mayer, and Sarah-Louise Smythe in (forthcoming) Mothers of Invention. Parenting and/as Filmmaking Practice. Editors So Mayer & Corinn Columpar.

Raising Films links

Latest report can be found here

Raising Films training programmes for film industry professionals AND film and creative industries students

Inclusive Productions Resource: Creating Inclusive Productions Resource - Development, Sustainability and Diversity in Film & TV 

In this story

Tamsyn Dent

Lecturer in Cultural Work