Health, wellbeing and disability narratives in the arts

The overarching aim of this inter-cultural academic collaboration is to challenge academic ableism in higher education.

Introduction

This University of the Arts Helsinki (Uniarts Helsinki) and Stellenbosch University project aims to develop anti-ableist higher education practices and policy recommendations within the participant Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), by employing intercultural notions of arts, health and wellbeing from a decolonial, anti-pathologising perspective. To achieve this goal, the project will facilitate joint courses, teacher-student exchange, workshops and report these achievements in co-authored peer-reviewed research publications. The project takes place at the intersection of pedagogical developmental work in higher education, arts-based research, critical disability studies (CDS) and indigenous knowledges.

The project’s aims

  1. Developing and implementing permanent anti-colonial CDS-informed policies and curricula within the HEIs;
  2. Investigating intercultural concepts of arts, health and wellbeing, contesting the colonialist aspects of their mainstream notions within HEI practices.

Background: University colonialism

The social scientist Boaventura de Sousa Santos (2018) defines university colonialism as the pedagogical criteria that emerge from the colonial fallacy, which poses the superiority of a culture and its broad imposition upon others, creating a Westernised university. Non-scientific and artisanal knowledges used in the struggles against domination are often disregarded, producing a monocultural academia (Santos, 2018). The arts, health and wellbeing concepts are subject to this colonial bias. Westernised notions of health and disability fail to consider the lived experience and subcultures of disabled persons, adhering to pathologising discourses and practices. Sousa Santos (2018) proposes the development of an ecology of knowledges where vernacular and indigenous knowledges are interdependent with the dominant scientific knowledges and disrupt epistemic injustice.

Arts-based research (ABR)

This project employs arts-based research (ABR) as a methodological core. ABR uses artistic methods to enable critical thinking. According to Patricia Leavy (2018), ABR expresses interconnections that are usually out of reach to produce jargon-free, understandable outputs, generate critical consciousness and empathy toward social justice, doing oriented research that reveals power relations.

Course on Critical Disability Studies (CDS)

As part of the project’s plan, a course on critical disability studies will be offered to the students of Uniarts Helsinki and Stellenbosch University. The course aims to explore the bibliography of critical disability studies and offer tools to understand and disrupt the ableist structures of higher arts education through institutional critique and policy and curricula change recommendations.

The critical disability studies scholar John Derby (2016) designed a CDS-informed course for arts education. His students investigated critical disability literature and designed lesson plans and artists’ anti-ableist statements, inviting disabled scholars and artists to the course’s design and bibliography. This course builds on Derby’s experience and adds up arts-based, autoethnographic outcomes to discuss both institutions’ health and wellbeing policies through a decolonial prism.

The course addresses colonial practices on arts, health and wellbeing within academia:

  1. The foundations of critical disability studies;
  2. Global South knowledges’ approaches to CDS;
  3. CDS-informed arts-based approaches to pedagogy;
  4. Arts-based autoethnographies of curricula and wellbeing policies.

The course will foster future teachers who can recognise academic ableism’s colonial patterns and employ CDS-informed pedagogies. Students will be encouraged to write about their experiences with health and wellbeing in academia through an auto-ethnographic perspective, exploring lived experience knowledge.

Collaborative activities

Collaborative activities include jointly-organised workshops, courses, staff and students’ exchange and the development of jointly-written peer-reviewed articles.  

Contact information for the project

    • Sunna Maijala

    • Tutkimuskoordinaattori, Taidekasvatuksen tutkimuksen tk CERADA, Research hub
    • +358504139282
    • Katja Kiviharju

    • Asiantuntija, Yhteiset Kehittämispalvelut, Taideyliopisto
    • +358400792014

Project name

Health/wellbeing and dis/ability narratives in the arts: Expanding understanding through translational collaboration (HEWDISARTS)

Time

01/2022-12/2024

Funder

The project is part of the SAFINET, the Southern African and Finnish Higher Education Institutions’ Network for Health and Wellbeing, within the Culture and Wellbeing sub-area. SAFINET is funded by the Ministry of Culture and Education in Finland.

Team

  • Lieketseng Ned is a a Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Disability & Rehabilitation Studies within the Department of Global Health at Stellenbosch University. lieketseng@sun.ac.za

  • Chioma Ohajunwa is a post-doctoral fellow at the Centre for Rehabilitation Studies at Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

  • Francisco Trento is a postdoctoral research fellow at The Center for Educational Research and Academic Development in the Arts (CERADA), University of the Arts Helsinki, Finland. francisco.trento@uniarts.fi

  • Tuulikki Laes is a postdoctoral research fellow at the The Center for Educational Research and Academic Development in the Arts (CERADA), University of the Arts Helsinki, Finland. tuulikki.laes@uniarts.fi

  • Kai Lehikoinen is a university researcher at the The Center for Educational Research and Academic Development in the Arts (CERADA), University of the Arts Helsinki, Finland. kai.lehikoinen@uniarts.fi

Collaborators

The collaboration is carried out within the scope of SAFINET, the Southern African and Finnish Higher Education Institutions’ Network for Health and Wellbeing, within the Culture and Wellbeing sub-area.