The washing up is an everyday, mundane task that most of us share, but when we scratch the surface there is so much more to explore as this great project shows. Social pedagogy is also interested in, works with and explores meaning from the everyday stuff of life. Most European countries have an established tradition and professional discipline of social pedagogy (it’s rooted in society so differs from country to country depending on the culture and conditions of where it exists), but ours in the UK is relatively new and still quite unknown so I’m going to try to explain a bit about it through the lens of The Washing Up…
Pedagogy is a word most of us aren’t familiar with but teachers will be as it describes ‘the way of education’ a teacher, school or college might take. Social Pedagogy is about ‘the way of connecting’ the individual and society, it’s concerned with care and education and with relationships. Social Pedagogues are specially trained to work in relationships, especially where those relationships might be difficult – it is ethical and deeply humane, seeking to create strong, genuine, authentic relationships that truly support people in the ways they want to be supported. It is not a sculpting way of connecting, where someone else’s idea of who and what a person should be is the basis for connections (and corrections), but a gardening way of connecting so that social pedagogues are keen to create and nurture the kind of physical, emotional and social environments where people can thrive and be seen as the whole people they are, as the experts in their own lives and as people with rich and extraordinary experience and potential. All too often people are reduced to one aspect of their lives – children in care, people in addiction recovery, people with disabilities are good examples – but we are all so much more than the labels given to us. Social Pedagogy aims to question and ‘disturb’ the status quo and assumptions made about people, speak truth to power, flatten hierarchies and co-create a society, communities and relationships where everyone is enabled to fully participate, learn, connect and thrive whatever their circumstances.
A group of rather brilliant people have been exploring the washing up through the creative medium of performance art, and have the most engaging, extraordinary takes on the most ordinary of subjects, as you will see on these pages and when you come to the performances. Through song, poetry, prose and theatre this group have found a way of engaging with each other as equals with rich and extraordinary lives and potential. In social pedagogy we might call this project a ‘Common Third’. The common third is a Danish social pedagogical concept that seeks to strengthen relationships through doing things together – the theory is that when people with different starting points and levels of power share a genuine interest in something that is new to them both and explore that interest together, the different starting points, backgrounds, life experiences and levels of power are eclipsed by exploring the shared interest, and all the while the relationship between them grows stronger. So the Washing Up is a common third for those involved in co-creating the project, and the interactive performances could be a kind of common third between the performers and the audience.
That the majority of the performers are in addiction recovery is both immaterial and significant. Immaterial because while previous addiction may have brought them together, it does not make the person or the group or indeed the project. Significant because while exploring and co-creating this project every person is also dealing with life difficulties to one degree or another, there are good days and bad days and the group is understanding and flexible to accommodate what comes up – I see individual responsibility for the group and group responsibility for the individual in this project. Significant too because the project provides an opportunity to explore mental health and addiction in a creative way, with metaphor, and in ways that we can all connect with – only this morning I noticed a depressed teaspoon in my washing up bowl and thought of how cold and lonely it must be. The Washing Up gives us a fun and thought provoking way of thinking and talking about mental health and addiction.
So many people in our society are excluded for arbitrary reasons of discrimination and this has become a growing concern over recent years where we have begun to notice how judgmental and uncompassionate some of our services and professionals have become. This is not to blame, the environment has been changed beneath the public radar, and landscape has changed so that the priorities of professional practice have been obscured. In the UK our emerging social pedagogy is trying to redress this balance and change the landscape, and so too is The Washing Up.
If you’d like to find out more check this out www.sppa-uk.org