Presented by Katherine Quinn, WISERD

In this seminar I discuss my recent PhD thesis and give an overview of its aims, methods and findings. I have chosen to give a fairly broad-brush overview of my thesis rather than present a specific paper drawn from it since I hope to use the seminar as an opportunity for new(ish!) colleagues to get to know my work, and for me to discuss its application to WISERD. As such, below is the abstract of my thesis:

This thesis is an ethnography of one library, The Hive (Worcester), and asks the question: What does the story and daily life of The Hive tell us about the challenges facing public knowledge, public education and public space in Britain today? The study contributes to an understanding of public space in contemporary Britain through an exploration of this simultaneously unique and emblematic institution which sits at the meeting point of many other processes and institutions of public life.

As a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) between the University of Worcester and Worcestershire County Council, the library brings together two institutions of public life under one roof in an ambitious integration project. As such, The Hive provides a lens through which to examine the interlocking processes related to the privatisation of public space, education, and the library profession under the period of austerity. I follow a slow and inventive methodology which focused on engagement with methods of dwelling, doodling and describing. In analysis, I engage with The Hive through three “lenses”: institutional, professional, and affective. I argue that public space is a site of negotiation, and that threads of classification and classificatory practices interplay with ideas of “worth” throughout these lenses, at the levels of policy, work practices, and encounter on the library floor.

The thesis contributes to fields of sociology concerning public life, higher education, and ethnographic methodologies by engaging theories of affect with an empirical study. By embracing methodological messiness and rescinding control I argue it becomes possible to sense and explore how the ostensibly limiting structures that dominate public life – such as PFIs, Higher Education, Local Authorities – interplay with affective encounters and events to create an institution – and broader possibilities – with both hopeful and fractious affects.

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