The Scales of Socially-Engaged Practice: Towards a Shared Language
by Hannah Hull, 2007
In this essay I will plot a scale of socially-engaged practice across a broad field of
specialisms. This ranges from practice that is socially-engaged purely through the nature of the practice - for example architecture in unavoidably engaged with society - to practice which consciously engages society at every stage of a project, from it's conception to it's realisation.
There are socially-engaged practitioners using art, theatre, architecture, design, and/or the design and policy of community services provision, with shared processes, theories and aims based around dialogue and extensive engagement with society. I will show that highly-engaged social practice is not just cross-disciplinary practice, but an independent discipline.
I will suggest how the use of more specialised language can be the solution that allows more accurate recognition, application and sustainability of highly-engaged social practice, to the benefit of both the practitioner and commissioner. To develop this specialised language, I consider it important that the similarities and shared concerns of the broad range of highly-engaged social practitioners are examined. To exemplify these similarities and shared concerns I will examine six intertwined key issues within such practices. The selected issues came out of a seminar I hosted in October 2006 with a carefully selected range of people working within the scale of socially-engaged practice.
My route into this subject is Fine Art and Art Theory, thus my suggested model of discerning between different ways of practicing in the social realm is based on the distinctions made within this discipline. Three key terms - Public Art, Community Art and New Genre Public Art - present a comprehensive scale of social engagement in Fine Art practice. I will break down these terms, which I find to present a useful model of criteria that are transferable between social practices. This will point towards the value of developing a language shared between highly-engaged social practices.