Research on environmental storytelling and air pollution showcased at national festival

A Keele University led research on environmental storytelling as an approach to tackle urban air pollution is being showcased as part of the Being Human Festival 2021.

The British Academy-funded research project, led by Dr Pawas Bisht and with Dr Eva Giraud (University Sheffield) and Dr Sabina Kidwai (JMI, New Delhi) as co-researchers, is being featured as part of this year’s festival with a screening on Saturday 13 November at Stoke-based B-Arts. The event will take place between 1pm and 2:30pm and booking is required.

The screening and discussion event will showcase films produced by young people from Stoke-on-Trent and New Delhi exploring the problem of urban air pollution which affects both these cities. The films from Stoke have been produced in collaboration with B Arts (led by Natalie Willatt and Molly Drummond). The films from New Delhi have been produced by students from AJK Mass Communication Research Centre (Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi) under the supervision of Dr Sabina Kidwai.

The screening will enable attendees to experience and discuss new ways of telling stories about air pollution, as well as exploring strategies for crafting stories that are emotionally engaging, empowering for affected communities, and which generate global solidarities and interconnections.

Urban air pollution is one of the most urgent environmental problems confronting communities across the world. It is also a problem that is often invisible, hard to pin down, and difficult to communicate powerfully in mainstream media.

Being Human is the UK’s only national festival of the Humanities and brings together universities, museums, galleries, archives, independent research organisations, community and commercial partners to make research in the Humanities accessible, and demonstrate its relevance to our everyday lives. The festival is sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, British Academy, and School of Advanced Study.

Dr Bisht said: “It’s been fantastic to work with young people in Stoke-on-Trent on the issue of air pollution. It’s been energising and inspiring to see them engage with the problem in the local context and find creative ways of communicating their perspectives.

“The festival event also gives us an excellent opportunity to showcase stories from the UK and India side-by-side and generate transnational connections, dialogue, understanding and action on this urgent problem.”

Natalie Willatt from B-Arts, said: “Working with artists on subject matter that is scientific in nature has been incredibly interesting and thought provoking. Each participant has, in their own way, sought to challenge the status quo of how we tell stories about air pollution which has resulted in some incredibly intriguing and innovative work being made.

“These creative and original films being made will no doubt bring new audiences to the issue, which is imperative in the current climate.”

Published by Pawas Bisht

Dr Pawas Bisht is a Senior Lecturer in Media, Communications and Culture, Deputy Director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures, and Programme Director for the MA Global Media programmes at Keele University. He is an experienced media researcher and documentary filmmaker and has previously worked for leading institutions in the UK (Loughborough and Leicester) and India (AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia). His research focuses on media and cultural politics in relation to environmental activism, cultural memory, and public mobilisations of documentary storytelling. Pawas is currently leading ‘Storytelling for Environmental Change’, a two-year research project (2021-2023) that mobilises environmental storytelling to tackle the catastrophic challenge of urban air pollution confronting India (funded by the British Academy's Humanities and Social Sciences’ Tackling Global Challenges Programme, supported under the UK Government's Global Challenges Research Fund). His earlier ethnographic research on social movements and memory-work in relation to the Bhopal Gas Disaster has been published in leading journals including Media, Culture & Society and Contemporary South Asia. His films have been shown on Channel 4 (UK), CNBC, and Doordarshan (India’s national public service broadcaster) as well as in art venues in UK, India, US, and Europe. They include work commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme and the Global Environment Facility. Recently produced films include 'Back to the Drawing Board' (2017), a portrait of the British designers Pat Albeck and Peter Rice, ‘Memory Archipelago’ (2018), an examination of the politics of Gulag memory on the Solovetsky Islands in Russia’s Far North, and ‘(Not) Acting Our Age’ (2019), examining ageing, theatre and creativity. Pawas is a member of the AHRC Peer Review College.

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