Sharing an Aesthetic Space of Refuge Within a School for Pupils with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This autoethnographic and arts-based study takes place within a school for pupils with profound and multiple learning disabilities (or PMLD). The research capitalises on installation art’s privileging of experience over conceptual understanding to promote the value of simply ‘being’ together in this educational context. Anthropological and artistic frameworks are used to theorise the potential of an aesthetic environment as a space for a different type of encounter between people with, and people without, profound cognitive impairments.
The research involves three separate elements that become integrated over the course of the study. The first element is a reflexive examination of my situation and myself in relation to my withdrawal from the teaching profession. The second element is my interest in moments of connection and mutuality between staff and pupils, and the third element is my installation art practice within this school context. The research of these elements takes place in two distinct phases. In the first phase, PART I of the thesis, the rationale for the study (based on my experience as a classroom teacher) is developed. Theoretical frameworks more congruent with my own values and experience are gradually established using an autoethnographic methodology. In the second phase, PART II of the thesis, arts-based methods are used and Golden Tent, an original art installation, is created as an integral part of the research process. Presentations of the tent are discussed and the feedback from staff participants who use the tent with pupils is considered in relation to the themes developed in PART I of the study, particularly the idea of spaces of refuge and Victor Turner’s anthropological concepts of ‘liminality’ and ‘communitas’. Analysis of staff comments combined with autoethnographic reflection of my artistic motivations lead to the notion of Golden Tent as an aesthetic space of refuge.
Date of Award22 Jul 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorOlu Taiwo (Supervisor) & June Boyce-Tillman (Supervisor)


  • PMLD
  • PIMD
  • school
  • installation art
  • intensive interaction
  • connection
  • being
  • inclusive

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