Listening In-between Oral History and Applied Performance

Siobhan O'Neill

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis explores the intersection between oral history and applied performance as practices of participation. The practice-based PhD critically engages with 'Tales from the Marsh' (2016), a community performance project designed by the researcher to explore collaborative processes for participants to form, interpret and challenge their own (hi)stories of a place, the Walthamstow and Leyton Marshes. 'Tales from the Marsh' was set up by the researcher in partnership with the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority and The Mill community centre and was funded through a London Borough of Waltham Forest Arts Development Award. Over a nine-month period, local residents, in one-to-one walking interviews and participatory arts sessions, shared their memories and came together to co-create a performance. This thesis brings together critical thinking on the relationship between authority and authorship in the telling and interpretation of personal and communal narratives. It considers the role of the artist-historian in co-authoring narratives and argues for a renewed attention on practices of listening. The researcher developed practice-based research projects to explore ways to cultivate an expanded form of listening. Investigating an affiliation between embodied sensibilities and oral narratives, this research considered how an embodied sensorial listening to the walked environment and to objects related to the site, might stimulate participants’ recollections of corporeal and sensate memories. Drawing on theories of listening as an ontological position and as a practice, particular attention is paid to the encounter between the human and the other-than-human, alongside interrelations amongst participants and with the artist-researcher. The practice-based research interrogates participation in interpretative processes through a generative processual making in different artistic mediums. Drawing on theories of materiality from the fields of history, geography and the arts, the thesis discusses how touching material presence, in recollections and in the making-space, can re-interpret memory stories. The thesis proposes that an embodied listening to recalled lived experience can offer a means for participants to subtlety challenge apparently stable personal and collective narratives.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Nicholson, Helen, Supervisor
  • Smith, Graham , Supervisor, External person
  • Williams, David, Advisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Jun 2019
Publication statusUnpublished - 2019


  • Applied Peformance
  • Oral History
  • Practices of Participation
  • Shared Authority
  • Authorship
  • Listening
  • Embodied Listening
  • Memory
  • Walking
  • Community-building
  • Reminiscence
  • Jean Luc Nancy
  • Theatrical Metaphor
  • Lived Experience
  • Walking Conversations
  • Performance-making
  • Dialogic Art
  • Walthamstow and Leyton Marshes
  • Urban Commons
  • Experiential arts-based processes
  • Place
  • Community Narratives
  • Heritage
  • Embodied Memory
  • Sensory Perception
  • Redistribution of Authority
  • Democracy
  • Personal Narratives
  • the other-than-human
  • Environment
  • site-specific performance

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