Meaningful engagement
: Exploring the participatory arts practices of adults with PMLD

  • Melaneia Warwick

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Central to this practice-led interdisciplinary research were a group of seven adults with
profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD). People with PMLD attending day
services can face inadequate activities, and this study has proposed that participatory arts
can positively complicate and challenge what are often reductive ways of engaging with
this community. It has done so via an intervention of visual arts practices in a day services
setting and subsequent investigation of what conditions and by which approaches, their
utility might constitute meaningful engagement (ME). A definition of ME for adults with
PMLD is absent where the disciplines that inform this study intersect and it is proposed
here that meaningful activities (MA) can provide concrete examples by which to
understand that ME is taking place.
The study was based on an intensive intervention of participatory visual arts workshops
over a twenty-week period for which NHS ethical approval was gained. Tools used
included GoPro and hand-held cameras, paint, charcoal, clay, paper and plant material.
The study generated seven cases based upon qualitative data that examined the arts
making processes of its participants, including visual data such as photographs and film
stills, and written data including questionnaires, consent and capacity forms and a
research journal. These were thematically analysed and thick data narratives developed in
relation to the primary research question, for which a combination of the film editing and
qualitative data analysis software packages, Premier Pro CC and Atlas.ti were utilised.
This interdisciplinary practice-led study evolved from the field of the participatory arts and
was influenced by the literature on inclusive research approaches and direct practice in
Learning Disability Studies. Here debates constellate around both including people with
PMLD in research and developing their active support. It contributes to the literature by
developing a greater understanding of how by evolving inclusive research approaches,
incidences and forms of ME could be understood through the lens of participatory visual
arts practices. I proposed practical and theoretical frameworks for working towards ME as
sets of conditions and principles, and engendered institutional change by taking the lead
from the experiences of expert participants and their supporters in the identification of
modes of ME. This thesis was developed in an accessible format as a book of
photographs for learning disabled audiences.
Date of Award2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorAlan Tomlinson (Supervisor)

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