A Day at a Time

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Feel Tanks

Chloe Turner, PhD researcher in the Media, Communications and Cultural Studies Department at Goldsmiths, University of London, organises and facilitates the Feel Tanks for A Day at a Time - she describes them here

‘Feel Tanks’ (a spin on the term, ‘think tank’) take their name from the Public Feelings Project for which ‘public spheres are affect worlds’ and where ‘understanding affective investment can be the a starting point for theoretical insight into the workings of capitalism, racism and sexism within power structures’ (Cvetkovich, 2012).

Since 2018 I have been using Feel Tanks as a form of discussion-led focus groups to generate points of connection and dis-connection between individuals, groups and wider social and cultural processes through feeling entry points.

For this project, Feel Tanks have been held virtually, lasting between 60-90 minutes, with attendees encouraged to engage with the phrase ‘discussion-led’ however feels best for them – through speaking, writing discussion in the virtual chat, moving their bodies, bringing things to do with their hands (such as knitting, colouring, folding) so as to offset some of the awkwardness of speaking about their feelings.

I kicked off the sessions by asking: Have different aspects of your life sped up or slowed down during the pandemic? Have you ‘lost track’ of time? In what ways are your rhythms shifting? Have the lockdowns segmented your time or changed it in another way?

What has been so encouraging and effective is how Feel Tanks, with their emphasis on feeling first and thinking second, invite a fresh approach. Conversations have considered the shifting and numerous temporalities of Covid-19. Participants spoke of feeling that they were simultaneously chasing after time on one register whilst being dragged back by another. Themes of stillness, stuckness and suspension emerged in how the changing rhythms of lockdown or isolation were navigated. They emphasised the discomfort of the repeated pivoting and reorganising of future plans because of the instability of everyday, family and institutional time.

Feel Tanks capture the ‘liveness’ of discussion. They provide a space to sense and feel the collective dimensions of experience. They take shape through spontaneous connections between experiences, ideas and processes of sense-making. Spontaneity itself came up regularly in discussion as something that has been ‘lost’ during the pandemic, for instance the sparks of conversation that happen in the corridor in places of work or study, or running into old friends unexpectedly when out and about. People attached importance to these unanticipated moments and had strong feelings about their absence.