Making Meaning


Making meaning explores how tactile making can promote thinking and ground a response to questioning around abstract concepts. In this activity, participants use play-doh (or other sculptural material) to let their making lead their thinking in response to a key word or prompt.

Using multi-sensory research methods as a way of thinking allows people to first establish a space and mindset for reflection. Through manipulation of material, a conversation between the participant and their making is established, where the artefact becomes a conduit between articulating one’s thoughts and abstract prompts. Making Meaning follows a process where participants are first encouraged to make themselves familiar with the sculptural material. The original Making Meaning toolkit uses Play-doh, to which many participants feel an emotional connection through nostalgia. The triviality of using Play-doh helps to break down barriers between people who define themselves as ‘un-creative’ and this creative activity. Participants are first led through a familiarisation process with the Play-doh, setting a playful atmosphere by asking them to roll, press, and coil the material. Establishing this workshop as a fun, positive space can help people feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts later in the workshop.

Key words relating to the context of the workshop are distributed amongst participants as prompts for their making. Participants are then asked to sculpt a form in response to the prompt – it can be a real-life object that they are reminded of, a metaphorical representation of the key word, or an ambiguous form they made while thinking about their word. The artefactual outcomes from this activity are embodied forms of thinking, where participants can refer to mark-making as stages of their thought process. These objects become a map or scaffold for sharing individual stories, opinions, or experiences.

The workshop can be adapted for different contexts through changing the key word cards, or switching the sculptural material based on the intended atmosphere and participant group. Where Play-doh evokes a light-hearted, trivial response, water-based clay or location-specific clay might be more appropriate for more sensitive or serious enquiries.

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