Getting down to busy-ness with Hubbub at The Hub

The inaugural recipients of the Hub Award, currently resident in The Hub space at Wellcome Collection, are the team behind Hubbub. Dr Felicity Callard, Hubbub group leader, tells us how their multifaceted collaboration came about, and why they are so interested in the notion of 'busy-ness' and rest…

Our research collective (five core group members and over 30 collaborators) is investigating rest and its opposites by drawing on a wide range of different methods and modes of enquiry from the humanities, social sciences, arts and sciences.

Hubbub's large group of collaborators includes historians of science and medicine, clinicians, public engagement professionals, social scientists, activists, artists, neuroscientists and broadcasters. We wanted to ensure that our scientific and artistic experiments about rest could benefit from an intense 'hubbub' of voices, perspectives and modes of working.

Hubbub's core members

Hubbub's core group came to the problem of rest and its opposites from a range of directions. I had been collaborating with leading resting state neuroscientist Daniel Margulies since 2008 to understand the emergence and exponential growth of 'resting state' functional neuroimaging research.

I also brought along with me a longstanding, social scientific interest in concepts of the body in states of rest and non-rest (whether through explorations of Marx's 'The working day' or via the study of clinical investigations of anxious or panic-stricken bodies).

James Wilkes, as a poet and humanities researcher, has long explored the aesthetics of voice, silence and noise. Charles Fernyhough has been preoccupied with improving the methods used to investigate and capture 'inner experience' within psychological and neuroscientific paradigms. And Claudia Hammond had previously investigated the experiences of temporality in Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception.

Hubbub's starting point

We start from the contention that rest is a phenomenon that is curiously hard to define – but one that is of deep cultural, medical, phenomenological, political and scientific interest.

Our work ranges from developing new interdisciplinary neuroscientific paradigms to better investigate states of 'rest' in the mind and brain, to tracing the long histories of practices of relaxation. We're also developing new artistic work that pushes beyond usual aesthetics of noise, silence, signal, and stillness and challenging current practices of 'workfare'.

It's not our aim to finally resolve what rest is – and there have undoubtedly been many lively cross-disciplinary arguments since we arrived in the Hub! But I certainly hope our scientific and creative experiments – conducted in collaboration with members of the Wellcome Trust as well as members of the public (in and beyond London) – allow us all to be more attuned to the textures, heterogeneity and contradictions of mental, bodily and socio-political 'rest'.

Four months in, we are at the point in which the work plan that the core group designed on paper (in the application phase) is being productively deformed both by our operations, and by the emergence of unpredictable and devolved projects emerging 'bottom up' from collaborators. It will be exciting to see where this new phase of experimentation will go.

Our research dilemmas

I suppose our modes of inhabiting The Hub are actings-out of some of the dilemmas and preoccupations of our research. How, for example, do rest and play exist in the interstices of work? How does living 'inside' our funder, the Wellcome Trust, open new opportunities – for us and for the Trust – relating to practices of interdisciplinarity?

How does our rich, dispersed, network of collaborators – who are often in different time zones from one another – help to foment and, at times, retard the emergence of interdisciplinary insights?

As someone whose initial disciplinary training was geography, I am fascinated with how our Hubbub residency inhabits and realises the 'space' of the Hub.

Our collaboration network extends widely beyond Wellcome Collection into other parts of London – as well as to Durham (the grant-holding organisation), York, and Leipzig (the site of Daniel Margulies' Neuroanatomy and Connectivity Max Planck Independent Research Group).

The question of what and where the Hub is – is it a node within a network, a utopia, a curated space, a field-site, an experimental laboratory? – is always in my mind.

'Rest' in politics and science

At its starkest, rest – or lack of rest – is, today, one of the most potent of political sites, given the changing nature of work, the unevenness with which any entitlement 'to rest' is distributed, as well as the increased surveillance experienced by those not undertaking paid work.

Scientifically, the underspecification of 'rest' in cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience is a stumbling block for those interested in modelling and conceptualising 'thought'. That is why we’re developing new methods and paradigms – that draw from the humanities and the arts – to enrich those currently used in the sciences.

There is a lot currently at stake as regards the promise of interdisciplinarity. Many of us within Hubbub have been thinking hard about how to move beyond stale invocations of this term. My hope is that Hubbub, as an experiment in interdisciplinarity, is able to open up different ways of working across the disciplines from those that (explicitly or implicitly) overly constrain the contributions that the arts, humanities and social sciences can make to interdisciplinary research that involves the life sciences.

Find out more on the Hubbub website, hubbubresearch.org

Follow Hubbub on Twitter, @hubbubgroup