”Knowledge Through Practice: Unraveling Birgitta Nordström’s Infant Shrouds“ – Laura Calabrò
The concept of acquiring knowledge through practical engagement holds a pivotal role within the realm of media studies. In the pursuit of inquiry, the essence lies not in the mere transcription of knowledge onto paper, but in the active process of acquiring knowledge and the subsequent transformation of this knowledge into shareable and meaningful information. Such inquiries are inherently rooted in actions—doing, making, and showing—exemplified through various research approaches like practice-based research, artistic research, and arts-based research. These methodologies emphasize tangible actions over abstract theorization and serve as conduits for a deeper understanding of the subject matter.
My personal encounter with Birgitta Nordström’s practice of wrapping blankets in the context of mortuary care, particularly perinatal loss, exemplified the essence of knowledge through doing. Nordstrom’s approach to research extended beyond conventional boundaries as she engaged in dialogue not only with medical professionals but also with parents who had endured the profound loss of a child. Her clinical-based research methodology delved intimately into the realm of emotions and feelings, making it a perfect example of knowledge acquisition through practical engagement. The evolution of Nordström’s blankets, originally handwoven and later produced on industrial looms due to increased demand, highlights the transformative power inherent in practical engagement. This evolution was not merely a technical shift but a reflection of the adaptability and responsiveness of practical engagement in meeting the changing needs of the community it served. The interaction with Nordström’s work prompted a collective reflection and discussion within the seminar group. The discussions moved beyond the technical aspects of mortuary care to encompass broader considerations of caregiving and, more significantly, the validation of grief and loss feelings. These feelings, often neglected in the process of moving beyond loss, found a voice through Nordström’s innovative practice, providing parents with the agency to navigate their mourning process.
Exploring the material affordances embedded within Nordström’s practice unveiled a nuanced and profound relationship between the living and the deceased. This exploration transcended conventional philosophical discussions on mortality, underscoring the pressing need for more profound intellectual resources to understand and cope with these experiences at an artisanal level. Additionally, it emphasized the importance of recognizing the specificity of individual experiences, acknowledging that while loss is a universal concept, its understanding varies from person to person.
A critical dimension that surfaced during our seminar discussions pertained to the historical denial or opposition to women’s rights to express certain feelings and experiences. This historical suppression persists even in contemporary society, particularly concerning issues such as prenatal fetal deaths and abortion. These topics remain divisive, often resulting in women losing agency in deeply personal and emotional scenarios. The intersectionality of women’s experiences became a focal point of our discourse, emphasizing the urgent need to challenge institutional constraints and societal norms within the field of media studies. This dimension highlighted the broader societal implications of practical engagement and underscored its potential to confront and reshape deeply ingrained narratives.
In conclusion, the exploration of knowledge through practical engagement, epitomized by our seminar and Birgitta Nordström’s groundbreaking work, reveals the intricate dynamics of knowledge acquisition, validation, and sharing. Practical engagement emerges as a powerful means of reshaping societal norms and providing a platform for acknowledging and legitimizing the full spectrum of grief and loss. This extended exploration underscores the transformative potential of practical engagement, illuminating its capacity to foster a more empathetic, compassionate, and inclusive future within the field of media studies. Investigating the institutional limits of such projects becomes an intriguing avenue for further research and exploration.