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The Hundreds Reading and Writing Group: experimenting, academically

A group of researchers from the Centre for Critical Studies in Museums, Galleries and Heritage and School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies have met over the past couple of years to experiment with academic forms.

The group includes researchers using action research, practice-led methods, participatory methods, autoethnography and poetics.

The Hundreds Reading and Writing Group is inspired by Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart’s 2019 book, The Hundreds. Developing from the Austin Public Feelings Group, Berlant and Stewart sought to write chunks of 100 words ‘following out the impact of things (words, thoughts, people, objects, ideas, worlds)’ (Berlant and Stewart 2019: ix).

Berlant and Stewart’s writing is a way of knowing the world. It seeks forms that can bring into fuller and richer articulation what the world is and what is happening, expanding the ontologies with which we can operate.

Drawing on Berlant and Stewart’s 100 word experiments, we developed a format. We read 100 words together – taking turns to suggest writing. We talk about the 100 words closely and with care. We then write for three minutes, sometimes free writing, sometimes seeking just one sentence. We end by reflecting on how we experienced the writing process.

To quote from Berlant and Stewart as they put it in the first ever Hundred we read:

"We write to what’s becoming palpable in sidelong looks or a consistency of rhythm or tone. Not to drag things back to the land of the little judges but to push the slow-mo button, to wait for what’s starting up, to listen up for what’s wearing out. We’re tripwired by a tendency dilating. We make a pass at a swell in realism, and look for the hook. We back up at the hint of something. We butt in. We try to describe the smell; we trim the fat to pinpoint what seems to be the matter here." (Berlant and Stewart 2019: X)

Here we explore what it is we’ve been doing, each in our own words, many of which were constructed alongside each other in a Hundreds session using the magic space of three minutes. We did this in July 2020 and again in July 2021. From the July 2021 session we have added new chapters to this article inspired by quotes or questions that different members of the group proposed as a writing prompt.

The Hundreds is an experiment, but it is not a disavowal of the academic. It is an occupation of the academic. It is a burrowing in deep, becoming conversant with heterogenous genealogies and blasphemous with its heritages in order to, at minimum, expand and stretch what might be counted as such. We are experimenting but it is experimentation, academically.

Image credit

Ordnance Survey, 1966, Tourist Map of the Lake District, 1:63 360. Surrey: Ordnance Survey.