How to use art for social change: PhD thesis free to download

After more than four years, my doctoral thesis is now finished, examined, corrected and approved! After all the work that has gone in to it, I am very happy I can share it with like-minded artists, researchers and activists. For this reason, I decided not to put an embargo on the thesis, and have made it available to download freely (click here for the PDF). The thesis is the accumulation of twenty years’ work.

When I started my first degree in 1997, I was not aware of the differences in the personal circumstances of arts students, their privileges and challenges (financial, social, etc.). Neither had I yet fully understood my own position as a white, disabled, genderqueer ‘woman’ with a challenging family history. I simply, desperately, wanted to be an artist. I took me about ten years to find out what I meant by that.

This turned out to mean pursuing roles as a project manager, director of an NGO, lobbyist, researcher, and now government policy advisor. My personal quest has been led by the question how to make are and make a difference. Working in multiple fields has always made complete sense. My doctoral thesis is an attempt to express this search, illustrated with my cartoons.


This is one of the thesis’ cartoons, and illustrates the need to leave the repetitiveness of theory in order to solve issues of social inequality. In the image, a book is visible in a display case, which suggests books have become art objects to be valued in static ways.

Some people may not consider me an artist (any more). If so, they forget Marcel Duchamp’s advice to go ‘underground’ in order to innovate as an artist. (I don’t think Marcel Duchamp ever really went underground himself, but he didn’t need to either.)

Apart from going underground, we, mere mortals, also need to occupy the word ‘artist’ with a meaning of our own – if we want to create change, within and/or outside the arts.

It is not easy, I know. But I, personally, don’t care about the hardship; what I care about is actual change. Then I know all the struggle has been worth it. If something doesn’t work out, I learn and move on. If this perspective resonates with you, do have a look at my thesis, or, at least, the cartoons! :o)

On my journey, I have met many dedicated researchers, practitioners and activists who have inspired me. I would like to thank them, dedicate my doctoral research to them and hope to give back some of the inspiration.