Back to School? This year’s subjects are Babies and Bleach…

It’s September. In my normal life this would mean there would be that familiar smell in the increasingly cooler air that says it’s a new term, go to Paperchase and buy some new stationary and dig out the woolly tights! I’d usually be gearing up for some sort of conversation with my Head of Group about my workload bundles and be negotiating the number of first year tutorials that lie between now and Christmas. I feel like I should be back at school…

Instead, I’m smelling that September air and booking myself onto a Baby Sensory course and wondering whether or not I should buy the Rainforest Jumperoo on Ebay. I’m on maternity leave…and loving it. The past year (and it’s been almost a year since I last blogged) has been filled with a happy pregnancy, anxieties and excitement about temporarily leaving work, and the birth of our beautiful baby daughter in May. The last few months, as is the case for many new parents, has been full of clichés; it’s been a huge learning curve, the realisation that life will never be the same again, falling in love in a whole new way, getting used to less sleep, and realising that, as Mother always said, you’ve given birth to an accelerator and time simply takes on a new dimension. I am now aware that all the clichés and trite things that people said when I was pregnant…are true.

But there are also things I’ve found that aren’t so true. One thing I’ve found relatively easy has been spending time at home. As an academic, most of my summer months are spent at home, so being here has been normal – I’ve just replaced my research work with a new project, swapped books for bottles, and traded in papers for Pampers. I haven’t yet yearned for ‘adult conversation’, I’ve not been covered in sick (much), I’ve managed to do my make-up AND my hair, and I’ve found babies to be fascinating company.

What I wasn’t expecting was hitting September with such an unsettled feeling. It’s not that I’m missing work (although I am certainly making an effort to see friends and colleagues), it just feels strange not to be at work this time of year. An odd case of “I don’t want to be there but it’s weird not being involved” …if that makes sense…

This past weekend, I also found myself reflecting on what I had (naively) intended to do on maternity leave; read lots of books, make a quilt, keep a diary, clear out my study…and so on and so on… All of this with the view that “babies sleep, right?! So I’ll have some time on my hands?” Needless to say I have barely done any of these things. And so, five months into my maternity leave I find myself thinking, what have I achieved? What have I got to show for this time off? …then I wanted to slap myself around the face (hard) and say “What?! YOUR BABY is what you’ve got to show for this and it’s NOT time ‘off’. You have a right to this time and YOU are benefitting from this and so is your baby!”

I recently spoke to a great friend about these feelings and after a virtual hug (we were speaking on email), she wisely noted that this almost ‘performance culture’ must be rife in today’s (Western?) society…that we even try and make maternity leave as ‘productive’ as possible! Awful, isn’t it?

Why can’t we just be? Why do we need to milk (forgive the pun) every ounce of time we have and place unrealistic demands on ourselves and what we ‘should’ be achieving? Why do we feel the need to ‘do’ all the time? I also wonder what other people think about this – other new parents – and what are other people doing on their maternity leave? Answers on a postcard please…

Still, I am left feeling part mother, part academic…part content at watching my little girl giggle and laugh all day, part itching to ‘do’ something. On the one hand I am telling myself to enjoy this time…on the other hand I’m nudging myself to at least write something. Looking ahead, there’s that sense of returning to work next May a changed woman, with family as a priority and not the perfect lecture…but feeling a bit like a rusty old bike that’s been left in the garden for a year.

This is what has prompted me to get back on my bike…or rather, my blog. Here is a space where I can ‘do’ something, here is a space to metaphorically keep the wheels oiled…

…and what better subject to blog about than my love of all things Hair! If I had a hair salon, I’d join the hundreds of hair salons that embrace a jolly good pun – Alive and Klippin’, Curl Up and Dye, Bright ‘n’ Bleach – and I’d call my salon ‘Shortt Cuts’. For now, this seems an apt name for my short(t) blog pieces on hair, hairdressing, hairdressers and the brilliant world of bleach!

I will start with a piece on being ginger…

My new publication…on hiding places at work!

One of the spaces to 'escape to' in the salon - the towel cupboard.

One of the spaces to ‘escape to’ in the salon – the towel cupboard.

It’s been four months still I last blogged – with a busy summer at conferences and a hectic start to the new term at University, I’m not quite sure where the time has gone! So, a new term and a new post; I’m pleased to say that I’ve just had my paper on liminal spaces at work published in Human Relations (ABS 4*)! I’m really proud of this paper – it’s one of those ones that has taken a while to emerge…but it has all been worth it. It’s based on one of the key findings from my PhD research that explored the everyday lives of hairdressers working in hair salons and their experiences of their physical work space.

This paper, specifically, is about the spaces ‘in-between’ and employees’ lived experiences of liminal spaces at work. It illustrates how and why liminal spaces are used and made meaningful by workers, in contrast to the dominant spaces that surround them. It argues that when liminal spaces are constructed, by workers, as vital and meaningful to their everyday lives they cease to be liminal spaces and instead become ‘transitory dwelling places’. As I say, the article is based on empirical data gathered from a nine-month study of hairdressers and explores the function and meaning of liminal spaces used by hairdressers in their everyday lives. These data show how liminal spaces are made meaningful by workers for privacy (finding hiding spaces at work!), for informal territories (for hanging out with friends) and for inspiration (for creative conversations).

I attach a link here to the paper – enjoy!

Human Relations Harriet Shortt Liminal Space Paper.full

Matisse – Live from the Tate Modern


mat glass

On Tuesday night I went to the Odeon cinema to see their screening of the Matisse Cut-Outs exhibition, live from the Tate Modern. This is great thing that the Odeon are doing (I’ve only just heard about it, but it’s probably been going on for a while!?)…called Odeon Plus Culture. Various plays, exhibitions, music festivals, operas and ballets are being screened from their various locations (usually London) to cinemas all over the UK! Great…and it avoids the train fare to London!

The screening was brilliant – what an incredible amount of work Matisse produced during this period. The film had live interviews with curators at the Tate and others artists and experts in the field. There was a ‘behind the scenes’ insight into how the exhibition was put together (some of it reminded me, in a way, of the heated discussions my husband Russ and I have when we’re deciding how and where to hang lots of our pictures…well, ok, so it’s not the Tate, but the principle’s similar!). It was really interesting to hear how some of those who had visited the exhibition had been inspired to write pieces of jazz music, based on the pieces shown and others who had been inspired to choreograph dances, based on the colours used in some of the pieces.

There was some lovely footage of Henri Matisse in his studio working with his assistants; drawing on the walls, painting wash on paper and hanging them out to dry and pinning his cut-outs to the wall. The colours and shapes were just wonderful – really satisfying to watch him ‘carving into colour’. I love the one here, above – the parakeet and the mermaid – the parakeet is such a lovely shape.

One piece of work that I didn’t know of before, was the commission Matisse was involved in: The Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence. It’s absolutely gorgeous and the stained glass work that sort of replicates the cut-out work he had been doing was just stunning – the picture above is called the tree of life and is behind the alter in the chapel.

Overall, there is a real sense that this collection brings happiness, joy and celebration to those visiting and looking. So, if you fancy a visual treat, I can certainly recommend it!



Lace is More! Vintage inspired wedding dresses and accessories by Verity Scott

lace is more 4  lace is more 2 lace is more

My lovely friend Verity has just set up her new studio at the Ginger Piggery in Boyton, Warminster If you love unique vintage wedding gowns, jewellery, accessories and all things creatively vintage, then this is the place to go! Verity is just fantastic…a talented designer and gifted dressmaker, she has an eye for detail and is a font of knowledge when it comes to handmade clothes, sewing and creativity…and I can vouch for the loveliness of her work – Verity made my wedding dress what it was…and the accessories!

Verity will be exhibiting her latest bridal collection at the Vintage Nostalgia Show, from 30th May until 1st June at Stockton Park, Stockton, Wiltshire. …this looks like a great event for anyone keen on all things vintage…cars, music, fashion and all sorts…

Verity is also running some great workshops, including making French Knickers, Vintage Clasp Purses and How to Make a 1950s Style Summer Dress! She also takes commissions…and organises custom built sewing parties, so if you fancy a creative Hen Party or Baby Shower, this would be perfect!

For all enquiries and further information:

01225 768260/ 07804 023498


Space and The Modern Office: making change includes choice, creativity and cognitive engagement…

Last night I went to a fascinating talk at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, organised by The British Psychological Society. This talk was part of their ‘Psychology in the Pub’ series and the invited speaker was Dr Craig Knight who presented some of his research on the toxicity of the lean, clean, ‘modern’ office and the negative impact it can have on our well-being.
Not only is this sort of stuff interesting given my own area of research, but this is particularly timely given the spatial changes going on at my own institution – the faculty is getting a new building and we are being asked about what we would like to see in the designs…
I was pleased to hear Knight confirm my own thoughts and research findings regarding the detrimental affect clinical, sparse and supposedly ‘modern’ offices can have on our well-being and happiness at work. Our work spaces should be enriching, designed to engage us and, as Knight argues, this has a direct impact on improving our levels of creativity, productivity and how inspired we feel.

Broadly, we need to move away from the ‘5 S’ methodology and the shiny clear-desk policies that organisations seem so intent on creating – it makes no sense, says Knight (…and so do I!); these are some of the worst places to work. From my own research in office spaces it’s constantly clear that people want to see that humans work there, not robots. Amidst the hot-desking open-plan world, people still want to see a sense of self, the unique, the individual, and the subjective. They want to see, feel and experience the pictures from last year’s summer holiday, the party hat left on the coat-stand, the tin of home-baked biscuits on the side of the desk and the knitted dinosaur on top of the computer monitor. These are the things that enrich space with a sense of identity…and this is key to well-being.

In Knight’s research, he calls this sort of thing ‘identity realization’ (albeit from a psychological perspective…and different to my own more sociological take). Knight, along with his team at the University of Exeter and company ‘Identity Realization Ltd’ have, for 11 years, been scientifically exploring business space management and continually their research shows that cognitively enriching work spaces are good ones to be in!
So, what’s the message for organisations? Workers need to create their OWN spaces and feel empowered to do so. When making changes to work space, building a new building or simply moving the office around, this message is clear: build your own space. By allowing people to develop their own space, have choice, and make the decisions about how it is designed increases their control and therefore their sense of well-being, happiness, brain function and sense of empowerment. Knight suggests that this process often lies in the ‘power of the group’ and that making decisions about work space can be done together. Of course, we might question how this approach might work differently in certain industries, cultures and groups. Is it always easy to gain buy-in to change from all group members? How can organisations be sure of commitment levels within the group? Group dynamics and decision making are fraught with power, politics and the voices of those who often shout the loudest.
Nonetheless, some of this sounds good to me. If we are going to design and build work space that works – and by this I mean build something that people use and enjoy, rather than build something sparkly, flexible and modern that no one uses because everyone’s decided it’s better to work from home – then the design and build should be user-led. Let decisions come from within and take a bottom-up approach.

Overall, it was certainly refreshing to hear a talk on work space from someone like Knight, who clearly has a wealth of clients, where the user was the key focus, not the bottom line, not the organisations mission statement and not driven by “how many desks can we fit into ‘x’ square metres for the least amount of money?”. This talk foregrounded the subjective experiences of space and individual identity…and that I liked.
Details about this talk, and others from the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, can be found here:



twitterToday I joined the world of Tweets, the Twitterati and entered the Twittersphere…! I have had a few students who have suggested I get on this bandwagon – they said they might like to hear what I have to say about news items or my research or stuff to do with their study of business; I have another student, Cameron Parker who has been trying to persuade me to use it to promote my research and consultancy work – he’s a social media machine!; I have teacher friends who use it all the time; …and last night I was at a meeting at The Watershed, Bristol with Kalpna Woolf, former Head of Production at the BBC, Bristol and finally, I was sold! We were meeting to talk about the new MA Leadership and Media Production Management (in partnership with the BBC) that I’ll be Programme Managing at UWE, from September 2014. We’re starting our marketing drive and launch in the New Year, and apart from the usual websites, launch events and so on…Twitter, Tweets and #s will also play their part. So, this morning, I set up an account and for the next few months I’m going to experiment and see how I get on. I posted a few tweets today…promoting the Organisation Studies blog I run, the new Team Entrepreneurship programme…and my lovely afternoon teaching visual methods with MSc Public Health students. So, I actually found myself finishing the day, in my lecture, saying ‘…and if you’d like to follow me on Twitter, you can find out more…’! I never thought those words would pass my lips. Here I am in the 21st Century. Here I am: @HarrietShortt


Sounds of the Salon – new paper out!


The International Journal of Work Organisation and Emotion has a lovely new special issue out: Sensually Exploring Culture and Affect at Work. The papers in this issue aim to provoke thought regarding culture, the senses and affect. Included, are articles on smell, touch, sensory experiences…and my paper on sound!…Sounds of the Salon: the auditory routines of hairdressers at work…..

…..Abstract: This article broadens the landscape of sensual ways of knowing and understanding and takes account of what we hear at work. In particular, I examine what role sounds play in the everyday lives of employees and why sounds are notable in organisational research. Central to this exploration are data gathered from a study of hairdressers working in hair salons. The findings presented here demonstrate that employees use sounds to sensually and creatively ‘tune out’ the emotional labour encountered as part of their work. It is argued that these auditory routines are used as a way of escaping work that is different to other strategies of escape; it is less about resistance or dis-identification, and more about respite and ways of relocating the ‘self’ elsewhere……

 I have attached my paper here: FINAL 2013 IJWOE050402 SHORTT and you can find all the papers and editorial introduction via this link: