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Claire van Rhyn

PhD Work

Communicating Change: 
The application of a body-led methodology for researching 
and co-designing transition 
initiatives in educational settings

This research investigates the body as a crucial modality of communication. An innovative cross-pollination between communication design and choreographic thinking, it considers how body-led participatory practices can support the communication of social transition and cultural change within a community. The starting point of this practice-led research relies on a definition of the body as socially situated and socially enacted. The body is always in a social context and we come to know that context by being active in it. Furthermore, the body is regarded as always in inter-corporeal relationship with other bodies. Consequently, the term body is applied in three indivisible ways: the physical body of the individual, the body of the group (or social body), and the environment as a contextual third ‘body’. This definition frames the body as a powerful tool for investigating social systems undergoing transition. 

In particular, the project focuses on education systems through the lens of education futures. The research contextualises schools as potent sites of future-making and engines of societal change, and takes a body-led approach to researching and co-designing transitions with school communities. The practices developed through this research aim to provide a platform for a community to map the current realities of their group dynamic through a series of semi-structured collaborative and improvisational games. By harnessing the body as an investigatory tool sensitive to the tacit systems of community interaction, the games refine the shared awareness of the group ‘body’ and draw attention to emerging realities. The games provide a platform for prototyping and co-designing futures aligned with a community’s shared aims. When engaging a range of community stakeholders in the shared mapping of a process of transition, these body-led methods are particularly powerful in democratising and enabling all ‘voices’ to be heard. It creates a context for the broader system to sense and see itself, which is key to systems transformation.

MPhil work

Communicating Change: 
The role of the socially-situated moving body in the relational emergence of cultural 
transition in educational settings

This practice-led research investigates the moving body as mode of communication. Through employing an expanded practice of communication and experience design research - influenced by choreographic thinking and movement practices - the research develops collaborative improvisational methods for exploring relational processes of social change and cultural transition within compulsory school communities. 

My practice-led research looks at how we use our bodies and senses to transmit the culture that we are part of. It is an investigation into how we experience and make sense of our culture, and in turn enact the culture. Here, culture is defined as an intangible choreographic process negotiating experience and expression, simultaneously situated in individuals and groups. 

My research is an enquiry into the capacities of groups of people to adapt their culture in situations of rapid change. Understanding the tacit aspects of cultural transmission is key to supporting cultural change. This cross-disciplinary project specifically looks at how these processes are enacted within the changing landscape of learning communities, including case studies of compulsory school environments and other learning settings. 

Utilising an experimental design approach to map and model the mechanics of cultural transmission, I seek to understand culture as a complex social technology, where the body acts as interface and recording device for culture. This proposition is explored through interactive probes in learning communities undergoing rapid change. Combining choreographic exercises with digital and material elements, my practice prototypes media and systems that interpret cultural transmission and the mechanics of change.


  • PhD


    School of Communication


    Information Experience Design, 2018–2020

  • MPhil


    School of Communication


    Information Experience Design, 2015–2020

  • Claire van Rhyn is a design researcher and educationalist. Her work investigates the body as modality of communication. Through employing an expanded practice of communication and experience design – influenced by choreographic thinking – her work develops collaborative improvisational methods for exploring the relational process of social change and cultural transition within communities. Her research particularly focusses on changemaking in compulsory school settings. She is experienced in learning design and working with school communities on understanding and incorporating creative processes in learning and teaching. Claire is assistant director for Shambhala Art Europe and teaches and host workshops in Europe and South Africa. She has researched social cognition with Universities of Cambridge, Exeter and Roehampton and is currently a PhD candidate at the Royal College of Art funded by the AHRC’s London Doctoral Design Centre.

  • Degrees

  • MSc Education Research, University of Exeter (with Distinction and Dean's Commendation); BA (Hons) Education, University of Roehampton
  • Experience

  • Researcher, Social Presencing Theatre as research methodology and intervention, Presencing Institute, 2018 - present; Assistant Director and Lecturer, Shambhala Art Europe, Multiple workshops and intensives across Europe and South Africa, 2008 - present; Learning Experience Designer and Arts in Education consultant, Various schools, London and South Africa, 2006-2015; Education Researcher, London Education and Inclusion Project, University of Cambridge, 2014; Education Researcher, Developing and Trialing a Measure of Group Thinking, University of Exeter, 2014-2016; Education Researcher, Images & Identity: European Citizenship project, University of Roehampton, 2012; Art Direction and Design, Quarto Publications, London; Designer and Art Director, New Holland Publishers, Cape Town; Head Designer, De Kat Magazine, Media 24, Johannesburg
  • Exhibitions

  • Communicating the Intangible, Hockney Gallery, Royal College of Art, London, 2016; Design Evolution, Hockney Gallery, Royal College of Art, London, 2018; That which Transpires behind that which Appears, Sonics Immersive Media Labs, Goldsmiths, 2019
  • Conferences

  • Panelist, Fields of Communication symposium, Westworks London, 2018; Ancient Technology: The body as anticipatory tool in the relational emergence of cultural change, Anticipation Conference, School of Advanced Studies, University of London, 2017; Tracing the Transmission of Culture Through Sensory and Embodied Means, Emergent Culture Conference (European Sociological Association), 2016; Intangible Communication: The role of the body in transmitting culture during rapid change in social systems, CSCY Visual Research Master Class: Visual Research with Children and Young people, University of Sheffield, 2016; Being Relational (Workshop), Design Research Society Conference, University of Brighton, 2016; The Role of Sensory Aesthetic Transmission During Rapid Cultural Change in Educational Settings, Emergence, Intersubjectivity and Aesthetics conference, University of Exeter, 2016; Places and Spaces: The mobilisation of social-centred learning across multiple places and spaces, British Conference of Undergraduate Research, 2013
  • Publications

  • Developing and Trialing a Measure of Group Thinking, Learning and Instruction, 2016