Dancing with the Data: Arts-Based Qualitative Research

Dancing with the Data: Arts-Based Qualitative Research

Randee Lipson Lawrence (National Louis University, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-7409-7.ch008
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Arts-based research is a dynamic approach to conducting qualitative research that expands on how knowledge is produced and communicated, reaching both academic and nonacademic audiences. Arts-based research is described as a political process that creates empathy, raises consciousness, and disrupts complacency. It touches the souls of the reading, viewing, or listening audience, often inspiring social activism. Several ways to use art in research are discussed, and examples are provided, including fiction as research data and expression, performance inquiry, textile art, poetry, and photography. The potential for arts-based research in graduate student research is also discussed. Arts-based research empowers both the research participants and the research audience as collaborative knowledge makers.
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What Is Arts-Based Research?

Arts-based research is research using any form of art (visual art, music, poetry, dance etc.) in the data collection, analysis and/or reporting of research. These processes expand the possibilities for accessing knowledge by allowing the researcher a fuller palette of investigative tools to use when conducting research (Leavy, 2009). In turn, artistic expression of research makes research findings available to a wider audience.

Arts-based research opens up intellectual spaces for forms of expression that cannot be verbalized thus challenging the fundamental assumption and stretching the boundaries of what constitutes research (Lawrence & Mealman, 2001). Some knowledge is best expressed through creating a story, writing a poem or painting a picture. Forcing researchers into a traditional written mode poses limitations on what knowledge gets communicated, how knowledge gets communicated and who gets access to that knowledge.

Art is indigenous knowledge (Lawrence, 2005). Every culture uses art as a form of communication and in many cases, art pre-dates language. Art is a way to communicate across cultures reaching out to those who do not share a common language. As Van Manen (1990, p. 74) explained “Objects of art are visual, tactile, auditory, kinetic texts consisting of not a verbal language but a language nevertheless”.

According to Barone and Eisner (1997) there is intentional ambiguity in arts-based research, allowing the reader or viewer of the research to fill in the gaps. In this sense, the viewer becomes actively involved with the research rather than as a passive consumer.

In all qualitative research, the researcher is the primary instrument for the collection, analysis and dissemination of the data. He or she makes decisions throughout the process of what questions to ask, what conceptual lens with which to view the data, and how to present the research. In arts-based research, the research is a personal statement that holds the signature of the author and embodies his or her unique style (Barone & Eisner, 1997).

Arts-based research can stand alone as a methodology or it can easily be combined with other forms of qualitative research. For example, one of my students (Blockinger, 2007) conducted a phenomenological study on the meaning of intercultural competence to human resource professionals. Her participants drew metaphorical representations of intercultural competence that were “unpacked” with the researcher as part of the interview process. Another student (Simpson, 2007) conducted a narrative inquiry of transformative experiences of people who turned to artistic expression to cope with a serious traumatic event. Her data included samples of their artwork along with collages that were created by the participants as part of the research process.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Photo Documentation: Researcher created photographs related to the research questions. This data source can be analyzed alone or used in conjunction with interviews.

Surrealism: A genre of art from the early 20 th century considered avant-garde, often juxtaposing unrelated images into order to shake the viewer out of complacency.

Performance Inquiry: Dramatization of research data as a method of critical pedagogy and resistance.

Photovoice: (voicing our individual and collective experience) A form of participatory action research. The researcher gives cameras to research participants who create images of their lived experience in relationship to the research topic. The images are discussed with the participants as part of a collective meaning making process.

Found Poetry: A process of data analysis involving creating poems out of raw data.

Arts-Based Research: Research utilizing the arts in the collection, analysis and/or dissemination of data. Arts-based research can stand alone as a methodology or be combined with other perspectives.

Ethnodrama or Ethnotheatre: The Practice of dramatizing the data by creating a script of significant selections from interviews, field notes, journal entries and print or media artifacts and performing it as a play.

Readers’ Theatre: A script is developed using the voices of the research participants and read out loud.

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