Beyond Text
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Beyond Text

Learning through Arts-Based Research

Jeff Adams, Allan Owens, Jeff Adams, Allan Owens

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eBook - ePub

Beyond Text

Learning through Arts-Based Research

Jeff Adams, Allan Owens, Jeff Adams, Allan Owens

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About This Book

This original new book represents a variety of art forms across different professional contexts. Its focus is on the ways that educational practitioners and leaders from a range of cultures, disciplines, professions and organizations practice arts-based research, and it explores how these can enable innovative means of learning and enhance professional and organizational development.

This vibrant project allowed for long term systematic conversations between a large and unusually diverse group of twenty-nine people from eight organisations in six countries. It was unusually diverse in many senses: for some the word 'data' meant little, for others it was central to their daily work; for some artistic practice was core, while for others the arts were a means to an end; while some were social entrepreneurs running their own companies others were researching in universities and a number were doing both; some were working within the STEM disciplines of business, management, engineering, science, technology, sustainability and the built environment, others were in the social sciences of social and health care, education and youth work while others were engaged in rapid or long term social and cultural action as a means of resisting state violence and military occupation; some worked in one of the safest countries on the planet, others in one of the most tear-gassed refugee camps in the world. Within these professional groups there were also ranges of experience, for example senior researchers, early career researchers, PhD students, seasoned professional artists and newcomers to arts forms. Whilst the main communication of this group was English, six other major languages were spoken, Estonian, Finish, Catalan, Spanish, Arabic and key stakeholders bought Swedish and Japanese into the space. This meant that while the conversations in and about arts-based practice were transnational, interdisciplinary and systematic, they had all the messy, troubled-ness that the intercultural on all of the above levels brings with it.

This unique and exciting collection discusses how creative arts practices can have a significant impact on research across a range of international contexts, drawing on their own field of research and educational experience. For instance, drama, music, dance and visual arts can be used to understand how learners internalise concepts, reflect on how decisions are made in the midst of action in leadership education, or investigate the use of the intuitive alongside the rational and analytical in their educational experience. Non-textual arts-based forms of research can also provide modes of investigation into pedagogical and professional practices when applied to fields that normally lie outside of the arts.

Its greatest strengths are its focus on arts-based research as a way of learning in a variety of contexts, and often in collaboration. Its consistent theoretical, artistic and professional engagements make it a very readable and engaging read.

The representation of a variety of art forms across different professional contexts means that this book will have appeal to several readerships in higher education, including the following groups.

Academics and practitioners using arts-based methods in organisation and business settings. Researchers in the arts and researchers generically in the social sciences, humanities and arts. University students of the arts, education and professional studies, especially those interested in the wider international and intercultural diversity of research methodologies.

Those working in international research teams using any form of qualitative research will also find this collection very interesting. It also has potential interest for groups outside higher education with an interest in arts-based research – for example community groups looking to explore collaborative projects.

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This section of the book groups together chapters written principally by academics experienced in research in arts-based practices and who frequently incorporate them into their research methodologies. These academics often think in terms of ‘artful enquiry’ when approaching their research, and see this as a means to elicit insights into perceptions and practices that would not otherwise be available to them. None would use arts-based practices exclusively in their research design, and often incorporate them alongside more familiar and orthodox social science/educational research methodologies. However, in each of these accounts arts-based methods dominate their research, often through workshops, events or experimental performances. In each case the researchers are experienced academics working in the field of educational research, with the confidence to shift between methodologies even as the research progresses. All the research discussed in this section takes place in conventional university settings or in designated research studio space, and the participants are university students or staff who, although not necessarily with an arts background, are well aware of the arts-based research (ABR) methods in which they are involved, although sometimes sceptical about the validity of the outcomes.
Ulrika von Schantz and Eva Osterlind provide insights from a Ph.D. course in ABR and also arts-based educational research (ABER) methods. They highlight the importance of our senses in arts as well as in qualitative research and the courage required to work in these forms in the current culture of higher education in Sweden where job security is a real issue. In ‘Dilemmas of alienation in arts-based education research methods’ Emma Arya Manesh and Jeff Adams discuss the use of arts-based practices from recent investigations into practice-based educational research methodologies in the UK, comparing the approaches of participants who have previous experience of arts-based practices with those who have none. Both authors are used to working and researching in other fields with contrasting methods and principles. They question what exactly it is we ask of people from outside arts-based practices who engage with these methods, and critically explore the limits of ABER in such circumstances. Mary Ann Kernan, Clive Holtham and Sara Jones, in ‘Accelerating movement across the intentional arc: Developing the strategic sensographer’, discuss enabling students studying business and leadership to become embodied and multi-sensory practitioners, enriching and improving their educational experiences through creative and artistic practices.


Insights and outlooks: Experiences from a Ph.D. course in arts-based research methods

Ulrika von Schantz
Eva Österlind
A black and white photograph with spools of thread strewn on the table. The photo has been enhanced with words and drawings highlighting the process in a workshop.
FIGURE 1.1: Photograph and edit: Raquel Benmergui.


Arts-based research (ABR) methods in education and arts-based educational research (ABER) are not yet firmly established in Sweden. Pure artistic research, research in and through the arts, is acknowledged and developed at the fine art colleges in Sweden, but there is a lack of similar research in education (ABER), though there are numbers of educational studies that probably could be recognized as such. Based on our experiences of research and teaching related to ABR methods, we will put forward some observations and issues emanating from a university course, serving as a case. We, the authors who conducted the course, are both rooted in drama and theatre, one is Ph.D. in education and professor in drama education, the other is Ph.D. in theatre studies and senior lecturer in drama and learning. Since this article is about our experiences with ABR methods in educational contexts, ABER is the most relevant term to signify our current position in the diversity of ABR. However, since the acronym ABER wasn't used to entitle the courses we refer to and discuss in this text, we prefer to use the expression ABR methods in education. By that we will also point out that when we use the acronym ABR or, more frequently, ABR methods, it’s always connected to some educational level or perspective. The important point is that we are not discussing artistic research, but ABR methods related to different educational matters. Before we turn to teaching practice, we would like to briefly introduce ourselves in terms of our different routes into the field of ABR methods in education.
Eva Österlind: I first came in touch with ABER in 2009 when professor Liora Bresler, University of Illinois, was appointed as visiting professor in Stockholm, thanks to our professor in visual arts, Lars Lindström. One of the things we did was to introduce a university course called Aesthetic-Based Qualitative Research, for master students and doctoral students. All students attended the same lectures, but the doctoral students were supposed to read more and write an extended essay. This course attracted more than 30 students, a couple of them coming from other Nordic countries. I was responsible for the master students at that time, and remember myself listening just as attentively as the students to Liora Bresler’s lectures. I experienced her input as something completely new, regarding research methodology in Swedish educational research at that time. Compared to the North American context, qualitative research in education was not controversial at all in Sweden, but considered as mainstream research. However, to use elements of the arts as part of the research process was almost unknown, or at least it was completely unfamiliar to me.
The purpose of this course was to explore ways of engaging in qualitative research – doing, being and becoming, drawing on aesthetic principles and sensibilities with an emphasis on artistic lenses, perception of formal, sensory and expressive elements, improvisation and embodied knowledge (Bresler, e-mail notes on course planning, see also Bresler 2018).
Liora Bresler put forward the importance of our senses in arts as well as in qualitative research. She suggested some activities for us to cultivate our sensitivity, and fine-tune our senses in order to be able to listen deeply and look carefully, and to pay close attention to our own impressions. In other words, she encouraged using ourselves as research instruments. One of the things we did was to visit MM (Moderna Museet) in Stockholm, together in a big group. Our task was to individually choose a piece of artwork and stay with it for at least half an hour, trying to be as open as possible and to continuously make notes about our own reflections and associations – about the motive, the artist, ourselves and even the visitors looking at this particular artwork – and then present the chosen artwork to the group. It was a very generative exercise that led to a lot of discussions afterwards, for instance about cultivating the habit of keeping a double focus, reaching out and looking inwards (extrovert and introvert). It certainly contributed to increased awareness about quality in qualitative studies. This course introduced a new perspective to the relation between aesthetics and research, not doing research about aesthetics, but through aesthetics. Even though I got a taste of it, the concept at that time was still rather unclear to me.
Ulrika von Schantz: My first experience of ABR methods can be traced to when I was a Ph.D. student, working on a dissertation in theatre studies. The aim was to do an ethnographic study in actor education from a gender perspective, based on fieldwork as a participant observer. However, as time went by I found myself ‘lost in translation’, i.e. the academic, scholarly language did not offer me the right tools to communicate what I experienced. It wasn't enough. Though I tried really hard to find a standpoint, a specific gender perspective, or a certain angle to discuss the practice I studied, I always felt that the description as well as the analysis became too reductive, too superficial or too simple. The daily art practice that surrounded me was much too complex to fit into certain scientific frames, as was the transmission of tacit knowledge that characterized the educational settings. The interaction between fiction and reality, between fictive role characters and private persons, cultural heritage and new pedagogies was hard to clarify. The impact of old myths, as well as the cultural heritage of master-apprentice education and the delicate power relations, was immense and at the same time there were openings to novelties in pedagogy, philosophies and scientific theories. This mix created a paradoxical complexity that was hard to comprehend as well as to communicate. To be true, and to make sense of my experiences, I needed to extend or complete the academic language.
Along with these growing problems, my pre-understanding of the educational context and my theatrical identity became more and more emphasized, until I realized that I had to take a serious issue with my role as researcher. I had to de-familiarize myself from myself, so to speak. Who was I to tell someone about culture and from what position? How did my own reactions of being regarded as a kind of gender police, as well as my own desire to belong, affect the interpretations? What was caused by a participant observer looking for gender trouble? As I got more and more confused by the role of the observer I started to look for texts that challenged traditional ethnography.
Suddenly I realized that ethnography wasn't about observing and defining an unmediated world of the ‘others’, but the world between myself and the others. As anthropologist Kirsten Hastrup puts it: ‘The ethnographer in the field is the locus of a drama which is the source of her anthropological reflection’ (Hastrup 1992: 117). I was a kind of author involved in a situated knowledge production. What I wrote were my interpretations of different situations from different positions. I wrote what I saw, heard and experienced from my position, not as some fly on the wall, nor as someone from above, but as a voice of a creature emerging from the intertwining of me as a private person, my role as observer, the surrounding culture and the informants.
For a long time, I thought of my conceptualization of, and problems with, traditional scientific models, fieldwork and observing, and even reading and writing, as closely linked to my identity as a drama practitioner. I applied my practical, tacit knowledge to grasp different human, societal, scientific, psychological or physical phenomena, as well as relationships, dilemmas and specific learning objects by sensitive, imaginative and/or bodily exploration. Role-taking and living-through fictive case scenarios from different perspectives, intervened and followed by reflection, was my ‘melody’. It wasn't until arts-based, arts-informed or artistic research became established and acknowledged at art colleges that I recognized that I – intuitively and by necessity – had used arts-informed methods in my own dissertation.
Later, I became employed as a senior lecturer in drama and learning at a department on teacher education in the arts (including sloyd and sports), focusing on ‘practical knowledge’. From my horizon, it was the perfect place to work with ABR methods, not least in the students’ essays; but we were at a University where academic writing in a traditional, scientific mode was emphasized. The students were supposed to be trained in writing by using templates, pre-designed to fit traditional, positivistic, natural or social sciences. There was no option to do something more personal or artful. However, there was a professor, Ingrid Carlgren, who advocated research on professional, practical, tacit knowledge – as opposed to propositional, academic knowledge –and saw similarities between this and the arts-based approach. I got the chance to run a higher seminar and a course on ABR methods, and the opportunity to invite a number of interesting researchers with a diversity of approaches in the field. At that time, it became obvious that research questions related to sloyd, sports and arts in education and ABR had a lot in common, at least concerning corporeal, ‘tacit’ knowing, ‘intuitive’ skills and practical knowledge production. The course on ABR methods was given to doctoral students in education, and included some tentative but interesting experiments....

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