Youth research has an established history of using creative approaches to gain qualitative insights into young people’s lives. The past 15 years have seen a rapid growth in the application of visual/creative methods using, for example, drama, drawing, photography, film and digital communication technologies. Such approaches have sought to privilege young people’s perspectives, and offer alternative and non-exploitative modes of engagement1. These studies are founded on collaborative work, adopting methods that draw on/incorporate participant’s skills and interests. Such moves have not been without criticism with some questioning the theoretical premises and methodological foundations2. In my own work I have been keen to infuse creativity into different phases of the research process, not just data generation.
This summer I was invited to talk about my work at a creative research methods symposium, hosted by the University of Oxford. Developing a paper exploring the potentials and pitfalls of using such approaches presented the opportunity to reflect back over a decade-long qualitative longitudinal (QLR) study undertaken with Rosalind Edwards. The Your Space project followed the diverse lives of 50 participants from mid-childhood to young adulthood. We used tools, such as network maps, timelines and photographs to capture change and continuity in their sibling relationships and friendships over time. Creativity and adaptation feature as trademarks of many QLR studies that are, by their very nature, dynamic and evolving3. Our methods and approaches creatively shifted over time as we ‘grew with’ participants and as technological developments offered new ways of conducting research.
The symposium also presented the opportunity to consider creative ways to represent research outcomes. As each presenter spoke, graphic recording artist Chris Shipton sketched, condensing 40 minutes of speech into a one page cartoon; a medium apt for depicting complex messages in a simple, sequential form. The experience provided a new lens through which to explore my study. I was fascinated to see the artist’s interpretations of the salient points. I was delighted that my key messages were received in the manner they were intended. He identified issues pertinent to QLR, such as sample maintenance (‘staying in touch’), reciprocity in research relationships (‘providing a university reference’), snippets of the pros and cons of the tools/methods used, and nods to the theoretical underpinnings (social constructionism). Concurrently, I also felt I experienced the “peculiar effect of turning the observer into the observed”4 whilst under the gaze of an artist-in-residence. I wondered how participants might feel about the caricatures. Amidst the feelings of vulnerability was also inspiration. Viewing the final artwork has encouraged more open thinking about the form research outputs can take; about alternative and striking ways to present key messages, as well as the potential for graphic recording in data collection and/or interpretation.
Submitted by Susie Weller, NCRM, University of Southampton on Thursday, 7th December 2017