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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

Arts-Based and Embodied Data Analysis (Chapter 8)

Reflections on the eighth chapter of 'Creative Research Methods - A Practical Guide' by Helen Kara

Boudicca "helping" my research by scratching holes in the book pages, attacking my highlighter and generally pestering me for attention...

This chapter was focussing on the analysis of data, having considered the data gathering proccess in the previous chapter. Kara begins, ‘the analysis of data may be both the most specialised and the least well understood aspect of making research… There are a wide range of methods available to researchers. However, the methods we choose should not be the ones that appeal to us the most, but the ones that are most likely to help us answer our research questions’ (page 135). This echoes her advice at all stages of the research process to choose methods and methodologies carefully and not because they are easy, obvious or familiar. In this sense, reading the case studies presented throughout the book is incredibly insightful, to learn about different approaches which I did not know about and had never considered trying before.


Kara emphasises how ‘as you analyse your data you are responsible to a lot of people: participants, funders, commissioners, supervisors, examiners and so on’ (page 136). This is something at the forefront of my mind throughout my work with research participants, because there data will not be presented anonymously, my duty of care and responsibility to them is paramount. This is why I am using WhatsApp as a tool for regular communication with my participants to check they are happy with photographs I am using, artworks I have produced and will continue to discuss the video interview aspects of the project with them.


I found Kara’s insight on the process of data preparation and coding fascinating, ‘Even the apparently repetitive and laborious processes of data preparation and coding require some creativity. For example, take the transcription of data recorded by audio and video. There is a large variety of decisions to be made about transcription, and there is no ‘best way’ or ‘right answer’ (Hammersley 2010: 556) These decisions include such things as: Should you record the non-speech sounds that people make, such as laughter, coughs, sighs and so on? If so how? Do you record pauses? If so do you measure their length, or just note each occurrence? When transcribing video data, should you include body movements, gestures, information about the surrounding environment?’ (page 137). The suggestion of including non-verbal sounds and pauses reminds me of all the plays which I used to read as a child (I preferred reading them to prose) especially Harold Pinter, who is infamous for his pauses. The first time I ever transcribed interviews for research was as a child at my mother’s behest, she seemed to think it would be a useful skill for me to learn. Whilst I resent the unpaid child labour, it is true that it is a useful skill which I have used in my working life – mainly through subtitling content for social media. Videos always perform better if they are subtitled, so, although it is a time consuming and often tedious process, I nearly always make the effort. Having said that, it’s fair to say that the process of subtitling makes you pay more attention to the content and you understand and notice things which you probably didn’t when simply watching back the video. I remember trying to subtitle an interview with an antisemitic, far-right, yellow-vest protester outside parliament and having to rewatch the video 5 or 6 times before figuring out what he was actually saying. This man was one of the hardest people I have ever tried to transcribe, second only to Tim Martin, boss of Wetherspoons pubs, who talks in garbled half-sentences and nonsense words (formerly a trained barrister, clearly his brain has been pickled by the cheap booze).


Kara goes through different types of qualitative data analysis which I hadn’t considered before, the following are the types which I will bear in mind as they may be relevant to my research project:

·       ‘narrative analysis – analysing stories from primary or secondary data’

·       ‘conversation analysis – detailed analysis of the verbal and non-verbal content of everyday interactions’

·       ‘discourse analysis -analysing patterns of speech and interaction in a detailed and sometimes semi-quantitative way, for example, by measuring the length of pauses’

·       ‘metaphor analysis – analysing metaphors from primary or secondary data’

·       ‘phenomenological analysis – analysing participants’ stories from, and description of, their ‘lifeworlds’, or individual experiences and perceptions with a focus on meaning’

·       ‘life-course analysis – analysis of the ‘interaction between individual lives and social change’

(page 139)


I want to make my research participatory, in the sense that I am asking my participants to have an active role in shaping the process and outcomes, so Kara’s guidance on this topic was also useful; ‘Whether participants have extra support needs or not, the key to maximising participation in the analytic phase is to make the process as accessible as possible. In fully participatory research participants should be equal partners in shaping and framing the analytic processes’ (page 146).


The thing I learnt in this chapter which I am most excited by was the idea of ‘I-poems’ and it is something I am very keen to try as I believe it will be very relevant to my project: ‘I-poems are a way of identifying how participants represent themselves in interviews, by paying attention to the first-person statements in the interview transcripts… The interview transcripts are carefully read to identify the ways in which interviewees speak about themselves, paying particular attention to any statements using the personal pronoun ‘I’. Each instance of ‘I’ is highlighted, together with any relevant accompanying text that might help a reader to understand the interviewee’s sense of self. These highlighted phrases are then copied out of the transcript and placed in a new document, in the same sequence, each instance beginning in a new line, like the lines of a poem. I-poems can be very helpful in identifying participants’ sense of self be foregrounding the voice, or voices, that they use to talk about themselves’ (page 140). Since, I am conducting interviews with participants, where I am asking them to tell me their personal stories and discuss their perception of their own identity – this focus on the personal pronoun statements could be incredibly useful to developing my understanding and could potentially inform creative outputs from the project.


I really enjoyed Kara’s discussion of data analysis embodiment: ‘There is, as yet, no consensus on how to analyse data in an embodied way… however, some interesting ideas for creative embodied methods. Thanem and Knights (2019: 116) suggested getting physical with your data: adding marginalia and differently coloured highlights to hard copies; using Post-It™ notes and index cards; photocopying data and field notes and cutting out quotes and observations; gathering all the texts, images and artefacts that constitute your data and laying them out on the floor, getting on all fours and playing with your data’ (page 143). The reason why I enjoyed this so much is, because of my Dyslexia, I already do a lot of these things. When I was studying English Literature as part of the IB, my notes were hands-down the most colourful in my class – I always carried round a set of coloured highlighters and multi-coloured biros so that I could colour-code my analysis of poems and prose, scribbling all over the page margins. I usually buy the books I need to read for my studies, because I have to highlight and sticky-tab them to death in order to take in and retain the information. I read incredibly slowly because the first time I read a page, no or very little information will have been absorbed – usually I will only have identified key words which are potentially interesting or relevant to my work. Sometimes, I get to the end of the page and I can't recall anything at all because my mind drifted off somewhere else whilst I was reading. I then have to go back, and re-read the paragraphs which I think are relevant and highlight them, if I decide they are – and I sticky tab the page. The coloured highlighting also makes it easier for me to read the text. After I have finished reading the entire book (or chapter), I go back and read the highlighted sections a third time, and write-up the most important ones in a word-document. I go back to this word document later and read all the passages a fourth time before then writing up my notes on the book – it is only after these four readings, analysis and written response process that I will actually fully understand and retain the information in a useful way. This takes a lot longer than most people would to read a book, but I think the process helps me to identify and focus in on the most relevant content to my research – thanks to Insomnia, I am awake a lot during the night, so I have plenty of time to spend re-reading pages again and again.

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