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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

Arts-based and Embodied Data Gathering (Chapter 6)

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

Kara begins this chapter by emphasising the ethical implications of data gathering, ‘Gathering primary data is the most heavily scrutinised area of research ethics. As you begin to gather data you have a direct responsibility to gatekeepers and participants, and an indirect responsibility to anyone else who has a stake in your research’ (page 102). This guidance is something at the forefront of my mind in my research project, because the data I am gathering are individual’s personal stories and this data is not anonymous, I have a duty of care to my participants to ensure that their data is handled and presented in a way which makes them feel comfortable and confident to participate in the project. Since they can withdraw their consent at any point during the research process, it’s essential that I regularly check in with them that they are happy with the work which I am producing. Kara makes this key point, ‘that consent is not an event but a process. Of course, consent is not the only ethical issue in the data-gathering phase. It is essential to treat gatekeepers and participants with care, respect and courtesy throughout, and to look after your own well-being as a researcher’ (page 102).


Kara makes the point that the Euro-Western view on research is shifting to acknowledge the position of indigenous cultures who critique the exploitative nature of research, ‘some Euro-Western commentators are beginning to argue that research should directly benefit participants and other stakeholders as well as researchers’ (page 103). I sincerely hope that my participants don’t believe that I am exploiting them and their personal stories for my research and that by crediting (instead of anonymising) them that they feel like my research is a celebration of their identity. I intend to gift them some of the creative work which I produce during the project as a token of respect and gratitude for their participation.


Kara discusses the work of Sheila Stewart, quoting her own words “I use poetry to enquire into the shifting space of memory because poetry works with fragments, images, the symbolic and unconscious – supporting transformative holistic learning and a knowing. Embodied self” (Stewart 2012: 116-17). Kara adds, ‘For Stewart, this enables work at ‘the edge of knowing’, because poetry has more chance of conveying complexity than prose and comes closer to expressing the inexpressible’ (page 105). I really loved this description of poetry because it is something I have believed for a long time about my song lyrics. Songs can have far fewer words than a speech or passage of text, yet convey so much more meaning, power and impact through the creative manner in which they are constructed. I don’t yet know if I will write lyrics about my intersectional identity project, but it is something I will definitely consider as a tool to reflect on the research findings.


Kara presents different methods of data gathering including interviews and focus groups – both of which I intend to use in my project. ‘Interviews and focus groups are common techniques for gathering data and are useful in many research projects. Interviews can range from highly structured, where all the questions are predetermined, to unstructured’ (page 107). I am planning to deliver one focus group during my project, the main purpose of which is to gain insight and understand into how to deliver the textiles build elements of my project as well as discussing the topic of flags. I want to gain an insight from a diverse group about their relationships to flags, what the symbolism represents to them and how they would creatively respond to the request to make a textile build to represent their identity. Kara discusses an example of a researcher who delivered a similar creative workshop, ‘Dalton began by setting ground rules for each group centring on confidentiality, empathy and equality. She provided a selection of craft materials and asked participants to make models showing their thoughts and opinions about the research topic. Six participants were given 30 minutes to make their models in the group, then each was asked to speak for five minutes. Each focus group lasted for 90 minutes in total, which allowed time for discussion’ (page 109). I really like this approach of giving every participant an opportunity to briefly talk about they have made during the workshop as I believe greater insights will be gained from the ensuing discussion between participants.


The interviews with my 8-10 participants I am planning to conduct by video interview, so that I can use the footage to make a documentary about the project. I want these interviews to be friendly and casual in tone, however they will be structured, as I want to give the interviewees the questions in advance so they can fully consider their responses and what they want to say. Kara writes, ‘Conducting interviews is always a creative process because interviewer and interviewee work together to create meaning (Holloway and Jefferson 2000: 11) A similar claim could be made about focus groups… researchers have creatively enhanced the interviewing process by structuring interviews around other methods of data gathering, such as diaries or photographs created by participants. Interviews can also be enhanced by basing them on other objects such as images or artefacts’ (page 107). I intend to use this technique of inviting participants to bring objects or artefacts to the interviews on which to base the discussion around national symbols, defining “home” and belonging. Kara adds, ‘Personal history and time are potentially useful resources for researchers studying human experience. There are a range of ways in which this can be done… UK researcher Joan Smith… asked participants to tell her about their professional experience and what had influenced their career decisions. This method of interviewing enabled participants to define the factors that had affected their careers for themselves, rather than responding to a researcher’s preconceived ideas’ (page 116). I think framing is a really important thing to consider during my interviews, as I want to give my participants structured questions to consider in advance but I don’t want to limit their responses with my pre-conceptions so I need to be careful that the questions I chose are not restrictive or leading in any way.


Kara explores the issue of maps and how they can be used as a data-gathering tool, ‘maps can include quantitative or qualitative data, or both.’ (page 113). She then details the different types of maps:

·      ‘Thematic maps

·      Topological maps

·      Pictorial maps

·      Choreographic maps

·      Social maps

·      Concept maps

·      Cognitive maps’ (page 113).

I hadn’t really considered using maps in my research project, but given that migration is playing such a big role in the identity of most of my participants, I think it could be a good idea to create a world map of the locations they have lived in during their lives.

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