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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

Arts-based and embodied presentation – chapter 12

Reflections on chapter 11 of 'Creative Research Methods' by Helen Kara

Whenever I attempt to read, I not only have to fight my Dyslexic brain sliding its way out of concentrating, but also this little attention-demanding raggamuffin.

This chapter was interesting for me to read, as an artist and performer - I’m not sure I’ve ever presented my creative research in the conventional / traditional academic settings which Kara describes.


Kara begins with a semantic observation which although obvious, I had never thought about; ‘Presentation is a form of dissemination, but usually requires the researcher to be present, while on the whole dissemination happens through media that people can access independently, ranging from academic journals to art exhibition and websites’ (page 187). Of course, you must be present in order to present and therefore presentation is an inherently embodied and multi-sensory act, which opens the doors to a huge variety of performative deliveries. ‘Luckily there are many creative ways to make research presentations more engaging through visual, performative and other arts-based techniques (Gergen and Gergen 2012: 12, 25-6). These alternative methods of presentation include; spoken word, poetry, song, theatre or as Kara explains, ‘In the UK some researchers are even presenting their work through stand-up comedy … Batty and Taylor (2019: 390) encapsulate this option: The tools of comedy can be used to draw attention to theories, ideas and contexts; to critique and offer alternative readings and positions, and to make audiences/readers think about their own knowledge, including where it originates’ (page 196). If satire can be used to communicate meaning I art, why not comedy in presentation of research? Kara emphasises that, ‘these methods can be demanding, because they not only need to be based on good-quality research but also to demonstrate good artistic qualities (Saldaña 2016: 32). This means that researchers must have either the skills necessary to work with these methods or the ability to employ people with those skills’ (page 196). However, I think this book is geared towards traditional researchers who want to take a more creative approach, rather than for artists, whose problem is more likely to be the ‘good-quality research’ and not the artistic qualities of the presentation.


Kara emphasises that, ‘an ethical presentation of research data is a presentation that gives the audience the best chance of understanding and remembering the information you wish to convey’ (page 191) – this places a responsibility on the researcher to choose an effective method of communication for their audience. Kara adds that presentation is ‘a story we tell – but, if it is a good story; it will engage, instruct and entertain. And I would argue that it is unethical to tell poor-quality stories: it does no justice to our participants and wastes the time of our audiences’ (page 191).  For this reason, Kara also encourages researchers to consider their audience when creating a presentation;

·      ‘What is the audience’s demographic profile? Consider factors such as: age range, status (whether professional, community or other), gender balance, ethnicities.

·      Are there cultural factors that you should take into account?

·      What emotional response(s) to your findings do you anticipate? Will your audience be interested, bored, hostile, welcoming? Or a mixture of these?

·      How attentive do you think your audience will be? Are they likely to be riveted by your fascinating findings? Or distracted by hunger, their smartphones or other preoccupations?’ (page 188).


Kara writes about how ‘Conventionally, research has been presented in written or spoken prose. The convention is that, to do this well, you should tell an understandable story with a clear narrative arc. However, presenting research in this way can occlude much of the complexity and messiness of the research process. Researchers in the arts and humanities have been experimenting with ways to convey more of the multifaceted totality of the research experience to their audiences’ (page 195). I think that artists, especially performance artists, are natural story tellers and consider elements such as scene-setting, characterisation, plot and linguistic devices such as metaphor when presenting their insights or knowledge. Kara adds, ‘as stories are economical ways to communicate experience, ideas and emotions, and effective in making sense of complexity, they are particularly valuable at times of information overload (Gabriel and Connell 2010: 507)’ (page 191). As I know well, in a “conventional” setting, such as a conference or a forum - a performance, such as a story, poem or a song, can work really well to “disrupt” the monotonous talking-heads and re-engage the audience’s attention.


Kara considers the ethical dimensions of presentation especially regarding research which involves participant’s personal stories or information – which I am planning to do in my research project. She emphasises, ‘in every aspect of research we need to care for our participants’ confidentiality and anonymity. This can cause particular difficulties for the presentation of research’ (page 188). ‘However, some participants want to be seen in research presentations, which may conflict with the researcher’s tenet that their anonymity should always be preserved (Wiles et al 2012:45). Where participants want to be shown and heard, researchers have a responsibility to accept and work with this, albeit with an eye to safeguarding and the minimisation of harm (Wiles et al 2012: 45-6)’ (page 189). Since my research project is prioritising recognition over anonymity, I am seeking out participants who consent for their stories and personal information to be shared without the need for anonymity. However, as Kara explains, ‘it is important to remember that ‘Reframing our participants’ words within our theoretical frames benefits us far more than them, and may even serve to harm participants’ (Ellingson 2009: 37) - so I need to be cautious at the presentation stage and I am therefore consulting my participants before publication or presentation of any outputs to ensure their ongoing consent. ‘It helps if researchers can remain reflexively aware of the details they choose to include or to leave out, and of the consequences of their decisions (Ellingson 2009; 39; Pickering and Kara 2017: 308)’ (page 191).


Kara gives examples of other presentation methods, ‘some … are specifically designed to be ethical. One example is ethnodrama, a form of theatre based on research data (Saldaña 2016:13) and that is designed to highlight (in)justice and provoke action. There has long been a link between theatre and activism/social justice movements, such as through the work of Ernesto Boal in the 1970s, who used drama performances in public places to support political resistance, inviting people who found themselves spectating to take part in the drama and so breaking down the barrier between ‘performers’ and ‘audience’ (Gergen and Gergen 2012: 162). Gergen and Gergen have called for performative work to be a ‘center of social critique and political action’ (Gergen and Gergen 2012:37)’ (page 190). Three of my project participants work in this area, producing or supporting theatre to highlight social injustice and provoke action, and I have invited them to respond to my visual outputs in a performative way, so as to make the project more collaborative and empowering to the participants.


Kara adds a warning which I need to bear in mind – especially given the number of trolls lurking around my social media accounts where I intend to share some of the project outputs, ‘it is also important to remember that arts-based presentation carries risks of unwanted exposure and consequent loss of privacy or dignity for participants, and misunderstanding or distortion of conceptual work for researchers (Manhas and Oberle 2015: 47) Researchers need to take steps to negate these potential harms (Manhas and Oberle 2015:47)’ (page 191). In addition to checking consent for publication of any material with my participants, I also need to consult with them on how visible they want to be on any given platform – for example, would they want their account to be tagged or their website to be linked in the post caption?


Some other presentation methods which Kara suggest which may be relevant but I haven’t explored, include; ‘the ‘culturegram’ used by autoethnographers to display the different facets of their own identity, with categories such as gender, ethnicity, race, nationality, religion and so on (Chang 2008: 97-8)’ (page 194) and ‘collage is a particularly powerful method of acknowledging ambiguity and multiple perspectives, as well as non-linear and multi-sensory dimensions, in the presentation of research (Powell 2010: 543)’ (page 194).


Kara’s conclusion encourages researchers to break free of ‘conventional forms’ and ‘find methods of presentation that will do as much justice as possible to each individual piece of research. This offers considerable scope for creativity’ (page 195).

And this is why I can't borrow books from the library...

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