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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

Chapter 5 – Creative Thinking

Reflections on Creative Research Methods by Helen Kara.


Chapter 5 focuses on the role of creative thinking in research, Kara writes ‘Creative thinking is particularly useful at the start of a project, when all things are possible’ (page 77). I like to have a concrete plan in my creative research, but I always try to approach projects with an open mind so that I can fully explore the potential opportunities to develop my knowledge and produce impactful artwork. Kara adds, ‘Heidegger and Gendlin, promote the idea of ‘unspecialisation’ as a way towards creativity through contemplative openness to new meanings’ (page 79) – this is something I have always believed and why I try to take an interdisciplinary approach to my research.


Kara also discusses cognitive bias, writing ‘we can spot some of the assumptions that we make and the things we take for granted, which can help us to think more creatively’ (page 79). I have been reading books on propaganda, because I want to better understand the political agenda in a lot of my previous work so that I can ‘de-propagandise’ the research work which I conduct for my MA. I am actively trying to be more aware of my cognitive biases, so that I can be more open and inclusive to my research participants and thereby foster greater trust. Equally, Kara writes, ‘Creative thinking is essential in the process of interpretation: to help us to question our own conclusion even as we draw them, to remain open to others’ ideas and to keep searching for new connections’, which emphasises the importance of such openness at all stages of the research project. Kara continues, ‘As researchers, our decisions will be guided by our emotions and the beliefs we hold, unless we do the hard but important cognitive and emotional work to ensure that all our decisions are in accordance with the theoretical framework that we have chosen for our research’ (page 87). It was for this reason that I have written my positionality at the start of my research project to be fully transparent and build trust with potential participants about my beliefs and values which will be embedded in the project. I hope that by taking this approach , it also fosters greater empathy which Kara describes as ‘central to success in creative research. This is acknowledged in terms of aspects such as building rapport with participants’ (page 94). I am ensuring that I have an ongoing dialogue with my research participants, to ensure they are happy with how the project is developing, how their data is being used and the artwork I produce.


Kara explains in depth the process of ‘Reflexivity’ which she says, ‘locates you within your research. This stands in opposition to the conventional view of research as an activity in which the researcher is a neutral presence who simply manipulates variables, with no involvement or disclosure of any personal quality such as emotion (Jewkes 2012: 64)’ (page 95). I hope to practice reflexivity in my project and have deliberately approached the project from a non “neutral” perspective since the project is highly personal to both me and the participants. Kara explains how methodological reflexivity can be delivered by asking the following questions, which I aim to consider throughout my research;


·      ‘How do I define my identity? How does that affect my research practice?

·      What are my values and beliefs, and how are they operating in my research work?

·      What effect has this research had on my relationships with others? What effect, in turn, has this had on the research?’ (page 96)


Kara also explains how ‘a theoretical perspective, drawn from available literature, acts as a lens through which you can focus your investigation… However, it is essential to use a theoretical framework that fits with the study, otherwise the framework may distort your data and findings’ (page 86). This suggestion also resonates with the idea of openness – because a framework which is too rigid, or a poor fit will negatively impact on the potential knowledge gained from the research. Kara adds ‘Arts-based researchers may be resistant to theory, fearing that it could constrain their spontaneity and therefore reduce the value of their work (Smith and Dean 2009: 25). However, artists are well able to ‘explore and explain complex theoretical issues’ that can be significant across disciplinary boundaries (Sullivan 2009:42)’ (page 86). I think that in arts research, a framework can be helpful, especially for interdisciplinary research, but it’s necessary for that framework to be flexible and adaptable and open to different possibilities as the research process develops.


Kara writes, ‘tapping into literature from other disciplines can help you to think more creatively about your own research, because researchers from different disciplines often have different ideas about what is important’ (page 87). ‘Do not restrict your reading to texts from your own discipline or closely related disciplines; literature from other disciplines can open up new possibilities for your own work (Box 5.6)’ (page 88). In my creative research, I am trying to read books which span arts and humanities subjects in order to approach my project from a broader, interdisciplinary understanding.


Kara explains the technique of concept mapping, which I have never tried before. ‘Concept mapping is a structured way of diagramming complex data to show the relationships between ideas in a way that is easy to understand (Windsor 2013)… Concept maps are usually made up of concepts plotted heirarchically, for example, from general to specific, with connections between concepts shown by lines or arrows (Dias 2010: 29)’ (page 84). I wanted to give this technique a go in relation to my own project.

 Finally, Kara writes, ‘there may even be ethical considerations after your research is finished’ (page 78), a valid concern which I think is especially pertinent to my project where the participants data will not be anonymised. How my research participants’ personal stories are disseminated, even after the project has finished, needs careful consideration.

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