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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

Creative Research Methods in Practice (Chapter 2)

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

Kara begins this chapter with a pertinent point regarding the nature of truth - which is often viewed differently by arts and science disciplines. 'The 'truth' in an artwork is not neccessarily experienced in the same way by everyone, so this formulation presents truth as multiple and contestable. Conventionally, in research, 'truth' is a finding that can be replicated if the research is repeated. This depicts truth as a single, shareable and indisputable viewpoint. However, some researchers have been considering that truth may be as complex as artists suggest - multiple, partial, context dependent and contingent - and, so, best explored by 'looking intensely from multiple perspectives' (Sameshima and Vandermause 2009:277)' (page. 23) I was particularly intrigues by this point because the subjective nature of reality is something I have reflected on a lot recently through my work with art collective - Dare to Care who focus on mental health. I wrote a song for an upcoming group exhibition, which includes the lyrics, 'All that really matters/ Is the truth that you can feel/ 'Cause nothing is imagined/ When every thought is real.' The intent of these lyrics is to reflect the subjective nature of an individual's experience, on the other hand, science often tries to find a single 'truth', which is valid from all perspectives. In my MA research project looking at Intersectional Identities, I am specifically focussing on different individuals' experience of society, community and belonging or being othered because of their complex identity - their personal stories are subjective in their nature and therefore one person's 'truth' may directly conflict with another's, nevertheless this doesn't invalidate either person's perspective.

Building on this, Kara writes 'for some researchers, conventional methods may fix and limit meaning in a reductive way, while creative methods can more accurately reflect the multiplicity of meanings that exist in social contexts' (page 26). This very much applies to the research I plan to conduct, I think especially when considering my research participants' perception of colours, symols and flags - which is a key visual part of the research project. A specific flag may have very different connotations for one person compared to another, for example, British people in England may see the Union Flag and feel proud of their country, whereas British people in Scotland who support independence may see the Union Flag and feel anger at the oppression they have experienced under Westminster rule. This multiplicity of meaning is not wrong, it is inherently fascinating and one of the key aspects I want to explore through this research project.

Kara also discusses ethical research methods, 'Transformative research frameworks... are flexible enough to take account of relevant contextual factors. These frameworks are based on and intended to promote positive contextual factors, such as equality and justice. Examples of these creative ethical research frameworks include emancipatory or activist research, feminist research, participatory research and queer research, known collectively as transformative research frameworks (Mertens 2010:472)' (pages 27-28). I decided to start my MA research project information and consent document with a positionality statement because I am not trying to hide the fact that I am activist and my research project aims to promote social justice by fostering dialogue which asks how we can create more inclusive societies.

Kara defines multi-modal research as 'a whole host of different approaches to the research process, which may contain both qualitative and quantitative elements.' (page 33). When discussing multi-modal research, Kara references the research of Joseph Teye which 'identified a number of challenges' (page 37) which I think are always worth being conscious of in any research project. The three challenges which I think are most relevant to my project are;

  • 'choice of sample size: quantitative researchers prefer large samples, while qualitative researchers are happy to work with a few participants in detail' (page 37). As my project is focussed on qualitative reseach, I am intending to work with a small sample - but I want to ensure diversity in the sample, inluding; age, gender, sexuality, race, religion and disability.

  • 'Mission creep: the scope of the research can end up being wider than originally planned, as new information is brought to light that is difficult or impossible to ignore'. (page 37) I particularly love this "challenge" because I see it as an opportunity to learn from the research project - and I sincerely hope that new information and ideas arise through the interviews which may help to broaden and deepen my understanding of intersectional idenitites.

  • 'Resource constraints' (page 37) - which is obviously always going to be an issue when research is self-funded and will be one of the main factors limiting the sample size I work with.

  • 'Difficulty integrating findings' (page 37). This challenge is arguably the one I am most concerned about, I am experienced in conducting interviews but whether I can convert the findings ie. the personal stories or my participants, into a visual outcome is another matter.

Kara goes on to explore the use of technology within research methods 'Technology can be used to support and enhance all stages of the research process... data can be speedily and effectively gathered using a dedicated online program such as SurveyMonkey or by trawling social media platforms such as Twitter or Pinterest. Audio recorders can be used to record data from interviews and focus groups' (page 39). She continues 'Doing research online can seem like a greatidea in certain circumstances. For example, some geographically dispersed communities, such as distance learners and expatriates, come together in online environments.' (page 39). This observation is especially relevant to my previous research project into "Brexiles" which looked precisely at British expats who had left the UK because of Brexit. Due to limited funding and the Covid-19 pandemic, travelling to the 27 EU countries to conduct interviews was not a possibility - instead I conducted the research and interviews online. One of my biggest mistakes in this project was to conduct the interviews by a written form, because some participants sent back 6 pages of answers whereas others replied in single sentences, taking up less than a single page. This proved especially problmatic when it came to editing the book, as the discrepancy in the responses was very stark when the 27 interviews were placed in sequence. I have decided for my MA research project that I want to conduct the interviews in person and using video filming equipment, the reason is two-fold, firstly, to foster a more personal connection and conversational tone during the interviews and secondly, so that I can edit the footage into a documentary overview of the project. Nonetheless, given that my participants are geographically dispersed, it is neccessary to conduct some elemnts of the research through online channels, therefore I am approaching the the research project as hybrid in nature.

I was particularly interested to read the limitations of digital research which Kara then lists;

  • 'Technical skills: the researcher may need a certain level of technical skill, or help from someone who has that level of skill' (page 40).

  • 'Sampling... not everyone has access to online environments' (page 40) - I think this is especially relevant if attempting to achieve age diversity in samples.

  • 'Quality of the data: data gathered online may not be as rich' (page 40) - this was precisely the issue I faced with my Brexiles project and why I am using alternative methods to address the problem.

  • 'researching online text can be challenging because it is subject to change or deletion.... Screenshots can be used to oreserve text from web pages, but they don't enable the use of embedded links' (page 40). I found this point particularly interesting as I hadn't considered the ephemerality of online content before, and it is something I need to bear in mind, since I want to look at some other artists' website who have conducted similar projects focusing on personal stories.

  • 'Dissension in online communities' (page 40) - I am less concerned about this issue as I am focusing on individuals and also trying to work with people with whom I have built a relationship.

In her conclusion to this chapter, Kara writes 'the method(s) you use must flow from your research question, and not the other way around' (page 43). I think this is the most sage piece of advice to remember when approaching a research project as an artist, because authenticity is crucial for both participants and audience/readers to engage and relate to your work.

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