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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

Introducing Creative Research (Chapter 1)

Updated: Dec 13, 2023

I am going through each chapter of 'Creative Research Methods - A Practical Guide' by Helen Kara, in order to reflect on what I have read in the text book and how it will inform my MA research project.

Kara begins the introduction by highlighting how the field of creative research 'has developed and proliferated as researchers seek effective ways to address increasingly complex problems' (page 5). I note the importance of this statement as someone who was schooled in a British education system that increasingly pushes students into narrow areas of knowledge - discouraging the mix of arts and science subjects and peversely forcing children at the 15 (when they choose their A-levels) to decide what they want to do for the rest of their life. I didn't know what I wanted to do at the age of 18, never mind 15 - I was capable in all disciplines and achieved A/A* in nearly all of my GCSEs. Brought up with an international mindset - the world has always seemed complex and constantly evolving - and surely having a diverse skillset at your disposal would better equip you for tackling global issues? At least that was my reasoning when I decided to study the International Baccalaureate (which requires you to study 6 diverse disciplines) instead of A-levels (which narrows your education down to 1-3 disciplines). Unbeknownst to me at the time, this was not the reasoning of UK universities, who disparage the IB as being "too broad" believing that IB students do not study subjects to the same depth as their A-level counterparts and as a result, make unreasonably high demands of IB student's grades compared to A-level students. I still believe that the breadth of understanding provided by the IB, mixing arts education with humanities and sciences, better equips students to tackle the 'complex problems' which Kara refers too - however, I would not advise UK students to study the IB because it disadvantages them in the Hunger Games that are UCAS applications. Still it inspires hope in me that more researchers are acknowledging the benefit of creative thinking in other disciplines, and not exclusively the arts, and incorporating it in their research methods. Kara goes on to explain 'the view of the polymath: that knowledge is worth having, no matter where it originates, and the more diverse someone's knowledge, the more likely they are to be able to identify and implement creative solutions to problems' (page 11) - a perspective which I relate to an a fundamental level.

Kara emphasises that 'creativity in research is not limited to methods of data gathering or dissemination' (page 6), she goes on to explain that writing and reading are also inherently creative processes because all the while you are engaging in these activities you are forming new connections and ideas in your brain. 'Treating different aspects of the research process as seperate makes them easier to consider and discuss, but... this is an artifice; they are inextricably linked' (page 7). I can relate to this a lot, since my working style is to flitter from one activity to another like an ADHD bouncey ball, often half finishing activities and returning to them later when my "head is in the right place". My creative practice is very diverse (drawing, painting, song-writing, costume-making, performing, video editing, etc.) and sometimes it's hard to see how one activity connects to another - but when you look more broadly at my body of work, it's clear to see common themes, values and narratives emerging. I am also very influenced by what I read or see, especially in the media - as much of my activist work has been reactionary - the act of reading a news story often sparks an idea for a piece of protest art and sometimes as I am creating something, I have an idea for how the message I want to convey can be presented differently. So, in my MA Research project proposal looking at 'Intersectional Identities', although I have defined a plan and a vague suggestion of outcomes to send to my research participants, I am trying not to be too prescriptive or rigid in my approach. I don't have to and I shouldn't restrict myself to what is written in the document if an idea or alternative approach seems to make more sense, nevertheless, I think it's useful to have a rough plan to follow so that I don't get stuck or lost along the way. This is especially important since I am intending to work with other people's stories and their input and feedback is invaluable to me, every person I have spoken to about the project has given me new ideas or suggestions which I intend to take on board.

The term 'Intersectional identities' is suitably vague as I didn't want the term to prescribe the individuals who participate in the project - it is precisely the diversity of experiences which I want to capture. Kara writes 'putting people into seperate categories, when scrutinised, often seems not to work as well as it might appear. For example researchers in Asia and the Pacific found that 'the categories of "gatekeeper" and "vulnerable populations" are unstable, complex and often interchangeable' (Czymoniewicz-Klippel et al 2010:339)' (page 17). The main criteria for selecting my research participants is that they are individuals who don't feel like they have a singular indentity, they fit into multiple categories (as a result of migration, gender/sexual diversity, race, faith, disability, etc.) - I am interested in the conflicts of belonging (or not) to multiple communities and how it feels to sit at the intersection of a venn diagram when others try to asign labels to who they are.

Kara makes an interesting distinction, 'creative is not synonymous with innovative' (page 11) and emphasises how existing methods can be used creatively when they are implemented in new contexts. 'Focus groups were first used in the 1940s, and so can hardly be described as 'innovative' today. But there is still scope for creativity within focus group methodology. For example, Belzile and Öberg (2012) draw on a wide body of literature to demonstrate that few researchers using focus groups pay attention to the interactions between participants, with most researchers treating focus group data in the same way as data from individual interviews' (page 11). This insight is particular useful to my MA research proposal as I am planning to conduct video interviews with individuals as well as organising as a textiles workshop which will essentially function as a focus group. This reminder to observe and focus on the relationships between individuals is incredibly important as I am asking participants to explore the issue of collective vs. individual identity through flag-making, the relationships within a community are therefore highly relevant to my research topic. I am hoping that at least one (hopefully more) of the particopants of the individual interviews will be able to also attend the "focus group" textiles workshop, so I will have the opportunity to enagge with them not only on a personal level, but also to see how they interact with others when broaching the topic of intersectional identities.

I decided to include a section with my positionality in the document I am sending to my research participants - the reason for this is that I am not intending to be impartial in my research. So, I found it especially interesting to read Kara's comment that 'although some researchers still value the concept of objectivity, many recognise that, at least in some contexts, this is impossible to achieve... It is questionable whether objectivity can be achieved in any context. We all carry with us biases and prejudices that come into play, whether we are doing fieldwork or writing algorithms, working with poetry or percentages in our research. (page 16). I recently participated in two interviews for a PhD researcher who was looking at the topic of women's activiation in the pro and anti-Brexit campaigns. She had decided that she would look at female campaigners from both sides of the Brexit divide, despite the fact that she herself was the founder of The 3 Million - an organisation which campaigned for EU citizen's rights post Brexit. I found this decision to attempt impartiality in her research curious and was not surprised to hear she was finding it nearly impossible to recruit pro-Brexit campaigners to participate in her research study. Given how prolifically I have disseminated my political views on social media platforms, it would be stupid for me to even feign the pretence that I could be impartial in my research - therefore, I felt that stating my positionality was the strongest way to proceed with my research project. One major benefit of taking this partisan approach is that my research participants will be far more likely to trust me to handle their personal stories with greater sensitivity and respect.

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