Thinking about arts-based approaches in research

Last week, I attended a talk by Kitrina Douglas on campus (at the University of Birmingham). Kitrina was talking about how we can embrace the potential of arts-based approaches within the social sciences, which is also what we are trying to find our way around with the Stories of Change project.

Kitrina performed a song and theatre piece that she had written as part of one of her recent project in which she worked with sick, injured and wounded soldiers who attend adaptive sport and adventurous training courses. The piece told the story of Luke, who unlike others, didn’t get on at the course and wasn’t interested in taking part in sport. Kitrina’s question to us was “how do we, as researchers, allow non mainstream voices to be heard?” The performance was powerful and moving. It was interesting to find out in the conversation afterwards that the text was 90% word-to-word from the transcript of the interviews with Luke. Kitrina explained how she had gone back to Luke with the writing that she had done and that he had opportunities to give her some feedback, although unfortunately we didn’t have time to talk about the role of Kitrina in editing and choosing the words of Luke that would be included – something that we have been thinking about in terms of the lengthy interviews that we may do and how we are going to share them in edited versions.

There was a lot to talk about after the talk, from creating impact in a different way to what the academy might expect, to seeking validation of the research from participants and carrying on relationships beyond the lifetime of a research project. One particular aspect of arts-based approaches was raised, which is how do we negotiate artistic creations in the social sciences? What language do we, as researchers, use to talk about art? How do we understand the purpose of a piece of art? Although the audience seemed to agree that artistic methods can help us to understand people’s lives differently, we didn’t have time to explore those questions further. We’ll just have to bear it in mind as our own project progresses and we collaborate more and more with artists.

Some of Kitrina’s work is available on youtube, and I know she welcomes comments! Talk a look at those:


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