I agreed to teach research this fall (2009) since one of faculty members will be gone and decided to call it “research as art and transformation.” I wanted to specifically emphasize a variety of artistic approaches and the possibilities of this research as an intervention in peacebuilding, restorative justice and social change. Then I discovered that ABR had already developed a literature for this.
Arts-based research (in the education field, sometimes called A/R/Tography – artistic/researcher/teacher ethnography) is defined by Shaun McNiff like this:
“Art-based research can be defined as the systematic use of the artistic process, the actual making of artistic expressions in all of the different forms of the arts, as a primary way of understanding and examining experience by both researchers and the people that they involve in their studies.” (Knowles & Cole, Handbook of the Arts in Qualitative Research),
The field incorporates a wide variety of artistic practices. Patricia Leavy’s book Method Meets Art: Arts-Based Research Practice, which I am using as a text, has sections on narrative inquiry, music, poetry, performance, dance and the visual arts. These approaches are used as a form of research itself (by the researcher and/or participants) as well as a way to communicate findings. The field strongly emphasizes holistic involvement of and communication with a broad audience, specifically citing the role of empathy and “resonance.”
A fuller description of this field is beyond the scope of this entry. I do want to note, however, a few of the connections I see between restorative justice and ABR. Both emphasize…
- an holistic approach, drawing upon multiple ways of knowing,
- the role of empathy and interconnections,
- the limits of the “western” paradigm of knowledge,
- the importance of elicitive and contextualized approaches, drawing upon the gifts and insights of participants,
- the complexity and contextual nature of “truth” and the partial nature, at best, of our truths (and thus the need for humility about what we “know”).
- the reality that our work often problematizes “truths” rather than provide pat answers,
- the importance of dialogue as a way of knowing,
- the necessity of developing new benchmarks for evaluation and validation,
- the role of this work in social change, and
- underlying it all, a profound respect for all.