Research as art, transformation and justice

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.
Obviously there is much more to be said.  Stay tuned because I’m sure I will have more to add as I get into the class and think about future possibilities.
Update: Those who read the entry, “Good intentions are not enough,” may be interested in the gallery of photos from Eastern State Penitentiary that I recently added to my photo website