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Kelly Akerman Teresa Luciani

University of Toronto Independent Scholar
Leah Burns Maura McIntyre
University of Toronto University of Toronto
Nancy Davis Halifax Lina Medaglia
York University George Brown College
Elizabeth de Freitas Sara Promislow
Adelphi University Independent Scholar
Douglas Gosse Stephanie Springgay
Nipissing University Pennsylvania State University
Esther Ignagni Suzanne Thomas
Ryerson University University of Prince Edward Island
Dorothy Lichtblau
University of Toronto


Michael V. Angrosino Jim Mienczakowski

University of South Florida Victoria University
Deborah Barndt Lorri Neilsen
York University Mount Saint Vincent University
Thomas Barone Nicholas B. Paley
Arizona State University George Washington University
Kathryn Church Jon Prosser
Ryerson University University of Leeds
Norman Denzin Patrick Slattery
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Texas A&M University
Rita Irwin Sandra Weber
University of British Columbia Concordia University
Carl Leggo
University of British Columbia
Copyright © 2008 by Sage Publications, Inc.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Knowles, J. Gary, 1947-

Handbook of the arts in qualitative research: Perspectives, methodologies, examples, and issues/
J. Gary Knowles, Ardra L. Cole.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4129-0531-2 (cloth)
1. Social sciences—Research. 2. Humanities—Research. I. Cole, Ardra L. II. Title.

H62.K6275 2008
300.72—dc22 2007021783

Printed on acid-free paper

07 08 09 10 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Acquiring Editor: Lisa Cuevas Shaw and Vicki Knight

Associate Editor: Sean Connelly
Editorial Assistant: Lauren Habib
Production Editor: Sarah K. Quesenberry
Copy Editor: Teresa Wilson
Proofreader: Dennis Webb
Indexer: Wendy Allex
Typesetter: C&M Digitals (P) Ltd.
Marketing Manager: Stephanie Adams
Cover Designer: Bryan Fishman

Preface xi

Acknowledgments xv

Chapter 1. Art and Knowledge 3
Elliot Eisner

Chapter 2. The Art of Indigenous Knowledge:

A Million Porcupines Crying in the Dark 13
Thomas King


Chapter 3. Art-Based Research 29
Shaun McNiff

Chapter 4. Visual Images in Research 41

Sandra Weber

Chapter 5. Arts-Informed Research 55

Ardra L. Cole and J. Gary Knowles

Chapter 6. Arts-Based Research 71

Susan Finley
Chapter 7. A/R/Tographers and Living Inquiry 83
Stephanie Springgay, Rita L. Irwin, and Sylvia Kind

Chapter 8. Lyric Inquiry 93

Lorri Neilsen


Literary Forms
Chapter 9. Creative Nonfiction and Social Research 105
Tom Barone

Chapter 10. Interpretive Biography 117

Norman K. Denzin

Chapter 11. Wording Pictures: Discovering Heartful Autoethnography 127

Karen Scott-Hoy and Carolyn Ellis

Chapter 12. Métissage: A Research Praxis 141

Cynthia Chambers and Erika Hasebe-Ludt with Dwayne Donald,
Wanda Hurren, Carl Leggo, and Antoinette Oberg

Chapter 13. Writing as Theory: In Defense of Fiction 155

Stephen Banks

Chapter 14. Astonishing Silence: Knowing in Poetry 165

Carl Leggo

Chapter 15. Dance, Choreography, and Social Science Research 175
Donald Blumenfeld-Jones

Chapter 16. Performative Inquiry: Embodiment and Its Challenges 185

Ronald J. Pelias

Chapter 17. Ethnodrama and Ethnotheatre 195

Johnny Saldaña

Chapter 18. Readers’ Theater as a Data Display Strategy 209

Robert Donmoyer and June Yennie Donmoyer

Chapter 19. The Music Lesson 225

Liora Bresler
Visual Art
Chapter 20. Painting as Research: Create and Critique 239
Graeme Sullivan

Chapter 21. Photographs and/as Social Documentary 251

Claudia Mitchell and Susan Allnutt

Chapter 22. Collage as Inquiry 265

Lynn Butler-Kisber

Chapter 23. Textu(r)al Walking/Writing Through Sculpture 277

Alex F. de Cosson

Chapter 24. Installation Art-as-Research 287

Ardra L. Cole and Maura McIntyre

New Media
Chapter 25. Digital Content: Video as Research 299
Janice Rahn

Chapter 26. Blogs 313

Robert Runte

Chapter 27. Zines: Individual to Community 323

Troy R. Lovata

Chapter 28. Radio in/for Research: Creating Knowledge Waves 337

Christine McKenzie

Folk Art and Popular Art Forms

Chapter 29. Touching Minds and Hearts: Community Arts
as Collaborative Research 351
Deborah Barndt

Chapter 30. Quilts 363

Helen K. Ball


Chapter 31. An Indigenous Storywork Methodology 371
Jo-ann Archibald (Q’um Q’um Xiiem)

Chapter 32. Literacy Genres: Housecleaning––A Work With Theoretical Notes 385
Lorri Neilsen
Chapter 33. From Research Analysis to Performance: The Choreographic Process 397
Mary Beth Cancienne

Chapter 34. Image-Based Educational Research: Childlike Perspectives 407

Jon Prosser and Catherine Burke

Chapter 35. Exhibiting as Inquiry: Travels of an Accidental Curator 421

Kathryn Church

Chapter 36. No Style, No Composition, No Judgment 435

Janice Jipson and Nicholas Paley


Chapter 37. Performing Data With Notions of Responsibility 451
Jim Mienczakowski and Teresa Moore

Chapter 38. Ethical Issues and Issues of Ethics 459

Christina Sinding, Ross Gray, and Jeff Nisker

Chapter 39. Interrogating Reflexivity: Art, Research, and the Desire for Presence 469
Elizabeth de Freitas

Chapter 40. Art and Experience: Lessons From Dewey and Hawkins 477
Valerie J. Janesick

Chapter 41. Going Public With Arts-Inspired Social Research: Issues of Audience 485
Tom Barone

Chapter 42. Between Scholarship and Art: Dramaturgy and Quality in

Arts-Related Research 493
Kelli Jo Kerry-Moran

Chapter 43. Money Worries: Tackling the Challenges of Funding

Arts-Related Research 503
Ross Gray and Ardra L. Cole

Chapter 44. Using an Arts Methodology to Create a Thesis or Dissertation 511

J. Gary Knowles and Sara Promislow


Chapter 45. Anthropology: Ethnography and the Book That Was Lost 529
Ruth Behar
Chapter 46. Psychology: Knowing the Self Through Arts 545
Graham E. Higgs

Chapter 47. Women’s Studies and Arts-Informed Research:

Some Australian Examples 557
Lekkie Hopkins

Chapter 48. A History of the Arts in Educational Research:

A Postmodern Guide for Readers-Flâneurs 569
Christine van Halen-Faber and C. T. Patrick Diamond

Chapter 49. Social Work and the Arts: Critical Imagination 591
Adrienne Chambon

Chapter 50. Nursing Research and the Transformative Value of Art 603
Vangie Bergum and Dianne Godkin

Chapter 51. Health-Policy Research and the Possibilities of Theater 613

Jeff Nisker

Chapter 52. Disability Studies and the Ties and Tensions With
Arts-Informed Inquiry: One More Reason to Look Away? 625
Esther Ignagni and Kathryn Church

Chapter 53. Business Studies: Vivifying Data and Experience

Through Artful Approaches 639
Laura Brearley and Lotte Darsø

Chapter 54. Sport and Physical Education: Embracing

New Forms of Representation 653
Andrew C. Sparkes

About the Authors 665

About the Contributors 667

Index 681

T he Handbook of the Arts in Qualitative Research is witness to the

power of the arts in the lives and knowledge development of humans
in a changing world of scholarship and research. The Handbook repre-
sents an unfolding and expanding orientation to qualitative social
science research that draws inspiration, concepts, processes, and repre-
sentational forms from the arts, broadly defined. The Handbook is
designed as an exploration into a range of alternative researching pos-
sibilities that fuse the creative and imaginative possibilities of the arts
with social science research. It is intended to provide a context, inspira-
tion, and structure to facilitate new and experienced scholars’ inquiries
into elements or aspects of research methods appropriate to their cur-
rent and future work.
The contents of the Handbook acknowledge the breadth of scholar-
ship and burgeoning practice within a range of academic disciplines and
contexts where the arts influence researching. At the same time it tells
many stories about the way the arts frame and influence the inquiry the-
ories and practices of renowned and emerging scholars. The contribut-
ing authors tell stories of engagement with the arts. Each, in her or his
own way, evidences a history of learning from the arts, gaining inspira-
tion from the arts, and/or a longstanding grounding and involvement in
the arts. All of the authors proclaim the power of the arts for enhanc-
ing social science research. These authors give evidence of the move-
ment of the arts into many, perhaps most (if not all), social science
disciplines. Although not all disciplines are represented in the Handbook
(and this has much to do with space limitations), it is difficult not to
overlook the prevalence of the arts in human enterprise for making
sense of the human condition and the surrounding world.

◆ xi
xii–––◆–––Handbook of the Arts in Qualitative Research

As editors of the Handbook, our para- research involving the arts more available
mount objective is to provide an accessible to emerging and established social science
and stimulating collection of theoretical argu- researchers. In this way the Handbook is
ments and illustrative examples that delin- encyclopedic although not an encyclopedia;
eate the role of the arts in qualitative social it is comprehensive but not all encompass-
science research. So it is that the Handbook ing. It brings together, under one umbrella,
addresses many nuances and possibilities for as it were, a range of expressions of the arts
infusing the arts into qualitative research as in research. It serves as a reference point and
an alternative paradigm orientation and marker for the development of alternative
practice. Given the heightened interest in the methodologies while providing points of
possibilities of the arts for influencing quali- reference regarding specific orientations and
tative social science research (especially as practices.
voiced by advanced graduate students and The Handbook is an acknowledgment
emerging scholars), a burgeoning body of that social science research involving the
work, and a sufficiently nuanced group of arts is an emerging, expanding research
international scholars who address matters genre. There is much evidence of the appro-
of the arts in social science research, the pub- priateness and, indeed, the acceptance of
lication of the Handbook is timely. this approach to research within scholarly
The many fusions of the arts and qualita- literature and professional organizations
tive inquiry are changing the face of social across academic disciplines of the humani-
science research, opening possibilities for ties and social sciences, including health
alternative perspectives, modes, media, and sciences and other applied disciplines. As a
genres through which to understand and community of researchers, we are engaged
represent the human condition. The produc- in “efforts to map an intermediate space we
tive fusions and tensions among qualitative can’t quite define yet, a borderland between
inquiry and the literary, fine, applied, per- passion and intellect, analysis and subjectiv-
forming, and media arts give rise to redefini- ity, ethnography and autobiography, art
tions of research form and representation as and life” (Behar, 1996, p. 174), and this
well as new understandings of process, spirit, represents both an exciting possibility and
purpose, subjectivities, emotion, respon- a challenge.
siveness, and ethical dimensions of inquiry. Given the burgeoning presence of the
Scholars use multiple ways to advance arts in research over the past two decades,
knowledge. They use, for example, the lan- it is safe to say that arts-related methodolo-
guage, genres, and orientations of fiction, gies can be considered a milestone in the
poetry, theatre/drama, and visual arts, includ- evolution of qualitative research method-
ing installation, film, and video. Communi- ologies. Those of us, including all the Hand-
ties of scholars articulate and engage in, for book authors, who have been involved in
instance, arts-based research, arts-informed charting new methodological territory have
research, image-based research, A/R/Tography, much to be pleased about by the place the
and community-based activist art, to name arts has earned in contemporary research.
some perspectives. The Handbook brings Markers such as new online and print jour-
together a unique group of scholars for the nals as well as theme issues of established
purposes of putting forward this range of journals, conferences involving and featur-
perspectives. Through the Handbook our ing the arts in research, book publications,
purpose is to advance the field of qualitative conference sessions, and so on, all strongly
methodologies and make alternative paradigm suggest that arts-related approaches have

found a place on the qualitative research These, in fact, were the challenges given to
map. The publication of this Handbook is the contributing authors.
another significant marker. We see this vol- As a way of guiding contributing authors,
ume as a beginning. several questions were posed for the purposes
Like all publications, this one reflects the of framing and shaping the development
temporal boundaries within which it was of their contributions to and, ultimately, the
written and compiled. The process of locat- arrangement of the Handbook. These exact
ing contributing authors was often convo- same questions may also be aids to reading
luted but members of the two advisory the Handbook:
boards aided us. Although we intended to
have a greater geographical spread of authors • Why and how do art and research
from beyond North America, that was not come together to advance knowledge?
possible, especially given the production • What are some of the many and var-
schedule constraints. The possibilities of ied roles for the arts in social science
and for the arts in research are limited only research?
by the human imagination and commit-
ment to pursue knowledge and knowing in • What do art-research methodologies
its many forms. We trust that readers will look like in practice?
engage with the works presented herein as • What is the place of the arts in various
members of a community of scholars who social science research contexts?
are provoked by and committed to the pos-
sibilities of the arts to reenchant (Gablik, • What is the relationship of arts-related
1991) research. research to other forms of research-
For readers the focus of the Handbook ing? . . . to the arts?
encourages a critical examination of the • What are features and characteristics
research process with a view to informing of the various methodologies and gen-
alternative scholarly perspectives and prac- res of social science art-research?
tices that draw on orientations, processes,
and forms of the arts. Throughout, and • How is the quality of alternative genre
within the many contributed chapters, the research judged or determined?
goal (sometimes foregrounded, sometimes • What are some key issues and challenges
backgrounded) is on: surrounding the bringing together of art
and social science research?
• defining and exploring the role(s) of
the arts in qualitative social science At first glance, readers of the Handbook
research; are likely to note its relatively conventional
• understanding the relationship between form. Like most academic print publica-
processes and representational forms of tions, this one is also constrained by the
the arts and processes and representa- conventions of print media and, unfortu-
tional forms of research; nately, by costs associated with straying too
far from those conventions. In an attempt
• exploring features and qualities of
to address some of the limitations of print
research that is informed by or based
media for presenting many of the art forms
in the arts, and related issues; and
and ideas represented in this volume, Sage
• articulating challenges inherent in generously agreed to mount a Web site
these alternative methodologies. accompaniment to the Handbook. Although
xiv–––◆–––Handbook of the Arts in Qualitative Research

each chapter in the Handbook stands alone, ♦ References

many of the chapter authors make reference
to supplemental material contained on the
Behar, R. (1996). The vulnerable observer:
Web site. These references are clearly marked
Anthropology that breaks your heart.
within the text of the relevant chapters. We Boston: Beacon Press.
invite readers to enhance their engagement Gablik, S. (1991). Introduction: Changing
with the ideas and materials presented in paradigms, breaking the cultural trance.
these chapters by spending time at the Web In S. Gablik, The reenchantment of art
site ( (pp. 1–12). London: Thames and Hudson.

T he Handbook of the Arts in Qualitative Research is a community

project, one centered on the work of scholars committed to artic-
ulating the place of the arts in researching. Those who have contributed
chapters constitute one element of the community of researchers who
believe in the power and potential of the arts to inform qualitative
research. The community involves many others, however.
In some ways the heart of the community is best represented by
our emerging scholar colleagues who, especially during their graduate
school years, urged us to be true to ourselves and prodded and tugged
at the more comfortable boundaries of traditional modes and orienta-
tions to qualitative social science research. Many were associated with
the Centre for Arts-Informed Research at the Ontario Institute for
Studies in Education of the University of Toronto and, within this cir-
cle of faculty and student associates, many of our notions about the arts
in qualitative social science research were developed. These new schol-
ars, who also participated in our qualitative and arts-informed research
courses at the University of Toronto (as well as those graduate students
at Mount Saint Vincent University, Saint Francis Xavier University, and
the University of British Columbia, where we taught summer courses),
asked hard questions about boundaries and constraints, about possibil-
ities and pitfalls of infusing the arts into research. They voiced their
wonderings about the facility of conventional methodologies to ade-
quately portray the human condition. Many brought with them into
our classrooms and the dissertation/thesis supervision process an array
of experience and groundings in the arts. They were not afraid to criti-
cize the bifurcation of knowledge development and everyday life. More
holistic perspectives on knowledge generation, on how humans come to

◆ xv
xvi–––◆–––Handbook of the Arts in Qualitative Research

know/inquire, were at the heart of the project. Their names and affiliations are
thinking of this new generation of scholars. listed on page ii.
They dared to produce graduate research Both advisory boards helped us identify
that pushed the boundaries of qualitative many of the contributing authors; others
research, and their influence was, and con- we learned about through a rhizomatic
tinues to be, considerable. process. Unfortunately, potential contribu-
Many of these graduate students (and tors continued to pop up long past the time
others) moved on to become professors in when we had completed our list, and we
institutions scattered over North America, were not able to include them. To these
and some of them are represented in the scholars we publicly extend our regrets. All
Emerging Scholar Advisory Board. Given of the authors we approached were enthu-
that we also saw a key audience for the siastic about the project, and some, working
Handbook to rest in this population, we in relative isolation from like-minded schol-
thought it entirely fitting for the develop- ars, were surprised at the vibrancy of the
ment of the Handbook that we be guided by broader field and the range of disciplines
both relatively new, emerging scholars and drawing on the arts to enhance qualitative
those who are more senior, established, and researching theory and practices. We hope
well recognized in the field. The former group, that the Handbook project served to create
individually and collectively, worked tirelessly a sense of affiliation, encouragement, and
in guiding the project and reviewing manu- inspiration for those authors in particular.
scripts. Their names and affiliations are listed The initial submission and revision processes
on page ii. were demanding and, we expect, at times,
We also are grateful for the significant, tedious; we thank authors for their patience,
formative contributions of the Interna- good will, and timely completions.
tional Advisory Board members. Some of Ninety-seven reviewers (comprising
them supported the initial Handbook pro- members of both advisory boards in addi-
posal through critiques and reviews at the tion to scholars nominated by contributing
time of its presentation to Lisa Cuevas authors and ourselves) helped us provide
Shaw at Sage Publications. Moreover, detailed commentaries that encouraged and
many of these individuals have been col- guided chapter authors. Chapter contribu-
leagues over the last decade and a half, our tions were reviewed by from two to five
lives often converging at doctoral examina- scholars besides us. The reviewers’ names
tions, academic conferences, related schol- are listed at the end of this section, and this
arly events, publications, or in the virtual project could not have come to fruition
world. We are privileged to have shaped without their close work. We are indebted
the field together through our acts of teach- to them. In addition, emerging scholars
ing, research supervision, and discourse. associated with the Centre for Arts-
Many members of this senior advisory board Informed Research aided in making sense
contributed a chapter to the Handbook, of the reviews and resulting revisions.
and most made multiple, insightful reviews Particular thanks go to Tracy Luciani for
of chapter manuscripts that helped forge helping us organize the reviews in readiness
this collection into its current shape. They for authors, and to Dorothy Lichtblau,
come from a variety of academic disciplines Indrani Margolin, and Mary Rykov for
and have made strong statements within helping us respond to chapter revisions.
their respective communities. The Handbook The saying “The devil’s in the details”
is stamped with their commitment to the crops up often toward the end of a project

like this. Thanks to the keen eye, diligence, left Sage and put us in the very capable
technical facility, and commitment of Sara hands of Sean Connelly. Assuming a large
Promislow (an artist-researcher herself and project like this at midpoint is not easy;
member of the Emerging Scholar Advisory however, Sean stepped in and guided us the
Board), we were able to bring the Handbook rest of the way with confidence, patience,
to completion. and good humor. Sarah Quesenberry and
There are others who facilitated this pro- Teresa Wilson and the rest of the Sage edit-
ject. Lisa Cuevas Shaw, acquisitions editor ing and production team have been fabu-
(Research Methods and Evaluation) at Sage lous to work with. Our sincere appreciation
Publications, recognized its potential and to everyone at Sage who had a hand in
unwaveringly supported the project from bringing the Handbook to fruition.
the point at which it was merely a kernel of Our hope is that the Handbook of the
an idea. Her calmness and patience amid Arts in Qualitative Research will serve as a
the whirl of manuscript preparation is vehicle to inspire, challenge, support, inform,
much appreciated. Thanks to Lisa also for and complement the qualitative research of
facilitating a smooth transition when she well-established and emerging scholars alike.
xviii–––◆–––Handbook of the Arts in Qualitative Research

S age Publications gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

Sharon Abbey Carolyn Kenny

Kelly Akerman Dorothy Kidd
Michael Angrosino Jean L. Konzal
Laura Apol Carl Leggo
Carl Bagley Shawn Lennie
Deborah Barndt Dorothy Lichtblau
Tom Barone Lesa Lockford
Margaret Barrett Daria Loi
Donald Blumenfeld-Jones Teresa C. Luciani
Victoria Bowman Abbyann Lynch
John M. Budd Brenda McConnell Gladstone
James Burns Anne McCrary Sullivan
Leah Burns Maura McIntyre
Melisa Cahnmann Cathy Malchiodi
Greg Cajete Indrani Margolin
Mary Beth Cancienne Lina Medaglia
Deborah Ceglowski Jim Mienczakowski
Kathryn Church Terry Mitchell
Darlene Clover Matt Myer
Chris Cocoluzzi Allan Neilsen
Nancy Cooley Lorri Neilsen
Alexis Cutcher Joe Norris
Elizabeth de Freitas Nicholas Paley
Nancy Davis Halifax Susan Paterson
C. T. Patrick Diamond Lynette Plett
Tim Diamond Sara Promislow
Mary Doll Laurel Richardson
Robyn Ewing Lena Richardson
Kathleen Fitzgerald Robert Rinehart
David J. Flinders Carole Roy
Arthur Frank Robert Runte
Charles Garoian Mary Rykov
Pariss Garramone Johnny Saldaña
Robyn Gibson Pauline Sameshima
Douglas Gosse James Sanders
Lenore Hervey Brooke Shannon
Lekkie Hopkins Margaret Shone
Marianne Hulsbosch Moneca Sinclaire
Esther Ignagni Christina Sinding
Rita Irwin Patrick Slattery
Barbara Jago Celeste Snowber
Allan H. Jones Stephanie Springgay

Andrew Stubbs Christine van Halen-Faber

Jennifer Sumsion Jon Wagner
Steve Taylor Rob Walker
Suzanne Thomas Sandra Weber
Tanya Titchkowsky Bob Willard
P. Bruce Uhrmacher Natalie Zur Nedden
Cheryl van Daalen-Smith
We dedicate this Handbook to Elliot Eisner for his
inspiring leadership and scholarship, his lifelong
commitment to art, and his visionary advocacy for the
place of art in research.


A cknowledging art’s place in qualitative research methodologies

is, for some, long overdue—the argument unassailable, a “no-
brainer.” For others, the union of art and research is nothing short of
paradoxical. Regardless, the alliance cannot be taken lightly. To wel-
come the arts into social science research, not as a subject or object of
study but as a mode of inquiry, requires deep consideration. Seeing
methodology through an artful eye reflects a way of being in the world
as a researcher that is paradigmatically different from other ways of
thinking about and designing research. And, as with any other signifi-
cant undertaking, it behooves researchers to understand the many levels
and implications of such a methodological commitment. Drawing from
linguistic analysis we argue that understanding the deep structure of
any methodology is a necessary starting point.
We begin the Handbook, therefore, by plumbing the very depths of
methodological consideration—what it means to know. The two open-
ing chapters provide a historical and epistemological context for explor-
ing the relationship between the arts and knowledge. The authors
illustrate and analyze the role of culture in shaping paradigmatic per-
spectives, and problematize the role of Western culture, in particular,
in privileging into dominance a paradigm that has served as dictator
over the production of scholarship, sanctioning what counts as knowl-
edge and subjugating alternative perspectives. Taken together, the
chapters provide a foundation for considering art, in its many forms,
as a way of knowing, and knowing, in its many forms, as an art.

• Art and Knowledge, Elliot Eisner

• The Art of Indigenous Knowledge: A Million Porcupines Crying in
the Dark, Thomas King
◆ 1

 Elliot Eisner

T he idea that art can be regarded as a form of knowledge does not

have a secure history in contemporary philosophical thought. The
arts traditionally have been regarded as ornamental or emotional in
character. Their connection to epistemological issues, at least in the
modern day, has not been a strong one. Are the arts merely ornamental
aspects of human production and experience or do they have a more
significant role to play in enlarging human understanding?
The positivist tradition that has animated western philosophy during
the first half of the 20th century viewed the arts as largely emotive
rather than primarily informative. The arts are forms that you enjoyed,
or felt strongly about, or savored for their delicacy. They had little to
do with matters of knowledge. For knowledge of the empirical world
you rely upon synthetic propositions whose truth value can be deter-
mined. And if you needed to know something about logical relation-
ships, analytic propositions were the sources of data you would manage
or manipulate (Ayer, 1952).
Part of the reason for the separation of the arts from matters episte-
mological pertains to the belief, a true one I would argue, that the arts
are largely forms that generate emotion. We seek out the arts in order
to take a ride on the wings that art forms provide: The arts are ways to

◆ 3

get a natural high. This high is secured contingencies. What are the local circum-
largely through our sensory response to the stances that need to be addressed if one was
way sound is arranged, as in music; to the to work effectively or act intelligently with
way colors are composed, as in visual art; respect to a particular state of affairs? The
to the ways in which the movement of a productive form of knowledge was knowl-
human body excites us as we experience edge of how to make something. How can
its motion in time and space, as in dance. this table be fashioned? How can this sculp-
The sensory side of human experience is ture be shaped?
primary in the arts, or so it is believed. Plato In differentiating types of knowledge,
himself regarded the senses as impediments Aristotle comes closer than Plato to the kind
to the achievement of that exalted state in of artistry that is relevant to arts-informed
which forms could be known (Plato, 1992). qualitative research. With Aristotle, we get
The weights and chains of the prisoners an effort to draw distinctions in the service of
incarcerated in Plato’s caves were really conceptual clarity. This aim is wholly con-
surrogates or proxies for the distractions gruent with current efforts to make distinc-
that our senses imposed upon whatever our tions between types of research, even to
rational mind could possibly muster. Put redefine the meanings of research so that
most simply, the sensory systems that were they are no longer singular, but multiple.
stimulated through the arts were mislead- Research differs in the ways in which it is
ing; they lead one away rather than toward conducted and in the products that it yields.
that form of critical rationality upon which What one needs to research in a situation
truth depends. must be appropriate for the circumstances
Plato’s ideas about mind, knowledge, one addresses and the aims one attempts
and rationality are much more than ancient to achieve. Such an aspiration acknowledges
history. The model that they have provided differences in the levels of precision that are
has impacted our conception of intelligence achievable. Aristotle cautions us that an edu-
and of rationality itself. It is not surprising, cated man expects only as much precision as
therefore, that it should have provided the the subject matter will admit. It is as foolish
model that has shaped our conception of to seek approximations from mathemati-
science. That mathematics has been regarded cians as exactitudes from poets (McKeon,
as the queen of the sciences is a result of the 2001). What the term knowledge means
legacy that Plato’s theory of knowledge has depends on how inquiry is undertaken and
left us. the kind of problem one pursues. Even the
Aristotle, however, had another view, term knowledge may be regarded as prob-
and it is one that in many ways is closer to lematic. Knowledge as a term is a noun.
the most recent thinking done on method- Knowing is a verb. And knowing may be a
ology in social science research. Aristotle much more appropriate descriptor of the
made distinctions between kinds of knowl- processes of inquiry made in pursuit of a
edge that people can secure. The three types problem that will not yield to a set of rigidi-
he identified were the theoretical, the prac- fied procedures. Inquiry always yields tenta-
tical, and the productive (McKeon, 2001). tive conclusions rather than permanently
The theoretical pertained to efforts to know nailed down facts. The quest for certainty, as
things that were of necessity, that is, things Dewey (1929/2005) pointed out, is hopeless.
and processes that could be no other way What does it mean to know? Here, too,
than the way they are. The processes and there are a variety of conditions under which
products of nature are prime examples. the term know or knowledge can be used.
Practical knowledge was knowledge of One can know that something is the case.
Art and Knowledge–––◆–––5

One can know how something was done. have very few words and virtually all of
One can know why something operates the them inadequate for describing what water
way it does, and one can know how. For tastes like, or what music sounds like, or
example, consider a medical relationship. “I what someone looks like? Words, except
remember this patient quite well, but I do when they are used artistically, are proxies
not have a diagnosis for his illness.” In this for direct experience. They point us in a
example, two types of knowledge emerge, direction in which we can undergo what
the first pertaining to matters of recognition the words purport to reveal. Words, in this
or recall, and the latter to theoretical or sense, are like cues to guide us on a journey.
practical understanding. The doctor recog- The utility of these cues depends upon their
nizes the patient, but doesn’t know what is ability to help us anticipate the situation we
causing his problem. Clearly, one can know wish to avoid or encounter.
the former and not the latter, and one can The reason the deliteralization of knowl-
know the latter without knowing the for- edge is significant is that it opens the door
mer. How one would find out which was for multiple forms of knowing. There are,
which would depend on one’s aims. Each indeed, propositions whose truth value is
variety of knowing bears its own fruits and significant and whose claims are testable
has its own uses. The point here is that through scientific procedures. At the same
knowing is a multiple state of affairs, not a time, there are utterances and images that
singular one. In pragmatic terms knowing is are intended to be evocative of the situa-
always about relationships. We need to tion they are designed to describe. Consider
know different things for different purposes, photography. Photographs can be powerful
and sometimes we know some things for resources for portraying what cannot be
some purposes but not for others. articulated linguistically. We see this in the
In traditional approaches to the condi- work of Edward Steichen, Dorothea Lange,
tions of scientific knowledge, the pursuit of Paul Strand, and other important photogra-
certainty has been a longstanding ambition. phers of the 20th century. But the ability to
Furthermore, knowledge is conceptualized reveal is not limited to the talents of such
as the ability to provide warranted asser- photographers; it is available to those whose
tions. Warranted refers to the provision of talents in photography are more ordinary.
evidence regarding the truth or falsity of The point here is that humans have created
the assertion, and the term assertion itself within the context of culture a variety of
belongs to a universe of discourse in which forms of representation. These forms include
language is its representational vehicle. the visual, the auditory, the gustatory, the
However, it has become increasingly clear kinesthetic, and the like. It includes forms of
since the latter half of the 20th century that representation that combine the foregoing
knowledge or understanding is not always modalities as well. These forms of represen-
reducible to language. As Michael Polanyi tation give us access to expressive possibili-
says, we know more than we can tell ties that would not be possible without their
(Polanyi, 1966/1983). Thus, not only does presence. Technology provides new means
knowledge come in different forms, the during each generation for representational
forms of its creation differ. The idea of inef- possibilities to be extended and diversified.
fable knowledge is not an oxymoron. The availability, for example, of neon tubes
The liberation of the term knowledge has made possible forms of sculpture that
from dominance by the propositional is Michelangelo himself could not have imag-
a critical philosophical move. Do we not ined. Thus, technological advances pro-
know what water tastes like, although we moted through scientific knowledge make

new forms available to those who choose to white circles roll up, roll up, like the
use them. world’s turning, mute and perfect, and
This Handbook is an encomium to I saw the linear flashes, gleaming silver,
the use of new forms of representation in like stars being born at random down a
the service of improved understanding of rolling scroll of time. Something broke
the human condition. Rather than being and something opened. I filled up like a
constrained with criteria and methods for- new wineskin. I breathed an air like
mulated decades, indeed centuries, ago, light; I saw a light like water. I was the
this Handbook invites scholars to invent lip of a fountain the creek filled forever;
new ways through new means of repre- I was ether, the leaf in the zephyr; I was
senting what matters in human affairs. In fleshflake, feather, bone. (Dillard, 1974,
this sense, the Handbook is something of pp. 31–32)
a groundbreaking effort.
One should not conclude that new mate- This brief excerpt gives one a sense of
rials, technologies, and methods are the what the artistic treatment of language
only innovative resources to be used to cre- makes possible. What, in this case, it makes
ate arts-informed research. The way lan- possible is the writer’s ability to give the
guage is treated itself has a great deal to do reader a virtual sensory experience of nature
with what it has to say. Consider, for in all its glorious richness and complexity. It
example, Annie Dillard’s book Pilgrim at is different from and, some would argue,
Tinker Creek and focus upon the marriage more than a literal description; it is an artis-
between acute perception and artistically tic rendering, one that is evocative and that,
crafted prose. psychologically speaking, gives us transport
to another part of the world.
It was sunny one evening last summer Let us distinguish for a moment between
at Tinker Creek; the sun was low in the the descriptive and the evocative. Let the
sky, upstream. I was sitting on the sycamore descriptive focus on the desire to create
log bridge with the sunset at my back, a mimetic relationship between something
watching the shiners the size of minnows said and something done. The evocative
who were feeding over the muddy sand has as its ambition the provision of a set of
in skittery schools. Again and again, one qualities that create an empathic sense of
fish, then another, turned for a split sec- life in those who encounter it, whether the
ond across the current and flash! the sun work is visual or linguistic, choreographic
shot out from its silver side. I couldn’t or musical. In all cases, emotion and imagi-
watch for it. It was always just happen- nation are involved. Art in research puts a
ing somewhere else, and it drew my premium on evocation, even when it has
vision just as it disappeared: flash, like a sections or aspects of it that are descriptive
sudden dazzle of the thinnest blade, a in character. Put another way, art is present
spark over a dun and olive ground at in research when its presence enables one to
chance intervals from every direction. participate vicariously in a situation.
Then I noticed white specks, some sort Experiencing a situation in a form that
of pale petals, small, floating, from under allows you to walk in the shoes of another
my feet on the creek’s surface, very slow is one way to know one aspect of it. Empa-
and steady. So I blurred my eyes and thy is a means to understanding, and strong
gazed upward toward the brim of my empathic feelings may provide deep insight
hat and saw a new world. I saw the pale into what others are experiencing. In that
Art and Knowledge–––◆–––7

sense, the arts in research promote a form What we have here is a radical idea that
of understanding that is derived or evoked the life of feeling is best revealed through
through empathic experience. those forms of feeling we call the arts; that
At the same time, it should be recognized is their special province, which is the func-
that answers to questions and solutions to tion that they serve best. Langer (1957) claims
problems might not be arts-informed research’s that discursive language is the most useful
long suit. This method of inquiry may trump scientific device humans have created but
conventional forms of research when it comes that the arts provide access to qualities of life
to generating questions or raising aware- that literal language has no great power to
ness of complex subtleties that matter. The disclose. It follows, then, that an education
deep strength of using the arts in research of the life of feeling is best achieved through
may be closer to the act of problematizing an education in and through the arts.
traditional conclusions than it is to provid- If one accepts Langer’s argument, then the
ing answers in containers that are water- qualities of feelingful life expressed in human
tight. In this sense, the products of this relationships, in the context of education,
research are closer in function to deep con- and in the wider conditions within which
versation and insightful dialogue than they human beings live and work are perhaps most
are to error-free conclusions. powerfully revealed when form is shaped
Attention to the relationship between artistically. The means through which those
the arts and knowledge has not been entirely forms emerge is potentially infinite, that is,
neglected by aestheticians. One of the most they might take place through poetry, they
prominent of them is Susanne Langer. Langer might be realized through music, they might
(1957) argues that works of art represent the be expressed through the visual arts; the
artist’s ability to create a structure of forms options are as open as our imagination.
that are in their relationships analogs to the Of course, to use different media to effec-
forms of feeling humans experience. Thus, tively disclose what one has experienced
what the artist is able to do is to provide a emotionally requires the use of skills, knowl-
means through which feelings can come to be edge of techniques, and familiarity with the
known. Langer (1957) writes: materials themselves with respect to the way
in which they behave when employed. The
What does art seek to express? . . . I material must be converted into a medium,
think every work of art expresses, more something that mediates the researcher’s
or less purely, more or less subtly, not observations and culminates in a form
feelings and emotions the artist has, but that provides the analogous structure I men-
feelings which the artist knows; his tioned earlier. What is created is the struc-
insight into the nature of sentience, his tural equivalent of emotions recollected in
picture of vital experience, physical, and tranquility but expressing powerfully what
emotive and fantastic. (p. 91) an individual has undergone by virtue of the
way the forms of the work relate to each
Such knowledge is not expressible in other (Arnheim, 1974).
ordinary discourse. The reason for this inef- This process requires one to qualify
fability is not that the ideas to be expressed qualities. That is, to create qualitative rela-
are too high, too spiritual or too anything tionships among component qualities so
else, but that the forms of feeling and the that the expressive character of the total
forms of discursive expression are logically array of qualitative relationships actually
incommensurate. helps reveal what the artist intended.

It is interesting to note the ways in which virtually any material: film, video, dance,
our language, riddled as it is with metaphors, poetry, music, narrative, and so forth. Any
describes affective states of affairs. We talk talk about arts-informed research must take
about being high or being low. We talk about into account the characteristics of the partic-
being bright or being dull; we talk about ular art form or art forms that are being
being slow or being swift. Our personal employed. Music, for example, does not
attributes are captured in the metaphors have the kind of referentiality that realism in
we choose or invent to describe them. It is the visual arts possesses. One can come to
through such descriptions, at least in part, know the countenance of an individual or
that we enable others to understand how we the feel of a place by the features of a realist
feel and, indeed, enable us to recognize our painting. There is no comparable analogue
own feelings. in music. Even program music, such as the
The capacity of metaphor to capture and William Tell Overture, is far less referential
express literally ineffable forms of feeling in character than what photo realists do in
is related to Langer’s (1957) conception of their work. Some art forms such as opera or
two kinds of knowing. Langer distinguishes theatre combine art forms. It is not unusual
between what she calls discursive and for a stage production to involve not only
nondiscursive knowledge. The arts, especially color and light, but speech and music. These
music, occupy nondiscursive categories. Her synthetic art forms have different potential-
basic argument is that the people we call ities in the execution of research and need to
artists have a conception of the structure of be taken into account in planning a research
human feeling in its varieties. What they agenda.
also have is the ability to create through the One might ask, if the arts are so diverse
application of technique and skill forms in their features and potentialities for
whose empirical structure echoes the struc- research, do they have anything in com-
ture of a form of feeling. Thus, works of art mon? Just what is it that enables us to refer
enable us to know something about feeling to all of them as forms of art? For me, the
that cannot be revealed in literal scientific defining feature that allows us to talk col-
statements. Put in Dewey’s (1934) terms, lectively about the arts is that art forms
science states meaning, art expresses it. share the common mission of achieving
In talking about language, it is important expressiveness through the ways in which
to emphasize the point that language itself form has been crafted or shaped. The arts
can be treated artistically. The meanings of historically have addressed the task of
poetry, for example, transcend what literal evoking emotion. We sometimes speak of
language provides. Indeed, it has been said the arts as resources that can take us on a
that poetry was invented to say what words ride. The arts, as I have indicated elsewhere,
can never say. In other words, we should provide a natural high. They can also pro-
not confuse the nonliteral artistic character vide a natural low. The range of emotional
of language with its literal use. Each use responses is enormous. These emotional con-
performs its own distinctive functions. sequences in relation to a referent color the
I have been talking about that form of referent by virtue of the character of the
representation called language almost as emotion that the artistically crafted form
though it were the only resource that could possesses. Through art we come to feel, very
be used artistically to reveal the qualities often, what we cannot see directly.
and character of a state of affairs. The fact The views that I have just expressed are
of the matter is that artistically rendered closer to a modern than to a postmodern
forms of representation can be created with conception of what the arts do. But I would
Art and Knowledge–––◆–––9

argue that even successful postmodern art was a tendency on their part to dismiss
participates in the expression of emotion. poetic and metaphorical language as mean-
Recognizing the distinctive potential of ingless utterances. This led them to regard as
various art forms and developing the skills meaningful only propositions of an empiri-
and techniques to use them is a necessary cal kind that, in principle, could be proven
condition for the achievement of effective through scientific procedures. For my taste,
arts-informed research. this is much too constrictive a conception of
There is, though, a serious complication the kind of research criteria that are needed
in the use of nonliteral forms, and this com- in the social sciences. If we indeed know
plication has to do with precision of repre- more than we can tell, then we should try
sentation. The precision of representation I telling what we know with anything that
refer to is achieved by what Charles Peirce will carry the message forward.
(1998) called the relationships between the Bringing the message forward on new
referent, the symbol, and the interpretant. media—or even on old media for that
This triad is designed to describe a connec- matter—is no simple task. What are needed
tion between an utterance and that to which are skills and techniques to treat a material
it refers. If the interpretant is not clear, the so that it becomes a medium of expression.
referent to which a symbol refers might not One of the most formidable obstacles to
be located. Thus, the more ambiguity or arts-informed research is the paucity of
scope given for personal interpretation of highly skilled, artistically grounded prac-
the signified material, the less referential titioners, people who know how to use
precision is achieved. If, however, one takes image, language, movement, in artistically
the view that the dominant function of arts refined ways. Schools of education, for
in research is not necessarily to provide a example, seldom provide courses or even
precise referent for a specific symbol con- workshops for doctoral students to develop
nected by a conventional interpretant, but such skills. As a result, it is not uncommon
rather to provide an evocative image that to find this type of research appearing ama-
generates the conditions for new telling teurish to those who know what the poten-
questions and for fruitful discussion, if its tialities of the medium are. Furthermore,
major function is to deepen and make more each medium requires, to some degree, its
complex the conversation or increase the own set of skills and techniques. To be
precision through which we vex each other “multilingual” in this research means being
(Peirce, 1998), then the need for consensus able to use different media effectively to
on what is signified might be less significant. represent what one has learned.
But it is an issue that needs to be addressed. One way to address this situation is to
One can easily slip into an “anything goes” create teams of researchers in the social sci-
orientation that makes the research pro- ences who work closely with practitioners
duced a kind of Rorschach test. of the arts. It could be the case that such col-
At the same time, to idolize precision if in laboration might provide a way to combine
the process it trivializes the questions one both theoretically sophisticated understand-
can raise, the problem still remains, only it ings and artistically inspired images. This
is of another order. Obviously, what are too, as a putative solution, would require a
needed are methods that have some signifi- new approach to not only the education of
cant degree of precision and, at the same the researcher but to the kinds of disserta-
time, do not reduce problems into questions tion projects that would be encouraged and
that are trivial. One of the major weak- supported. I can well imagine dissertations
nesses of the logical positivist movement being prepared by groups of three or four

individuals each of whom had major the kind of collaboration I have in mind can
responsibility for some aspect of the work. It be extremely intellectually exciting. Scholars
may be unrealistic to expect that someone can bring to bear under one collective umbrella
without a background, say, in the visual ideas about matters of meaning and com-
arts, would be able to produce at a high munication, matters of technique, and
enough level the quality of arts-informed matters pertaining to theoretical knowledge
research that was needed to warrant a doc- that can enrich the environment and yield
toral degree. Furthermore, such work, in my truly remarkable products. To encourage
view, should have both a theoretical or con- such activity will require a modification
ceptual basis and should manifest sophisti- of promotion criteria that are typically
cation in the arts as an achievement that employed in most American universities,
I mentioned earlier. It is particularly in particularly in research universities. We typ-
this sense of diverse competencies that arts- ically expect pre-tenure productions to be
informed research is not easier, but more solo, yet in the hardest of the sciences,
difficult, to do than traditional approaches physics, work is very often collaborative.
to research in the social sciences. Indeed, without collaboration the work that
Is there a future for arts-informed research? needs to be done would not get done. The
One can only speculate about the conditions Stanford Linear Accelerator, for example, is
that would create such a possibility. One of employed by people living at the other end
those conditions pertains to the vigor of of the world for purposes that are jointly
those committed to the exploration of the shared with Stanford University physicists.
arts and the means through which they help What this suggests is a new conception of
enlarge human understanding. Given the who does research with whom, and what
near revolutionary way in which the arts are kind of research they do. The vision I am
being regarded as tools for research, I expect describing is considerably more collabora-
that there will be a variety of resistances to tive, cooperative, multidisciplinary, and
be encountered. These resistances need to be multimodal in character. Knowledge cre-
addressed by scholars committed to the idea ation is a social affair. The solo producer
and exploration of arts-informed research. will no longer be salient, particularly in the
Short-term enthusiasts are hardly going to be contexts for those wishing to do arts-
able to provide the kind of leadership, indeed informed research.
the kind of courage, that such an enterprise How can the discussion that has pre-
will require. What will also be required are ceded be put in a summary form? Just what
places in universities where young scholars is it that makes possible a relationship
interested in pursuing arts-informed research between art and knowledge? It seems to me
can find a sympathetic home. The Media that the contributions of the arts to knowl-
Lab at MIT is a good example of how research edge are several.
might be pursued. First, the arts address the qualitative
It is also likely that there will need to be nuances of situations. By learning how to
collaborative connections made between, read the images the arts make possible,
for example, schools of education and awareness of those nuances is made possi-
departments of the arts, photography, film, ble. The examination or perception of a
and videography. It takes a team to produce painting is as much a kind of “reading” as
a docudrama, and it will take no less to a text might be. One needs to learn how
create good examples of artistic inquiry. Yet to see as well as learn how to read in the
Art and Knowledge–––◆–––11

customary sense. Thus, in addressing what wants to encourage rather than to discour-
is subtle but significant, the arts develop age the sweep of imagination in learning
dispositions and habits of mind that reveal how to notice and understand what is not
to the individual a world he or she may not literally there. The arts contribute to the
have noticed but that is there to be seen if realization of such an aim.
only one knew how to look. Finally, for the purposes of this chapter, the
A second contribution the arts make to arts tell us something about our own capaci-
knowledge has to do with empathic feeling. ties to experience the affective responses to life
Images rendered in artistically expressive that the arts evoke. If the arts are about any-
form often generate a kind of empathy that thing, they are about emotion, and emotion
makes action possible. One has only to recall has to do with the ways in which we feel.
images of war, whether created by Picasso Becoming aware of our capacity to feel is a
as in “Guernica” or by a contemporary pho- way of discovering our humanity. Art helps us
tographer addressing the war in Iraq, to connect with personal, subjective emotions,
realize that we are moved in ways that art and through such a process, it enables us to
makes. Art often creates such a powerful discover our own interior landscape. Not an
image that as a result we tend to see our unimportant achievement.
world in terms of it, rather than it in terms All of the processes that I have described
of our world. Put another way, art does not contribute to the enlargement of human
always imitate life. Life often imitates art. understanding. We cannot take such condi-
The ability to empathize with others is a tions or characteristics or feelings into
way of understanding the character of their account unless they are available either by
experience that, in some ways, is the first our volition or by the impact of others upon
avenue to compassion. To achieve such an us. We come to understand the world in
outcome, as I have indicated earlier, requires many ways; the arts are among these many
individuals skilled in the use of the medium ways. Their virtual absence in the methodol-
with which they work and, of course, sensi- ogy of educational research is a significant
tive to the conditions they wish to render. shortcoming in the ways in which we may
No small task, but an extraordinarily impor- be able to understand what goes on in class-
tant one. rooms and in schools, in conferences and
A third contribution the arts make to in homes. The arts are a way of enriching
knowledge has to do with the provision of our awareness and expanding our human-
a fresh perspective so that our old habits ity. This, too, is not a bad consequence for a
of mind do not dominate our reactions with process so delicate but important.
stock responses. What we seek are new Can such aims be achieved in the context
ways with which to perceive and interpret of a competitive research environment? Let
the world, ways that make vivid realities us hope so. But let us do more than hope.
that would otherwise go unknown. It’s a Let us embark on those studies of human
matter, as the anthropologists say, of mak- action that reveal aspects of human experi-
ing the familiar strange and making the ence and behavior that intuitively are
strange familiar. To the extent to which we difficult to deny. This is all to say that the
need to give up some of our old habits, the quality of work done under the banner of
arts are willing and helpful allies in such a research through the arts will be the most
pursuit. It means, of course, relinquishing critical feature affecting its future. Let’s
the ties that fetter the imagination. One hope that we are up to the task.

♦ References Dillard, A. (1974). Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

New York: Harper’s Magazine Press.
Langer, S. K. (1957). Problems of art: Ten philo-
Arnheim, R. (1974). Art and visual perception: sophical lectures. New York: Scribner.
A psychology of the creative eye. Berkeley: McKeon, R. P. (Ed.). (2001). The basic works of
University of California Press. Aristotle. New York: The Modern Library.
Ayer, A. J. (1952). Language, truth and logic. Peirce, C. (1998). Collected papers of Charles
New York: Courier Dover Publications. Sanders Peirce. Bristol, UK: Thoemmes
Dewey, J. (1934). Art as experience. New York: Continuum.
Minton, Balch and Company. Plato (1992). Republic. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett
Dewey, J. (2005). The quest for certainty: A study Publishing Company.
of the relation of knowledge and action. Polanyi, M. (1983). The tacit dimension.
Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing. Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith Publisher.
(Original work published 1929) (Original work published 1966)
A Million Porcupines Crying in the Dark

 Thomas King

T here is a story I know. It’s about the earth and how it floats in
space on the back of a turtle. I’ve heard this story many times, and
each time someone tells the story, it changes. Sometimes the change is
simply in the voice of the storyteller. Sometimes the change is in the
details. Sometimes in the order of events. Other times it’s the dialogue or
the response of the audience. But in all the tellings of all the tellers, the
world never leaves the turtle’s back. And the turtle never swims away.
One time, it was in Trois-Rivières I think, a man in the audience who
was taking notes asked about the turtle and the earth. If the earth was
on the back of a turtle, what was below the turtle? Another turtle, the
storyteller told him. And below that turtle? Another turtle. And below
that? Another turtle.
The man quickly scribbled down notes, enjoying the game, I imagine. So
how many turtles are there? he wanted to know. The storyteller shrugged.
No one knows for sure, she told him, but it’s turtles all the way down.

Author’s Note: A version of this chapter appeared in The Truth About Stories:
A Native Narrative (2003). It is reprinted here with permission of the publishers.

◆ 13

The truth about stories is that that’s all the order of business the summer before—
we are. “I will tell you something about politicians at the state capitol came up with
stories,” the Laguna storyteller Leslie Silko the bright idea of making field jobs—
(1997) reminds us. “They aren’t just enter- normally the domain of Mexican workers—
tainment/Don’t be fooled/They are all we available to Blacks from the inner cities and
have, you see/All we have to fight off/ to the generic poor.
Illness and death. You don’t have anything/ “The government men decided to call it
If you don’t have the stories” (p. 2). an economic opportunity work program,”
Over the years, I’ve lost more than my Louis writes.
fair share of friends to suicide. The major-
ity of them have been mixed-bloods. Native Any lucky person with a sufficiently low
men and women who occupied those racial income, they announced, could qualify
shadow zones that have been created for to work in the fields for minimum wage.
us and that we create for ourselves. The They advertised the program heavily
latest and greatest loss was the Choctaw- and recruited in Los Angeles, Stockton,
Cherokee-Irish writer Louis Owens, who Compton, East Palo Alto, Oakland—
killed himself in an airport parking garage those places where summer jobs for
on his way to an academic conference in Black teens had never existed and where
Bellingham, Washington. young Black males with time on their
Louis was a fine novelist and an even hands posed potential complications for
better literary/cultural critic and theorist. the coming summer. Somehow we heard
But most especially, he was a good friend, about it in Atascadero. It sounded like
more a brother, really. We were of a like fun. (Owens, 2001, p. 20)
age, shared much the same background,
were haunted by the same fears. We loved The labor camp where the workers were
fly-fishing and the solitude of quiet places. required to stay was an old military bar-
We understood in each other the same des- racks left over from World War II that, over
perate desire for acceptance. And we were the years, had housed thousands of Mexican
both hopeful pessimists. That is, we wrote workers. Now it housed close to 300 young
knowing that none of the stories we told Black men and a handful of others. The bar-
would change the world. But we wrote in racks where the workers stayed were spar-
the hope that they would. tan at best. Old metal cots lined both sides
We both knew that stories were medi- of a long, narrow room, with mattresses
cine, that a story told one way could cure, flattened thin and hard as plywood by sea-
that the same story told another way could sons of exhausted farm workers.
injure. In his memoir I Hear the Train, Best of all, a new 10-foot chain-link fence
Louis (Owens, 2001) tells the story of a had been thrown up around the camp,
summer that he spent picking tomatoes. It topped with barbed wire to make sure no
was 1965. The year before, the U.S. govern- one wandered away. Each night the camp
ment had decided to end the Bracero was locked and a guard stationed at the
Program that had brought half a million gate. Each morning Louis and the other
migrant workers up from Mexico each year workers were let out and taken to the fields.
to work in the fields of California. Faced Each evening they were brought back and
with the continuing need for cheap labor locked up again.
and the prospect of a long, hot, politically It was hard work. The food that was
dangerous summer—urban riots, Vietnam provided was inedible. Worse, the workers
protests, and disillusioned youth had been were charged for it. As well they were
The Art of Indigenous Knowledge–––◆–––15

charged for their cots, for transportation to Maybe this was the story Louis told
and from the fields, for insurance, and for himself as he sat in that airport garage. A
anything else the growers could think up. story about poor young men walking home
And when the first payday rolled around, alone. Maybe it was another. Whichever
after all the expenses had been deducted, one it was, for that instant Louis must have
Louis discovered that he had spent more believed it.
money than he had made. Twelve dollars Did you ever wonder how it is we imag-
to be exact. ine the world in the way we do, how it is we
This experiment in economic opportu- imagine ourselves, if not through our stories.
nity didn’t last long. Three weeks. Given And in the English-speaking world, nothing
the rate at which the workers were going could be easier, for we are surrounded by
broke, it probably wouldn’t have lasted much stories, and we can trace these stories back to
longer anyway, but halfway through the other stories and from there back to the begin-
third week, a White mob from the nearby nings of language. For these are our stories,
town of Merced attacked the camp with the the cornerstones of our culture.
intention of burning it down. The police You all know the names. Masculine
held the mob off, and it contented itself with names that grace the tables of contents
turning cars over and setting them on fire. of the best anthologies, all neatly arranged
Louis and the rest of the men stayed inside chronologically so we can watch the march
the fence, armed with metal cot legs and of literary progress. A cumulative exercise in
makeshift knives, waiting for the big fight. the early years, it has broadened its empire
But it never happened. in the last few decades, sending scouting
The mob eventually dispersed, and in the parties into new territory to find new voices.
morning the workers came into the yard to These days, English literature anthologies
find the front gate wide open, the supervi- contain the works of women writers, Black
sors and the guard gone. No trucks came to writers, Hispanic writers, Asian writers, gay
pick them up that day, and by afternoon, and lesbian writers, and, believe it or not,
everyone began the long walk home. For a few Native writers.
many, that walk was over 300 miles, with All in the cause of culture, all in the
little chance of catching a ride with a pass- service of literacy, which we believe to be an
ing motorist. essential skill. Indeed, the ability to read and
In I Hear the Train, Louis (Owens, 2001) write and keep records is understood as one
recalls that moment and wonders of the primary markers of an advanced civ-
ilization. One of my professors at university
Where are those fellows today, the ones I argued that you could not have a “depend-
picked tomatoes and played basketball able” literature without literacy, that the two
and watched a mob with? Do they sit went hand in hand.
in midlife and wonder, as I do, whether I’m sure he would have been buoyed
it really happened at all? Whether their by Statistics Canada’s (1998) figures of
memories, like mine, are warped and Canadians’ reading habits. According to the
shadowed far beyond reliability. Whether 1998 survey, which, so far as I can tell, was
even trying to put such a thing into words compiled through information that Canadians
is an absurd endeavor, as if such things volunteered, approximately 80% of all
are best left to turn and drift in inarticu- Canadians from age 15 on read newspa-
late memory like those river pebbles that pers, 71% read magazines, and 61% read
get worn more and more smooth over books.
time until there are no edges. (p. 27) Not bad.

Out of the 80% who read newspapers, memory, something that needs to be writ-
49% read a daily, which means that 39% ten down to be . . . whole?
of all Canadians read a daily newspaper. I understand the assumptions: first, that
I’m impressed. stories, in order to be complete, must be
Out of the 71% who read a magazine, written down, an easy error to make, an
57% read at least one magazine weekly, ethnocentric stumble that imagines all liter-
which means that 40% of all Canadians read ature in the Americas to have been oral,
at least one magazine a week. when in fact, pictographic systems (petro-
That’s great. glyphs, pictographs, and hieroglyphics)
And out of the 61% of all Canadians were used by a great many tribes to com-
who read books, 31% read at least a book memorate events and to record stories,
a week, which means about 19% of all while in the valley of Mexico, the Aztecs
Canadians read at least a book a week. maintained a large library of written works
Fifty-two books a year. that may well have been the rival of the
Unless, of course, I’ve done the math Royal Library at Alexandria. Written and
wrong. Which is possible. oral. Side by side.
No doubt this includes students at high In the end, though, neither fared any
schools, colleges, and universities, who are better than the other. While European dis-
“encouraged” to read. Still, if you look at eases and conflicts with explorers and set-
just the self-confessed readers in the cate- tlers led to the death and displacement of
gory of 25-year-olds and older, you’ll find a great many Native storytellers, supersti-
that the percentage stays exactly the same. tious Spanish priests, keen on saving the
Nineteen percent. Aztecs from themselves, burned the library
So how do they do that? Over four mil- at Tenochtitlán to the ground, an event as
lion Canadians reading a book a week, each devastating as Julius Caesar’s destruction of
and every week of the year. Well, some the library at Alexandria.
are parents reading to their children. Some In each case, at Tenochtitlán and at
are professionals who read for a living. Alexandria, stories were lost. And, in the
Some are up at the cottage or on a beach end, it didn’t matter whether these stories
somewhere, away from television and the were oral or written.
phone. So much for dependability. So much for
And the rest? permanence. Though it doesn’t take a disas-
Well, maybe it’s true. Or maybe we ter to destroy a literature. If we stopped
Canadians just like to think of ourselves as telling the stories and reading the books, we
more literate than we really are. Not that it would discover that neglect is as powerful
matters. What’s curious is that there are no an agent as war and fire.
statistics for oral literature. When I raised In 1980, through a series of mishaps and
this question at a scholarly conference once, happenstance, my 9-year-old son and I moved
I was told that the reason we pay attention from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Lethbridge,
to written literature is that books are quan- Alberta. The details of the move—divorce,
tifiable, whereas oral literature is not. How unemployment, depression—are too boring
can you quantify something that has sound to explicate. The reason for the move,
but no physical form, a colleague wanted however, was simple. The University of
to know, something that exists only in the Lethbridge had offered me a job. I had been
imagination of the storyteller, cultural to Lethbridge before. A good friend of
ephemera that are always at the whim of mine, Leroy Little Bear, had brought me up
The Art of Indigenous Knowledge–––◆–––17

as a speaker for Indian Days at the univer- instrument of creation has diminished
sity. So I had seen the lay of the land. As nearly to the point of no return. It may
it were. be that he will perish by the Word.
And it was flat.
Flat, dry, windy, dusty. Nothing like the But of his Kiowa grandmother, who
Northern California coast that I loved. And could neither read nor write and whose
the last place on earth I wanted to work. use of language was confined to speech,
But when you don’t have a job, something Momaday says that
always looks better than nothing.
So we moved. I bought an old step-side her regard for words was always keen
pickup from a government auction, packed in proportion as she depended upon
everything I owned in the back, strapped my them . . . for her words were medicine;
son into the passenger’s seat, and headed they were magic and invisible. They came
north. from nothing into sound and meaning.
Just before we got to Sweetgrass and the They were beyond price; they could nei-
border between Alberta and Montana, ther be bought nor sold. And she never
heavy rain turned into heavy hail, and we threw words away. (pp. 95–96)
had to make a run for a freeway overpass.
There, under the concrete canopy along with Perhaps it was this quality of medicine
several other cars and trucks, we waited out and magic that sent 19th- and 20th-century
the storm. anthropologists and ethnographers west to
Which wasn’t about to give up easily. The collect and translate Native stories, thereby
hail picked up pace, turning the road in front “preserving” Native oral literature before it
of us into a skating rink, and my son, who was lost. As a result of these efforts, an impres-
even at nine was not one to put sugar on sor- sive body of oral stories is now stored in
row, turned to me and said, “Just so we keep periodicals and books that one can find at
it straight, Dad, this was your idea.” any good research library.
The second assumption about written Not that anyone reads them. But they
literature is that it has an inherent sophisti- are safe and sound. As it were.
cation that oral literature lacks, that oral lit- At the same time that social scientists were
erature is a primitive form of written busy preserving Native oral culture, Native
literature, a precursor to written literature, people were beginning to write. Depending
and as we move from the cave to the condo, on how far you want to stretch the definition
we slough off the oral and leave it behind. of literature, you can begin in the late 18th
Like an old skin. century with Samson Occum, who collected
The Kiowa writer N. Scott Momaday hymns and spirituals, or you can wait until
(1968), in his novel House Made of Dawn, the 19th century and begin with George
touches on the written and the oral, on the Copway’s autobiography or Alice Callahan’s
cultural understandings of language and lit- novel or E. Pauline Johnson’s poetry.
erature. The White man, Momaday argues, I’m tempted to say the names of all of
takes the early Native writers aloud, though such
a long and comprehensive list would prob-
such things as words and literatures for ably put everybody to sleep. Still, such a
granted . . . for nothing in his world is so name-dropping exercise might impress you
commonplace. . . . He is sated and insen- and make me look scholarly and learned.
sitive; his regard for language . . . as an And truth be told, I can live with that.

Perhaps I could frame such a bibliogra- expect that, when Native writers took to the
phy as a eulogy to remind myself of where novel, they would go to the past for setting
stories come from, a chance to remember in order to argue against the rather lopsided
that I stand in a circle of storytellers, most and ethnocentric view of Indians that novel-
of whom will never be published, who have ists and historians had created.
only their imaginations and their voices. James Fenimore Cooper, for instance.
That sounds rather romantic, doesn’t it? Cooper, whose sympathies lay with the
Circles of storytellers. Oral voices in the wealthy, landowner class of 19th-century
night. You can almost hear the violins. America, had a somewhat romantic view of
I mean the drums. Indians that saw them either as noble or
The point I wanted to make was that the savage. Noble Indians helped Whites and
advent of Native written literature did not, in died for their trouble. Savage Indians hin-
any way, mark the passing of Native oral lit- dered Whites and died for their trouble. A
erature. In fact, they occupy the same space, rather simplistic division. But Cooper took
the same time. And, if you know where to the matter further. What is it, Cooper asked
stand, you can hear the two of them talking himself, that makes Indians different from
to each other. Whites? Why is it that Indians and Whites
Robert Alexie’s (2002) Porcupines and can never come together?
China Dolls, for instance, and Harry His answer was gifts. Indian gifts. And
Robinson’s (1989) Write It On Your Heart, White gifts.
along with Ruby Slipperjack’s (1987) In The Deerslayer (Cooper, 1963), the
Honour the Sun and Eden Robinson’s (2000) first (chronologically, that is) of the five
Monkey Beach. A novel, a collection of sto- Leatherstocking Tales, Cooper’s protago-
ries, and two more novels. Canadians all. nist, Natty Bumppo, aka Deerslayer, later
Though the border doesn’t mean that much to be known as Hawkeye, gets into a run-
to the majority of Native people in either ning philosophical discussion with Henry
country. It is, after all, a figment of someone March, a boorish frontiersman, on the mat-
else’s imagination. ter of race. “Now skin makes the man,”
But I’ll start this discussion of literature March tells Deerslayer.
with an American example. Partly because
I have to, and partly because I have a per- This is reason—else how are people to
verse streak and, at times, would rather judge each other? The skin is put on,
annoy than placate. over all, in order that when a creature
So, the first thing to say about the advent or a mortal is fairly seen, you may know
of the modern period in Native written lit- at once what to make of him. (Cooper,
erature is that it begins with the publication 1963, p. 50)
of N. Scott Momaday’s 1968 novel House
Made of Dawn, a book that won the Pulitzer Here is the essence of racism. “Skin
Prize. But what makes the novel special and makes the man.” A simple declaration that
what allows us to use it as a starting point divides the world up quickly. March
are the questions that it raises and its con- believes that anyone who is not White is
cern with narrative strategies. As well as what inferior, but he’s a bigot and a scoundrel
it avoids. whose morality is suspect, and readers have
With the long and problematic history little sympathy for the man or his views.
that Native people have had with Europeans Deerslayer, on the other hand, objects to
in North America, it would be reasonable to March’s simple divisions and offers an
The Art of Indigenous Knowledge–––◆–––19

explanation for difference that, on the in their extermination of Jews, or that the
surface, is more complex and balanced. Jews would utilize to displace Palestinians,
Indians and Whites, Deerslayer argues, or that North Americans would exploit for
while having different-colored skin, are still the internment of the Japanese, or that the
both men, men with “different gifts and tra- United States military and the United States
ditions, but, in the main, with the same media would craft into jingoistic slogans
natur’. Both have souls,” he tells us, “and in order to make the invasions of other
both will be held accountable for their countries—Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan,
deeds in this life” (Cooper, 1963, p. 50). Iraq—seem reasonable, patriotic, and enter-
Though both are not necessarily equal. taining to television audiences throughout
“God made us all,” Cooper says through North America.
Deerslayer, Reason and Instinct.
White gifts in Cooper’s novel are gifts of
white, black, red—and no doubt had his Reason. Indian gifts in Cooper’s novel are
own wise intentions in coloring us differ- gifts of Instinct.
ently. Still, he made us, in the main, It would be reasonable to expect Native
much the same in feelin’s, though I’ll not writers to want to revisit and reconstruct
deny that he gave each race its gifts. A the literary and historical past, but oddly
white man’s gifts are Christianized, while enough—with few exceptions such as
a redskin’s are more for the wilderness. James Welch’s Fools Crow (1987) and The
(Cooper, 1963, p. 41) Heartsong of Charging Elk (2000), and
Linda Hogan’s (1992) Mean Spirit—
As it turns out, March and Deerslayer are contemporary Native writers have shown
not arguing different points of view, they are little interest in using the past as setting,
arguing variations of the same view. Cooper preferring instead to place their fictions in
isn’t arguing for equality. He’s arguing for the present.
separation, using some of the same argu- And I don’t have a good answer for why
ments that 1950s America would use for this is true. Though I do have some sus-
segregating Blacks from Whites. Indians aren’t picions. I think that, by the time Native
necessarily inferior. They just have different writers began to write in earnest and in
gifts. Their skin color isn’t the problem. It’s numbers, we discovered that the North
their natures. American version of the past was too well
So what exactly are these gifts? What are populated, too well defended. By 1968,
these natures that mark out a people? the cowboy/Indian dichotomy was so firmly
Well, according to Deerslayer, revenge is in place and had been repeated and
an Indian gift and forgiveness is a White gift. re-inscribed so many times that there was
Indians have devious natures, while Whites no chance of dislodging it from the culture.
believe the best of a person. “You were Like it or not, it was a permanent land-
treacherous, according to your natur’,” mark, and Native writers who went to that
Deerslayer tells an Indian he has just mortally past ran into the demand that Indians had
wounded, “and I was a little oversightful, as to be noble and tragic and perform all their
I’m apt to be in trusting others” (p. 116). duties on horseback.
In the end, all Cooper is doing here is What Native writers discovered, I believe,
reiterating the basic propagandas that the was that the North American past, the one
British would use to justify their subjuga- that had been created in novels and histories,
tion of India or the Germans would employ the one that had been heard on radio and

seen on theatre screens and on television, the You know, the guard said, looking
one that had been part of every school cur- embarrassed. The plate.
riculum for the last 200 years, that past was Plate? I said. What plate?
unusable, for it had not only trapped Native In your head.
people in a time warp, it also insisted that It turned out that Narcisse had told the
our past was all we had. other teams that when I had come up from
No present. Salt Lake City, I had run into a hailstorm,
No future. lost control of the truck, and flipped it.
And to believe in such a past is to be dead. A serious accident that left me with a plate
Faced with such a proposition and in my head. Everything was okay as long as
knowing from empirical evidence that we I didn’t get bumped, because if I did get
were very much alive, physically and cultur- bumped and the plated slipped, I would go
ally, Native writers began to use the Native berserk. It happened once during a practice,
present as a way to resurrect a Native past Narcisse had told everyone, and the guy
and to imagine a Native future—to create, was still in the hospital.
in words, as it were, a Native universe. I don’t have a plate in my head.
I had been teaching at Lethbridge for And with that imprudent remark, my
about a month when a couple of young men basketball career went down the toilet. As
from the Blood reserve arrived at my office. soon as the rest of the teams in the league
Narcisse Blood and Martin Heavyhead. found out that they were in no danger from
Both of them played basketball in an all- plate slippage, I was a marked man. I don’t
Native league, and they had come to talk me think I scored two points the rest of the
into playing for the team. I told them I was season.
too old and too slow. I told them I couldn’t Now, where was I?
dribble or shoot or block shots. Oh, yes. Native writers creating a Native
It’s okay, Narcisse told me, you’re nice universe. For N. Scott Momaday (1968),
and big and can get in the way. the answer, in part, was to write a novel in
So I said yes. I was lonely, wanted to which aspects of an unfamiliar universe
be liked, wanted to be accepted. Even if I stood close enough to parts of a known
couldn’t play, I could at least make the world so that the non-Native reader, know-
effort. But in the first game, I was amazing. ing the one, might recognize the other.
Every time I lumbered to the basket, the Ironically, Christianity, which had been
other players got out of my way. When a door barred against Native–non-Native
I took a shot, no one tried to stop me. I harmony and understanding, suddenly
scored six points that night. The next game became an open window through which we
I scored eight. could see and hear each other.
The matter began to unravel in the third House Made of Dawn, reduced to a
game. One of their guards drove the lane. Coles Notes blurb, is the story of a young
I stepped in front of him, tried to block the Native man who returns from World War
shot, and both of us went down in a heap. II to discover that he no longer has a place
The guard who had run into me leaped in the Pueblo world that he left. The return
up, concerned. of the Native. No problem here. A common
You okay? enough theme. Until Momaday begins to
Sure, I told him. complicate it.
Nothing rattled loose, eh? The protagonist’s name is Abel, a name
I have to admit, no one had ever asked filled with import for a non-Native audi-
me that. Rattled loose? ence, conjuring up as it does a whole host
The Art of Indigenous Knowledge–––◆–––21

of Christian concerns. Abel is Adam and The runners after evil and the feast of
Eve’s son and Cain’s brother, and it is Abel Santiago. Strange moments in a strange
whom Cain kills. world.
Which should be the end of the story. But But not good and evil.
where Abel’s story in the Bible ends, Moma- Rather, two ceremonies, ceremonies that
day’s story begins. And here is Abel’s dilemma. describe a part of the complexity of the lives
When he returns from the horror and of the Pueblo people, ceremonies where
destruction of World War II, he discovers the basic Christian oppositions have little
that he has no voice—not literally but meaning. For both of these moments are
figuratively—a condition that proves to be celebrations, acknowledgments, if you will,
symptomatic of a larger confusion, a confu- one of the presence of evil in the world
sion surrounding the nature of good and evil, while doing nothing to encourage or pre-
not just in the world that Momaday creates vent it, the other of the need for sacrifice
but in the world at large as well. In making and renewal.
parts of a Native universe visible, Momaday The temptation here, of course, is to dis-
also examines the assumptions that the White sect each scene, separate out the elements,
world makes about good and evil. Using the and organize them according to color. The
occasion of the war and Abel’s trial for killing ceremonial run is good. The presence of evil
an albino Indian, Momaday reminds us that is bad. The rooster pull is a form of compe-
within the Christian dichotomy, good and tition and therefore good. The destruction
evil always oppose each other. of the rooster by beating it to death against
Which is why war, even with its inherent another human being is cruel.
horror and destruction, can be presented How we love our binaries.
and pursued as a righteous activity. And it’s But what Momaday and other Native
why Abel’s trial is not concerned with the writers suggest is that there are other ways
reasons he killed the albino but only with of imagining the world, ways that do not
the simpler matter of whether or not he depend so much on oppositions as they do
was responsible for the man’s death. These on co-operations, and they raise the tanta-
questions, good/bad, guilty/innocent, are lizing question of what else one might do if
simple questions, their answers familiar and confronted with the appearance of evil.
satisfying for Momaday’s non-Native audi- So just how would we manage a universe
ence, and these moments of recognition in which the attempt to destroy evil is seen
allow him to re-ask the same questions, this as a form of insanity?
time within a Pueblo context. Relax. It’s only fiction.
And here, the answers are not so familiar, Besides, Native writers aren’t arguing
not so easy, for within the Pueblo world, that evil isn’t evil or that it doesn’t exist.
evil and good are not so much distinct and They’re suggesting that trying to destroy it
opposing entities as they are tributaries of is misguided, even foolish. That the attempt
the same river. In this world, old men in risks disaster.
white leggings chase evil in the night, “not in But you don’t need Native writers to tell
the hope of anything, but hopelessly; neither you that. Grab a copy of Moby Dick and
in fear nor hatred nor despair of evil, but consider the saga of Captain Ahab, wrapped
simply in recognition and with respect” in rage, as he roams the oceans in search of
(Momaday, 1968, pp. 103–104). And strong the great white whale, accomplishing little
men on strong horses try to pull a live rooster more than the destruction of his ship and
out of the sand, only to destroy the bird by crew; or turn on your television and watch
beating it to pieces against a fellow rider. a vengeful United States, burdened with the

arms of war, bomb the world into good- I had to admit that I didn’t.
ness and supply-side capitalism, destroy- “It was a big one,” he said. “It came up
ing American honor and credibility in the quick and hard.”
process. So I told him about my trip from Salt
Of course, Native writers are engaged in Lake City to Lethbridge and how we had
much more than a literary debate over the been trapped under a freeway overpass by a
nature of good and evil. While writers such storm.
as N. Scott Momaday and Leslie Silko exam- “Yes, those storms can be tricky,” he told
ine these tensions, other Native writers have me. “You see those tomatoes out there?”
taken on other concerns. Gerald Vizenor From the kitchen window you could see
borrows traditional figures, such as the his garden. The tomato plants were just begin-
Trickster, re-imagines them within a contem- ning to produce fruit.
porary context, and sets them loose in a “When that storm came through, I was
sometimes modern, sometimes postapoca- just getting ready to pick my tomatoes.
lyptic world. James Welch looks at the ques- They were big and red. Real ripe. But that
tion of identity, of place, and the value of storm beat me to it. First the rain. And then
names. Louise Erdrich explores the shadow the hail.”
land of resistance. Simon Ortiz captures the And here the old man stopped and
rhythms of traditional song and ceremony in helped himself to more tea. And then he sat
his poetry. Tomson Highway handles the back and looked at the table.
difficult matter of reserve community and I tried to be sympathetic. “You must
gender and family relationships. Lee Maracle have been upset,” I said.
and Jeannette Armstrong show how tradi- “Nope,” said the old man, without even
tional wisdom and customs can suggest ways the hint of a smile. “Always good to have
to conduct oneself in the present. some ketchup.”
But what is most satisfying is knowing During the 1960s, when many of us
that there are Native writers whose names hoped that love would prove more power-
I have never heard of, who are, at this ful than hate, herds of young people—
minute, creating small panoramas of con- “hippies,” if you were from Yorkville, or
temporary Native life by looking backward “flower children,” if you were from
and forward with the same glance. Haight-Ashbury, or “bums,” if you were
Not so differently from non-Native writ- from Pittsburgh—made their way to
ers. The magic of Native literature—as with reserves and reservations throughout North
other literatures—is not in the themes of the America, sure that Native people possessed
stories—identity, isolation, loss, ceremony, the secret to life. Or at least something
community, maturation, home—it is in the middle-class North America didn’t have.
way meaning is refracted by cosmology, the That something turned out to be
way understanding is shaped by cultural poverty. Or at least poverty was what they
paradigms. saw. And as quickly as they arrived, most
Narcisse Blood is a good friend. One left. After all, living simply was one thing,
time he took me out to visit his grandfather, being poor was quite another.
who lived in a small house on the reserve. What was not readily apparent at first
The old man had a garden, and he took me glance from the window of a Volkswagen
through it, showing me each plant. Later van or from the comfort of a refitted school
we had tea in his kitchen. bus was the intimate relationship that
“Did I know about the big storm?” Native people had with the land. And here
he asked. I am not talking about the romantic and
The Art of Indigenous Knowledge–––◆–––23

spiritual clichés that have become so popu- don’t live in the university, and I can only
lar with advertisers, land developers, and imagine that the majority of Native people
well-meaning people with backpacks. would be more amused by the gymnastics
Although the relationship that Native of theoretical language—hegemony and
people have with the land certainly has a subalternity, indeed—than impressed.
spiritual aspect to it, it is also a practical All of which will sound as if I’m suggest-
matter that balances respect with survival. ing that Native writers should only write
It is an ethic that can be seen in the deci- for Native readers, that these are our sto-
sions and actions of a community and that ries, that we should tell them for ourselves.
is contained in the songs that Native people If only things were that simple.
sing and the stories that they tell about the Yet, truth be told, this is what it appears
nature of the world and their place in it, we are beginning to do. Remember those four
about the webs of responsibilities that bind writers I started to mention? The Canadians
all things. Or, as the Mohawk writer Beth (if you believe in maps): Robert Alexie and
Brant (1990) put it, “We do not worship Harry Robinson, Ruby Slipperjack and
nature. We are part of it” (p. 119). Eden Robinson? These four are creating
This is the territory of Native oral litera- their fictions, I believe, primarily for a Native
ture. And it is the territory of contemporary audience, making a conscious decision not
Native written literature. The difference is so much to ignore non-Native readers as to
this: Instead of waiting for you to come to write for the very people they write about.
us, as we have in the past, written literature No, I can’t prove it.
has allowed us to come to you. So it’s lucky for me that literary analysis
I’d like to say that both efforts have been is not about proof, only persuasion. In our
worth it. But I’m not sure they have. It cynical world, where suspicion is a neces-
seems to me that sharing our oral stories sity, insisting that something is true is not
with ethnographers and anthropologists nearly as powerful as suggesting that some-
and sharing our written stories with non- thing might be true.
Native audiences have produced pretty So allow me to suggest that we look at
much the same results. And, at best, they Robert Alexie’s novel Porcupines and China
have been mixed. Dolls just as an example. One of the more
Some of the essential questions that intriguing offerings in 2002, the book nei-
Native storytellers and writers have raised ther generated much critical acclaim nor
about, say, the nature of good and evil have made any of the shortlists for literary prizes.
been ignored. The Trickster figure—a com- The blurb on the jacket of the Stoddart edi-
plex arrangement of appetites and desires— tion warns us that this is the “story of a
has been reduced to cartoon elements. The journey from the dark side of reality . . . a
land as a living entity has become a mantra story of pain and healing, of making amends
for industries that destroy the environment. and finding truth, of the inability of a people
Mother earth, a potent phrase for Native to hold on to their way of life.”
people, has been abused to the point where Certainly sounds like the Indians we
it has no more power or import than the know.
word “freedom” tumbling out of George The jacket copy also makes it sound as
W. Bush’s mouth. though Porcupines and China Dolls could be
It is true that scholars have taken on the one of those depressing indictments of social
task of considering Native literatures within policy and racial bias, a case study docu-
a postcolonial context, and this, in and of drama with all the romantic underpinnings
itself, has been heartening, but most of us and tragic disasters of a good soap opera.

But Alexie is not writing that story, and he is and possibilities, an attempt to come to
not writing for that audience. terms with the past, an attempt to find a
“In order to understand this story,” future.
Alexie (2002) says in the first chapter, “it is I suspect that many people who come to
important to know the People and where this book will leave it annoyed and/or
they came from and what they went through” puzzled and/or bored by the novel’s biting
(p. 5) and for the first two chapters, Alexie satire, by its refusal to resolve the tensions
gives the reader a lightning-quick tour that that it creates, and by a narrative style that
includes a mention of creation, the arrival of privileges repetition, hyperbole, and orality
Whites in 1789, the arrival of missionaries in as storytelling strategies. Non-Native read-
1850, and a brief history of life at a residen- ers will probably tire of hearing about the
tial school. sound of “a million porcupines crying in
All in the first sixteen pages. the dark” and cringe at the mantra of
For the non-Native reader, this briefing people growing 10, then 20, then 30, then
is too little to do much good. For the Native 40 feet tall with pride as they “disclose”
reader (and in this case, a particular Native the sexual abuse they suffered at residential
reader) who knows the history and the way school or the relentless cycle of attempts
the weight of this knowing settles over the and failures as characters try to put their
rest of the book, it is simply a way of say- lives in order. But in all this, there is a
ing “once upon a time.” delightful inventiveness of tone, a strength
In Porcupines and China Dolls, James of purpose that avoids the hazards of the
Nathan and Jake Noland return from lament and allows the characters the plea-
Aberdeen residential school, where the girls sure of laughing at themselves and their
had been scrubbed and powdered to look like perils. For the Native reader, these continu-
china dolls and the boys had been scrubbed ing attempts of the community to right
and sheared to look like porcupines, and itself and the omnipresent choruses of sad-
where each night, when the children cried in ness and humor, of tragedy and sarcasm,
their beds, the sound was like “a million por- become, in the end, an honor song of sorts,
cupines crying in the dark” (p. 12). a song many of us have heard before.
Native writers are particularly keen on All Natives?
the return of the Native. Momaday’s (1968) Of course not.
Abel returns from World War II, as does There’s no magic in the blood that pro-
Silko’s (1997) Tayo. James Welch’s (1986) vides us with an ethnic memory. But there
unnamed narrator in Winter in the Blood are more of us who know this song than
returns from the city, as do June and there should be.
Albertine in Louise Erdrich’s (1984) Love So what? What difference does it make
Medicine. In Slash, Jeannette Armstrong’s if we write for a non-Native audience or a
(1985) Tommy Kelasket comes home Native audience, when the fact of the mat-
from jail, as does Garnet Raven in Richard ter is that we need to reach both?
Wagamese’s (1994) Keeper’n Me. And, for Take Louis Owens, for instance. Maybe
that matter, in my first novel, Medicine if Porcupines and China Dolls had been
River (King, 1990), Will also comes home. written earlier and more people had read
These returns often precipitate a quest the novel and understood the story, Louis
or a discovery or a journey. For James and and the rest of those workers wouldn’t have
Jake, their return involves simply a sorting had to walk home that summer.
out, an ordering of relationships, memories, I don’t believe it, but then, I’m a cynic.
The Art of Indigenous Knowledge–––◆–––25

Maybe if Louis had had the chance to Armstrong, J. C. (1985). Slash. Penticton, British
read Alexie’s book, he would have gotten Columbia, Canada: Theytus Books.
on that plane and gone to the conference. Brant, B. (1990). Recovery and transformation:
I’m not sure I believe this, either. The blue heron. In R. Brewer & L. Albrecht
(Eds.), Bridges of power (pp. 118–121).
Ironically, in many ways, Louis’s story is
Gabiola, British Columbia, Canada: New
Alexie’s story. At the beginning and the end
Society Publishing.
of Porcupines and China Dolls, James puts
Cooper, J. F. (1963). The deerslayer. New York:
the barrel of a gun in his mouth and pulls New American Library.
the trigger. And in the novel, as in life, Erdrich, L. (1984). Love medicine: A novel.
whether he lives or dies depends on which New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
story he believes. Glancy, D. (1996). Pushing the bear: A novel
And this I do believe. of the trail of tears. New York: Harcourt
Which is why I tell those three stories Brace & Company.
over and over again. The story of the time Hogan, L. (1992). Mean spirit: A novel. New
my son and I came to Canada. The story of York: Ballantine Books.
my short career as a basketball player. The King, T. (1990). Medicine River. Markham,
Ontario, Canada: Viking.
story of an old man and his garden.
Momaday, N. S. (1968). House made of dawn.
And there are others.
New York: Harper & Row.
I tell them to myself, to my friends,
Owens, L. (2001). I hear the train: Reflections,
sometimes to strangers. Because they make inventions, refractions. Norman: University
me laugh. Because they are a particular of Oklahoma Press.
kind of story. Saving stories, if you will. Robinson, E. (2000). Monkey beach. Toronto,
Stories that help keep me alive. Ontario, Canada: Alfred A. Knopf.
Of course, you don’t have to pay atten- Robinson, H. (1989). Write it on your heart:
tion to any of these stories. Louis’s story is The epic world of an Okanagan storyteller
not particularly cheery. Alexie’s story doesn’t (W. Wickwire, Ed.). Vancouver, British
have a demonstrably happy ending. Neither Columbia, Canada: Talonbooks, Theytus.
participates fully in Western epistemologies, Silko, L. (1997). Ceremony. New York: Viking
and my three don’t have a moral center nor
Slipperjack, R. (1987). Honour the sun: Extracted
are they particularly illuminating.
and revised from the diary of the Owl.
But help yourself to one if you like.
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: Pemmican
Take Louis’s story, for instance. It’s Publications.
yours. Do with it what you will. Cry over it. Statistics Canada. (1998). General social survey
Get angry. Forget it. But don’t say in years of time use. Retrieved August 25, 2005,
to come that you would have lived your life from
differently if only you had heard this story. famil36a.htm?sdi=reading
You’ve heard it now. Wagamese, R. (1994). Keeper’n me. Toronto,
Ontario, Canada: Doubleday.
Welch, J. (1986). Winter in the blood. New
♦ References York: Penguin Books.
Welch, J. (1987). Fools crow. New York:
Penguin Books.
Alexie, R. (2002). Porcupines and china dolls. Welch, J. (2000). The heartsong of Charging
Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Stoddart. Elk: A novel. New York: Doubleday.


I ncorporating the arts into research methodology involves much more

than adding a splash of color or an illustrative image or an evocative
turn of phrase or a new media track. There is much more to methodol-
ogy than method. Carrying on with the idea that understanding the
deep structure of any methodology is vital, this section includes a range
of theoretical positions and approaches taken by those who involve the
arts in qualitative research. Chapter authors from a variety of intellec-
tual traditions and contexts define and describe research methodologies
that employ the arts (conceptually and/or with respect to process or rep-
resentational form). Each methodology has its own theoretical frame-
work, unique elements, defining features, and procedural focus. It is not
our intention to offer these as an exhaustive or comprehensive panoply
or even to suggest that these methodologies, as described here, are
themselves finite. As with all things qualitative, they are in perpetual,
evolutionary motion. What we do intend, though, is to communicate,
through these chapters, the depth and complexity inherent in employ-
ing the arts as a means to knowledge advancement through research.

• Art-Based Research, Shaun McNiff

• Visual Images in Research, Sandra Weber
• Arts-Informed Research, Ardra L. Cole and J. Gary Knowles
• Arts-Based Research, Susan Finley
• A/R/Tographers and Living Inquiry, Stephanie Springgay, Rita L.
Irwin, and Sylvia Kind
• Lyric Inquiry, Lorri Neilsen

◆ 27

 Shaun McNiff

♦ The Domain

I never made a painting as a work of art, it’s all research.

—Pablo Picasso

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. These inquiries are distinguished from research activities where
the arts may play a significant role but are essentially used as data for
investigations that take place within academic disciplines that utilize
more traditional scientific, verbal, and mathematic descriptions and
analyses of phenomena.
The domain of art-based research, a more focused application of the
larger epistemological process of artistic knowing and inquiry, has come
into existence as an extension of a significant increase of studies research-
ing the nature of the art experience in higher education and professional
practice (McNiff, 1998a). As an artist, I began in the early 1970s to inves-
tigate artistic processes with the methods of psychology. Although I
learned a great deal from these studies and continue to work closely with

◆ 29

various human science disciplines, I realized integrate art with service to others and revive
with the assistance of my graduate students partnerships between art and science.
that the arts, with their long legacies of I have always used the arts as primary
researching experience, could be used as pri- modes of inquiry, but it was the simple
mary modes of inquiry, especially when it action of naming this process “art-based
came to exploring the nature of art and its research” that carried the work into major
creation. As colleges and universities offer new dimensions of possibility. I advocate
master’s and doctoral programs that com- small “r” research and the demystification
bine the arts with other disciplines and of the social science research enterprise that
artists look for ways to use their skills as tends to separate research from practice.
researchers, the academic environment is In this chapter, I attempt to gather together
becoming more responsive to new methods many different examples and vignettes of
of investigation. These trends owe a great what art-based research can be together with
deal to Rudolf Arnheim (1954, 1966) and suggestions regarding methodology. I also
Susanne Langer (1951, 1953), who vali- try to show in working with a dream how
dated the cognitive aspects of the arts to knowing through the arts takes place in
large academic audiences and established ways that are distinctly different yet comple-
the intellectual basis for approaching art mentary to more logical cognition and how
making as serious inquiry. artists throughout history can serve as mod-
Rather than just reflecting upon artistic els for art-based inquiry. My goal is one of
phenomena in case studies, interviews, and inciting a sense of the vast potential that lies
other explanatory texts, students now ask in this area.
if they can pursue the process of painting to
learn more about a particular aspect of
painting or elicit the creative imagination ♦ Art-Based Inquiries
to let the characters in their expressions
describe themselves and their experiences,
and so forth. We are discovering how these My work as a researcher took a decisive
art-based methods, making use of a larger new turn in 1989 when I used my own art
spectrum of creative intelligence and com- as the primary mode of inquiry in Depth
munications, generate important informa- Psychology of Art. I felt that this more direct
tion that often feels more accurate, original, and firsthand approach enabled me to get
and intelligent than more conventional closer to the artistic process than I could by
descriptions. interviewing others. I have great respect for
I have been surprised by the enthusiastic the latter research method, but I wanted to
way in which the idea of art-based research explore something more experimental and
has been received. When I published Art- empirical. I asked myself the kinds of ques-
Based Research in 1998, informed by what tions that I had previously posed to others,
I learned from my graduate students, and I responded through the artistic process
primarily at the master’s degree level, I was as well as through words.
ready to have the work dismissed by the In Art as Medicine: Creating a Therapy of
research community. Instead I discovered the Imagination (McNiff, 1992), I continued
how the idea of researching human experi- engaging my art as the basis of inquiry.
ence through the arts makes complete sense I used my practice of responding to paint-
to people, especially those of us who long to ings with imaginal dialogue to perfect this
Art-Based Research–––◆–––31

method originating within the Jungian tra- art-based research. In my studio classes we
dition (Chodorow, 1997; Hillman, 1977, involve ourselves in particular forms of artis-
1978, 1979; Watkins, 1983) and make it tic expression, and then we systematically
more useful for others. I worked with a series describe and reflect upon what we did, com-
of 26 paintings made over an extended paring our experiences to those of others in
period of time and responded to each the group and to materials presented in pub-
through imaginal dialogue that I recorded, lished literature. We explore issues such as
edited, and presented in the book as a how movement improvisation offers some-
demonstration of the process. thing to the interpretation of art that cannot
There is no better way to understand a be accessed in words, how many people find
particular aspect of creative practice than to it easier to have an imaginal dialogue with
research it in this direct way. Since I was also another person’s painting than one of their
growing increasingly uncomfortable in using own, and so forth.
others to advance my ideas and methods, For those who wonder how one of these
firsthand empirical experimentation offered ideas can be expanded into a research pro-
a practical resolution to these ethical con- ject, a study might focus on the process of
cerns. The focus of my research shifted away making paintings and then responding to the
from experimenting with human subjects pictures through movement with the objec-
and toward the more direct examination of tive of exploring how movement interpreta-
the artistic process. I want to emphasize how tions can further understanding in ways that
even though these artistic expressions may are different from narrative description.
come from within me, I nevertheless attempt The artist-researcher might create a
to study the art objects and the process of series of paintings over a period of time
making them with as much objectivity as and then set up a research protocol
possible. I am intimately connected to what whereby the artist interprets the image
I make, and this relationship can further through spontaneous body movement in
understanding, but it is still separate from the presence of one or more witnesses. The
me. The examination is both heuristic and paintings can be both large and small and
empirical and thoroughly artistic. in any medium and with totally open-
I continue to expand this work with my ended subject matter (my personal prefer-
ongoing explorations in which I respond to ence), but individual researchers may wish
paintings through movement, vocal improvi- to limit choices, variables of size, media,
sation, performance, poetry, and ritual. I use color, subject matter, and so forth, in keep-
my experimentation with these processes, ing with the goals of the particular project.
as well as my experience with others as a A study of movement interpretation can
“teacher-researcher”(Gallas, 1994), to learn focus on paintings in a gallery made by
more about how varied media can offer others, although my interest as an artist,
interpretations of art works that transcend art therapist, and teacher has always
the linear narratives that we conventionally focused on how different sensory expres-
use to respond to art. All of this research is sions can help us to further relationships
part of my life-long examination of the process with our own art.
of interpreting art in more sensitive, imagi- A specific and constant period of time
native, and accurate ways. might be given for the movement responses
My teaching and personal artistic expres- (i.e., 2 to 5 minutes), with the witness serv-
sions have been the primary domains of my ing as timekeeper. Recorded dialogue and

notes after the movement process can then relation to art. In Creating With Others:
focus on the unique features of the move- The Practice of Imagination in Life, Art,
ment interpretations, new insights that they and the Workplace (McNiff, 2003), I give
generate, how they affect a person’s per- examples of how the arts help us improve
ception of the painting, whether or not the the way we interact with others by learning
movement process helps the artist become how to let go of negative attitudes and
more intimately connected to the painting, excessive needs for control, learning how to
how fear and resistance to moving may foster more open and original ways of per-
influence the process, and so forth. These ceiving situations and problems, gaining
same questions can be explored systemati- new insights and sensitivities toward others,
cally over a series of sessions. learning how the slipstream of group expres-
The study might also engage the witness sion can carry us to places where we cannot
in responding to the painting before or after go alone, learning how to create supportive
the artist moves. Other designs might involve environments that inspire creative thought,
both the witness and artist-researcher mak- and realizing that nothing happens in creative
ing paintings and responding to each other’s expression unless we show up and start
work, or video documentation might be working on a project, even with little sense
introduced—the variables and protocols are of where we might ultimately go with it.
endless, and each direction offers new areas Using art-based research methods out-
of research and learning. My recommenda- side the circumscribed area of people already
tion as described later in this chapter is to committed to artistic expression can be a
keep the project design as simple, system- challenging yet intriguing prospect. Let me
atic, and constant as possible since the try and give a possible example based on
creative process will inevitably present vari- my experience with percussion in groups.
ability and depth. We might ask how sustained rhythmic
As someone with extensive experience expression with drums can help people to
working with both artists and beginners, I transform conflict in organizations. The
can report that in many forms of art-based basic premise of this possible study might
research personal skills are essentially vari- be that drumming and rhythm can connect
ables that need to be noted. In most art people to forces of transformation and insight
media, with the exception of playing musical outside the realm of rational thought. How
instruments where expression requires tech- do the physical vibrations, energies, disci-
nical ability, the absence of experience may pline, and physical expression of drumming
even be viewed in a positive way as limiting alter our relationship toward particular
bias. The persistent challenge that I face with phenomena? Can a creative process such as
both artists and beginners is the very univer- drumming be more effective in transform-
sal resistance to new and unfamiliar modes ing a conflict than verbal interventions? How
of expressions that I embrace as a natural does the drumming activity further letting
force that can draw attention to the need to go, inspiration, focus, safety, and the power
let go and act with more spontaneity. of the group slipstream?
People often ask how the arts can research As stated previously, the variable of the
problems and questions outside the domain drummer’s skill will influence outcomes. A
of artistic expression or how knowledge person capable of creating a resonant and
gained from artistic practice can be applied pure pulse with the drum is more likely to
to experience within organizations and com- evoke the various influences and powers of
munities that might appear to have little direct this type of expression than someone who is
Art-Based Research–––◆–––33

self-conscious and unable to access the expres- When difficulties in human experience
sive qualities of the instrument and who become deeply lodged within individuals
experiences frustrations with the medium and groups, this is usually a sign that we are
that might ultimately increase tension. The stuck in our ways of dealing with them. A
type of drum, the nature of its voice—deep shift in methodology can bring tremendous
and soothing versus sharp and penetrating— insight and relief. The process of drumming,
will also have an impact on the outcome. and the use of our hands, bodies, and other
Therefore, the study might involve a leader senses as well as the activation of dormant
who sets the pulse, provides quality instru- dimensions of the mind, may offer ways of
ments, and draws less experienced drummers solving and re-visioning problems that are
into the rhythm. I predict that the skills simply not possible through descriptive and
of the leader in engaging others will have a linear language. The art-based researcher
significant impact on the quality of the asks these questions and then sets out to
experience. design experiments and situations that will
The drumming process and the rhythms further understanding of the phenomena.
it generates offer many opportunities for
verbal descriptions of effects on people. As
a thoroughly empirical activity it also lends ♦ A Focus on Method
itself to different kinds of measurement.
The sounds can be recorded with the goal of
identifying patterns, variations, and other Both art-based research and science involve
distinguishing features. I have always sup- the use of systematic experimentation with
ported collaboration between art-based the goal of gaining knowledge about life.
research and traditional scientific methods I have discovered how easily art-based
when questions and problems call for this researchers can become lost and ineffective
kind of inquiry. when inquiries become overly personal and
The simple question of how sustained lose focus or a larger purpose, or when they
rhythm in the practice of drumming can get too complex and try to do too many
help us deal with a personal or group prob- things. Therefore, I always focus on the cre-
lem opens up numerous directions for ation of a clear method that can be easily
inquiry and new learning. However, many described and then implemented in a sys-
people will instinctively say, “What in the tematic way that lends itself to the report-
world does drumming have to do with solv- ing of outcomes. Ideally, the method can be
ing the problems I am having at work or replicable and utilized by other researchers
with another person? I need more direct who may want to explore the problem sep-
and practical help. I can’t waste my time in arately. Experimentation with the method
a drum group.” and learning more about it can even be a
Perhaps the perception of a drumming primary outcome of the research and an
experiment being strange or irrelevant may aide to future professional applications.
be a key to its ultimate value since it offers Perhaps a defining quality of art-based
different and new ways of thinking about researchers is their willingness to start the
and dealing with problems. In keeping with work with questions and a willingness to
the dynamics of the creative process, what design methods in response to the particu-
appears most removed from the problem lar situation, as contrasted to the more gen-
at hand may offer a useful way of trans- eral contemporary tendency within the
forming it. human sciences to fit the question into

a fixed research method. The art of the art- science attempts to place controls on vari-
based researcher extends to the creation of ables. Since artistic expression is essentially
a process of inquiry. heuristic, introspective, and deeply personal,
Sigmund Freud’s method of psychoana- there needs to be a complementary focus in
lytic practice emphasized pure observation art-based research on how the work can be
and attentiveness to the immediate situation. of use to others and how it connects to prac-
Paradoxically, Freud, who freely indulged tices in the discipline. This standard of “use-
himself in theoretical reductions after-the- fulness” again corresponds to the values of
fact, offers what I view as a most essential science, and it protects against self-indul-
guide for the creation of methods of inquiry gence that can threaten art-based inquiries.
in art-based research. In 1912, he said Emphasis on method helps the researcher
avoid the confusion that may develop when
Cases which are devoted from the first the internal inquiry is not informed by clear,
to scientific purposes and are treated purposeful, and consistent organization. As
accordingly suffer in their outcome; while with artistic expression, structure often lib-
the most successful cases are those in erates and informs the art-based researcher.
which one proceeds, as it were, without A colleague of mine describes how
any purpose in view, allows oneself to be students pursuing more personal visions in
taken by surprise by any new turn in research frequently initiate projects that
them, and always meets them with an cannot be replicated or even used by some-
open mind, free from presuppositions. one else. His guiding question with regard
(Freud, 1912/1958, p. 114) to research methodology is, “Can someone
else do it?” (B. Logan, personal communi-
Freud clearly understood how important cation, May 17, 2005)
it is to withhold conclusions of any kind Where art-based research and science
when investigating human behavior, and it share this focus on a clearly defined method
is unfortunate that the theories he developed that can be used by others, the former
have been so widely used to label expres- process is by nature characterized by endless
sions according to predetermined concepts. variations of style, interpretation, and out-
In keeping with Freud’s immersion in the comes. While many areas of science strive
present moment without judgment, students for replication and constancy of results in
repeatedly tell me how confusing it can be to experiments, the arts welcome the inevitable
try and fit their vision into someone else’s variations that emerge from systematic prac-
fixed system. They feel liberated when encour- tice. Science tends to reduce experience to
aged to establish their own ways of research- core principles while art amplifies and
ing questions. expands, and I see the two as complemen-
To freely observe and suspend judgment, tary within the total complex of knowing.
the researcher needs a clearly defined struc- Within what has become known as the
ture of operation as with Freud, whose “new science” of physics there is a widely
method is in many ways more lasting than recognized acceptance of this interplay.
his theories. My experience consistently As we compare the different domains of
reinforces the importance of establishing a artistic and scientific knowing, it is essential
relatively simple and consistent methodol- to avoid the tendency to reduce one to the
ogy for artistic inquiry. The simpler the other and the assumption that one is more
deeper, I say as a guiding principle, and this truthful. It is more intriguing and ultimately
direction is consistent with the way in which more productive to look at the similarities
Art-Based Research–––◆–––35

and differences between the approaches and words are also practical and motivated by
how they can inform one another. Where a desire to convey information and ideas
science focuses on what can be objectively that are hopefully useful to others. Spoken
measured, art emphasizes the unique and and written language is thus a pragmatic
immeasurable aesthetic qualities of a partic- tool, not a prerequisite of validity. I wel-
ular work. Yet art is characterized by con- come and look forward to future inquiries
sistent formal patterns and structural by art-based researchers, working in artistic
elements that can be generalized beyond the disciplines such as sound and movement,
experience of individuals, and the new who strive to communicate outcomes in
physics reveals how physical phenomena ways that may not rely on descriptive lan-
are far more variable and subject to con- guage. Perhaps these inquiries will draw
textual influences than once believed. Both artists even closer to researchers in science
art and science are thoroughly empirical who similarly seek alternatives to the verbal
and immersed in the physical manipulation description of outcomes.
of material substances that are carefully As we develop new methods of art-based
observed. research, it is my hope that we can pursue
The translation of art experiences into our goals in ways that lessen the divide
descriptive language can present a number between art and science and between differ-
of challenges to the art-based researcher. ent kinds of research. I favor a simple focus
The student who deeply believes in the on doing “research,” systematically exam-
power of arts to access realms of experience ining and passionately imagining phenom-
beyond the reach of descriptive language ena in whatever ways address the needs of
might ask: “Do we have to translate artistic the particular situation.
insights into words? Didn’t Merleau-Ponty
(1962) say that the words of science and all
other attempts at description are ways of ♦ An Art-Based Exploration
‘concealing phenomena rather than eluci- of a Dream
dating them’ (p. 21)? Isn’t the pure art
experience in movement, sound, or paint,
the ultimate truth that is lost when we try to Let me give an example of how the ways
communicate it in another language? Aren’t of knowing that are unique to the creative
you contradicting the core premise of imagination can work together with lan-
art-based knowing by attempting verbal guage and more conventional research
descriptions?” methods. The object of this inquiry is a
Although I agree that artistic knowing is dream that itself offers unique insights into
not something that can always be reduced experience.
to language and that there is considerable I wake in the morning with a dream that
truth to the phenomenological declaration enacts a situation that I experienced the pre-
that “the original text is perception itself” vious evening with a new twist. I gave a lec-
(Merleau-Ponty, 1962, p. 21), I do persist ture that apparently went well, but in my
in the effort to speak and write about what dream about the lecture people were sleep-
I do in the arts. The original perception in ing, talking, and heading for the restrooms.
this respect provides the stimulus for the The dream embodied the uncertainty I sensed
unfolding of thought and the ongoing within myself about what had happened the
process of interpretation. My efforts to night before and displayed it to me through
describe the process of art-based research in striking and disturbing images. The unpleasant

nature of these images got my attention, a correspondence with their expression that
aroused fears and discomforts. is much nearer than before. I transcend my
The dream is a way of knowing, and it existing attitude toward them and start to
stimulates responses and attempts to under- see the scene in a completely different way.
stand it that collaborate with other modes I feel comfortable and actually enjoy imag-
of cognition. I want to get to know the ining the dream experience from the per-
dream in a more complete way, so I discuss spective of the sleeping audience members.
it with others and the conversations gener- I decide to use the artistic device of per-
ate new insights. I discover how talking is sonification as a way of entering into a
a way of thinking and knowing and how dialogue with one of the sleeping figures, of
important insights emerge from the flow trying to get even closer to it through poetic
of conversation focused on a particular speech and maybe it will tell me something
experience. The process of speaking with about itself. I personify the dream image,
another person naturally evokes different speak to it, and say how engaging it has
perspectives, and there is a spontaneity that changed my attitude and how differently
does not occur when I try to collect my I feel about it and the dream as a whole.
thoughts about something in isolation. The personified figure speaks to me and
Relating to the dream through conversation says, “Relax. Go easy on yourself. Be like
helps me realize how all of our senses and us and focus on breathing. Try to stop judg-
ways of communication play an integrated ing how you did in the lecture. Join us here
role in the process of understanding experi- and take it easy.”
ence, and it offsets the idea that words I pass up the temptation to ask the sleep-
and subsequent interpretations conceal the ing figure what it really thought about the
essence of an experience. lecture, sensing that it would just laugh at me
Stimulated by how talking about the dream and say, “There you go again. You’ve got to
expands my relationship to it, I respond let go. We’re just here, and we can teach you
creatively through movement, interpreting how to be more completely here too.”
the dream through my body. As I move like The dream is a way of knowing, and
one of the figures heading for the restroom, the same can be said about the process of
I feel an urgency to follow my instincts, to describing it to another person, enacting it,
honor them and access their intelligence. I dialoguing with dream figures, and so forth.
am surprised by the sense of relief that this We can continue to know it even better
brings and I feel energized, physically con- through painting, poetry, vocal improvisa-
nected to the space, more relaxed, confident, tion, and various other expressive modali-
and aware of how movement has contributed ties, each offering its unique interpretation
to my understanding. and understanding of the experience. This
I respond to the figures in the audience is an example of art-based knowing and
by enacting their postures and gestures with inquiry, and to the extent that I engage the
my body. To do this I have to envision them dream methodically and document the
carefully and observe the details of their results, I am researching the experience. All
expression. I make use of the artistic and of these responses to the dream make use
psychological tool of empathy to imagine of language and various forms of cognitive
myself as one of them, to project myself analysis.
into their places and sense what they are The inquiry into the nature of the dream
feeling. As I enact their bodily expressions, might simply stick with descriptions of how
aesthetic sensibilities help me get my I engaged it with different expressive facul-
expression as close as I can to theirs. I feel ties and how they compare to one another.
Art-Based Research–––◆–––37

It might be helpful to make comparative we treat the most mundane or apparently

mathematical entries on a scale determining inconsequential experiences may have the
the degree to which a particular way of most to offer in suggesting a larger vision of
working helped me see new things about the social transformation. One of the most valu-
dream or get closer to it. Or I might ask co- able features of art-based research might be
researchers to witness my expressions and its potential for offering very different ways
rate their reactions that can be compared to of approaching the most serious problems
mine. This relatively simple activity of that we face in the world today.
exploring and documenting different ways Art embraces ordinary things with an
of engaging a dream shows how the arts, eye for their unusual and extraordinary
spoken language, numerical analysis, and qualities. The artist looks at banal phenom-
other modes of thought can interact natu- ena from a perspective of aesthetic signifi-
rally in the process furthering understanding. cance and gives them a value that they do
The very ordinary dream that I just not normally have. This way of relating to
described can be viewed as an illustration things may have more social significance
that helps us understand how art-based than one might at first imagine.
knowing and inquiry take place. This example For example, when I give the dream
also suggests the largely unrecognized intel- image its autonomy and work with it as a
ligence of dreams that many still see as creative partner, I convey a sense of respect
meaningless and nothing but a discharge of for its existence. Can I do the same in my
excess energy. The artistic responses to the relations with others? Will I be able to
dream and the feelings of discomfort it extend the same compassion and desire for
evokes transform my relationship to the empathy to the person who constantly
experience and take it to a new place. annoys me or who opposes everything I do?
Making the effort to interact with the expe- Is it possible for me to suspend judgment in
rience in different ways is thus a prerequi- tense situations with others and just do my
site for new learning. best to interpret the encounters in more cre-
All the methods that I have used to ative and new ways? Maybe I can try and
respond to the dream and get to know it just listen as openly as possible with the
better can be applied to knowing and goal of learning something new about what
researching a problem that I am having at the person is trying to say to me.
work, to making a decision, to acquiring a The work is always challenging since
better understanding of why a particular we are generally not easily disposed toward
person or group of people act as they do, to establishing creative relationships with the
gaining a new perspective on a seemingly things we oppose and to possibly changing
irresolvable problem or conflict, to assess- attitudes that have defined who we are.
ing what might be happening in a particular Most of us find it very difficult to let go of
situation, and to planning future strategies. our habitual ways of viewing the world,
These art-based tools and ways of knowing and it is more than likely that we manifest
take us out of our habitual responses to the same tendencies in our dealings with
things. others. Change and insight in the personal
In reaction to the preceding example it realm are increasingly being recognized as a
might be asked whether focusing on dream key source of corresponding social change.
images and other distinctly personal phe- Therefore, the way in which we treat the
nomena is likely to encourage the self- humble images of our art-based research
absorption that I guard against in art-based may have a definite impact on how we
research. I reply by suggesting that the way engage the world.

Rather than trying to fix problems with When people challenge the process of
our points of view, we might focus more on researching human experience through art,
knowing them in creative ways as with the I like to describe Truman’s belief that many
drumming example described above. This of the greatest contributions to human
expanded comprehension of experience, understanding have been generated by the
and how we go about pursuing it, may be arts. He also reinforces the point that I
more helpful than proving our positions in make in Art-Based Research (McNiff,
an absolute sense. As with science, the valid- 1998a) about how fiction can take us even
ity of art-based knowing and inquiry is closer to experiences than verbatim descrip-
ultimately determined by the community of tions and the tedious and formalistic literal-
believers who experience firsthand what the ism that pervades case study literature.
arts can do to further human understanding. Fictional explorations allow us to penetrate
more freely and intimately into the particu-
lar subject matter, to identify with the char-
♦ Learning From Artists acters and situations in new ways, and to
speak from the perspectives of others.
Methods such as fictional interviews, which
I encourage art-based researchers to immerse can accompany literal ones in a research
themselves in studies of how artists research project, might also offer the most univer-
personal and social experiences and how sally accessible forms of art-based research.
art has served as a primary agent of change One of my doctoral students (R. McGrath,
in the world. It has been said writers are personal communication, August 3, 2006)
profound psychologists; the same can be described how this method helped him to
said of artists as researchers. integrate a wide range of data gathered
My artist mentor Truman Nelson com- from many different interviews.
mitted his life to writing novels dealing with In the area of nonfiction, documentary
revolutionary themes and figures. He films offer many examples of how carefully
described how his “revolutionary art is researched artistic projects can change
motivated by a desire to change American society. Morgan Spurlock’s (2004) Super
society” (Schafer, 1989, p. 275). Truman Size Me is an exemplar for any person
felt that through intensely personal and cre- exploring how art and science can collabo-
ative interpretations of historical events, the rate in examining a particular phenomenon
artist is able to go beyond facts and self- with the goal of changing human behavior.
reflection to express conditions that are Spurlock conducts an experiment in which
“interchangeable with other people” (p. 276). he eats food only from McDonalds for
In writing his books Truman experienced a 30 days and documents the physiological
creative tension between art and reality, and changes in his body—weight, cholesterol
he liked to cite Thoreau’s effort to “make levels, and so forth. I was delighted when I
fact flower into truth.” In describing this saw this film, and I recommend it widely as
method he says: “There is an overruling psy- a research model emerging from contempo-
chological truth that can come out of my rary art and culture.
absorption of the total empirical substance I also cite the work of Charlotte Salomon
that I am transmitting” (p. 276). The artis- as an example of how art can plumb the
tic or imaginal reality that emerges from this depths of the personal soul while inciting
process was to him superior to the literal others to creative action. After many per-
account of what occurred. sonal tragedies and before being taken to
Art-Based Research–––◆–––39

Auschwitz where she died in her mid-20s, universally organize research courses by
Charlotte chose to explore the full spectrum comparing preexisting types—sometimes
of her life experiences through a series of art-based research is even listed as one of
769 paintings with accompanying text. the options. The student is then expected
This work has been published as an autobi- to conduct research according to one of the
ographical play, Charlotte: Life or Theater? existing approaches or in some cases to mix
(Salomon, 1981). In this extraordinary more than one. In my experience all of the
work Charlotte strives to transform her life different ways of inquiry have the ability to
into what her mentor, Alfred Wolfsohn, inform one another and help the researcher
in the tradition of Nietzsche, described as design a study that best serves the particu-
“theater,” a form of art that gives existence lar issue. Artistic knowing can be heuristic,
a greater meaning. I have never experi- phenomenological, hermeneutic, imaginal,
enced anything that compares to this archetypal, empirical, statistical, and more.
systematic, comprehensive, deep, and cre- Within contemporary artistic training
ative examination of a period of personal there is an assumption that one studies var-
life through art. ious traditions, but then builds upon them
The work of Wolfsohn in researching to create a new and personal method of
the range of human vocal expression, as inquiry. The search for a method, in art and
furthered by Paul Newham (1993, 1998) research, is invariably characterized by a cru-
and the Roy Hart Theater, is another of the cible of tensions, struggles, a certain degree
great examples of recent art-based research. of chaos, and even the destruction of cher-
I encourage students to study how artists ished assumptions. I encourage “creating
operate instinctively as researchers who use outside the lines” as contrasted to following
whatever methods of inquiry and communi- the circumscribed procedures of a textbook
cation further their purposes. Nevertheless, approach to research. Invariably the encounter
I always encounter a certain reluctance to with this experience is the transformative
recognize and trust personal creative resources. engine that carries the researcher to signifi-
In response to these doubts I say to students: cant new discoveries. My book Trust the
“What particular artistic project or series of Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go
activities can you do to further your under- (McNiff, 1998b) was informed by these
standing of this issue? What can you do that experiences and the realization that if a
is uniquely yours and that grows from the person stays with the creative process, it will
authority of your experience? What feels generate unexpected results, the value of
most natural to you? Where does your which are sometimes even proportionate to
authentic expertise lie? What is it that you the degree of struggle.
have done that others have not experienced Just as science assists art-based research
with the same range and intensity?” through its emphasis on systematic inquiry,
This approach to creating a method is art enhances the process of discovery in science
much more challenging than following a by its responsiveness to the unexpected. As
standardized procedure. Even the published W. E. Beveridge (1953) describes in The Art
guides to phenomenological and heuristic of Scientific Investigation, original knowl-
research give unvarying stages that students edge occurs when ideas are placed in new
everywhere are adopting without under- relationships to one another, a process that
standing the philosophical concepts and tra- typically requires crossing the boundaries of
ditions that inform them. In addition to the previously separated domains, such as those
reliance on formulas for inquiry, schools constructed between art and science.

Artistic inquiry, whether it is within the Hillman, J. (1978). Further notes on images.
context of research or an individual person’s Spring, 152–182.
creative expression, typically starts with the Hillman, J. (1979). Image-sense. Spring, 130–143.
realization that you cannot define the final Langer, S. (1951). Philosophy in a new key: A
study in the symbolism of reason, rite, and
outcome when you are planning to do the
art. New York: Mentor Books.
work. As contrasted to scientific methods,
Langer, S. (1953). Feeling and form: A theory of
you generally know little about the end of
art. New York: Charles Scribner.
an artistic experiment when you are at the McNiff, S. (1989). Depth psychology of art.
beginning. In the creative process, the most Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas Publisher.
meaningful insights often come by surprise, McNiff, S. (1992). Art as medicine: Creating a
unexpectedly, and even against the will of therapy of the imagination. Boston: Shamb-
the creator. The artist may have a sense or hala Publications.
intuition of what might be discovered or of McNiff, S. (1998a). Art-based research. London:
what is needed, and in some cases even a Jessica Kingsley Publisher.
conviction, but the defining aspect of know- McNiff, S. (1998b). Trust the process: An
ing through art, as I try to demonstrate in artist’s guide to letting go. Boston: Shambhala
the examples given in this chapter, is the
McNiff, S. (2003). Creating with others: The
emanation of meaning through the process
practice of imagination in life, art, and the
of creative expression.
workplace. Boston: Shambhala Publications.
McNiff, S. (2004, Fall). Research in new keys:
♦ References An introduction to the ideas and methods
of arts-based research. Journal of Pedagogy
Pluralism and Practice, 9. Retrieved May
Arnheim, R. (1954). Art and visual perception: 21, 2007, from
A psychology of the creative eye. Berkeley: publications/publications.toc.html
University of California Press. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962). Phenomenology
Arnheim, R. (1966). Toward a psychology of of perception (C. Smith, Trans.). London:
art. Berkeley: University of California Press. Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Beveridge, W. E. (1953). The art of scientific Newham, P. (1993). The singing cure: An intro-
investigation. New York: Vintage. duction to voice movement therapy. London:
Chodorow, J. (Ed.). (1997). Jung on active imag- Rider Random House.
ination. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Newham, P. (1998). Therapeutic voicework:
Press. Principles and practice for the use of singing
Freud, S. (1958). Recommendations to physi- as a therapy. London: Jessica Kingsley
cians practicing psycho-analysis. In J. Publishers.
Strachey (Ed.), The standard edition of the Salomon, C. (1981). Charlotte: Life or theater?
complete psychological works of Sigmund (L. Vennewitz, Trans.). New York: Viking.
Freud (Vol. 12, pp. 109–120). New York: Schafer, W. (Ed.). (1989). The Truman Nelson
Norton. (Original work published 1912) reader. Amherst: University of Massachusetts
Gallas, K. (1994). The languages of learning: Press.
How children talk, write, dance, draw, Spurlock, M. (Director). (2004). Super size me
and sing their understanding of the world. [Motion picture]. United States: Samuel
New York: Teachers College Press. Goldwyn Films.
Hillman, J. (1977). An inquiry into image. Watkins, M. (1983). The characters speak because
Spring, 62–88. they want to speak. Spring, 13–33.

 Sandra Weber

♦ Seeing Image Worlds

Seeing is believing.
A picture is worth a thousand words.
That’s not how I see it.
I saw it with my own eyes.
I can’t believe my eyes.
Do you see what I mean?
Oh! Now I see!
I can’t bear to look.

Whether “natural” or designed, the environment demands to be seen.

Just look around. We are born into a world of visual images projected
onto our retinas, clamoring for the attention of our perceptual processes.
Even before we can think, we can see.1 Moreover, our sense of sight is
so entwined with all our other senses that even with our eyes shut, we
can see those inner images so often evoked by sounds, smells, words,
feelings, or thoughts. When we plan, analyze, imagine, think, or critique,
our thoughts are associated with and largely constituted by images
(Bruner, 1984). And when we sleep, there are the images of dreams. For
most people, this integration of the visual in daily life is a taken-for-granted,
unexamined part of living and not a subject of systematic inquiry or an

◆ 41

articulated part of scholarly methods. IMAGES AND SENSE-MAKING:

Seeing, being surrounded by the visual, HOW IMAGES MEAN
doesn’t always or necessarily mean that we
notice what we see. It is the paying atten- In our everyday lives, we interpret, create,
tion, the looking and the taking note and use images as a matter of course, often
of what we see that makes images especially without much conscious attention and using
important to art, scholarship, and research. whatever social codes and conventions
Indeed the discourse of the academy is all we’ve picked up along the way. Whether
about persuading others to see what we see. they are visual or imagined; symbolic or
But of course, as Berger (1972) asserts, the literal; one-, two-, or three-dimensional;
relation between what we see and what we analog or digital; material or virtual; drawn
know is never settled (p. 7). with words or with lines; captured by the
lens, the brush, the pen, or the poetic eye,
images are constantly subject to reconstruc-
♦ Image as Concept: A tions and reinterpretations. As Sturken and
History of Multiple Uses Cartwright (2001) point out, “The mean-
ings of each image are multiple, created each
time it is viewed” (p. 25).
The term image has often been used as the What a specific image can mean or rep-
basis for distinguishing things from each resent at any given time depends on a lot of
other, to sort phenomena into categories. factors, including who is doing the viewing
Strict definitions of image are thus used and the context in which the image is viewed.
to make distinctions between the “original” Major scholars, from late 19th- and early
and its image copy, or between the outer 20th-century semioticians Charles Peirce
physical world and the inner imagined or (Merrell, 1997) and Ferdinand de Saussure
psychological world, or between the “natural (1915/ 1988) to later theorists such as Jean
world” and a manufactured or designed Baudrillard (1993, 1988), Roland Barthes
(imaged) one, or, more recently, between (1981, 1983), and John Berger (1972) have
analog, material space and digital, virtual addressed the slippery question of how
space. But although these definitions have images mean, providing a variety of sophis-
their uses in some circumstances, the ticated and nuanced models to guide the
dichotomies on which they depend or that use of images in contemporary work. In
they evoke do not usually hold up to close considering the photographic image, for
scrutiny or thoughtful argument. Baudrillard example, Barthes (1981, 1983) posits that
(1993), for example, posits that hyperreal- images have two levels of meaning: denota-
ism (the meticulous duplication of the real tive and connotative. The denotative meaning
through another medium) is quietly erasing of an image refers to its literal, descriptive
the boundary between real and imaginary. meaning—the apparent truth, evidence, or
Contemporary uses of the term image are objective reality that the image documents
more likely to bridge or break down or denotes. The same image or photograph
dichotomies, straddling both sides of “real– also connotes more culturally specific
not real” questions, and offering ways to meanings. Connotative meanings refer to
think about phenomena more holistically. the cultural and historical context of a spe-
Of course, all this discussion of image as a cific image, as well as to the social conven-
concept tends to ignore images themselves. tions, codes, and meanings that have been
Visual Images in Research–––◆–––43

attached to or associated with that image in propositions for us to consider, pointing to

a particular context. We learn these mean- the fuzziness of logic and the complex or
ings through our personal experience even paradoxical nature of particular
(Sturken & Cartwright, 2001). human experiences. It is this ability of
The distinction between an object (refer- images to convey multiple messages, to
ent) and an image of that object (or signi- pose questions, and to point to both
fier) is not always clear or even possible. abstract and concrete thoughts in so eco-
As Baudrillard (1988) pointed out in his nomical a fashion that makes image-based
discussions of simulacra (signs that do not media highly appropriate for the communi-
clearly have a real-life counterpart), images cation of academic knowledge. A picture,
themselves act as objects and take on lives Harnad (1991) reminds us, may not only be
of their own, with no single object beyond worth a thousand words, but it can also be
the signifier as primary referent (consider apprehended almost instantaneously at a
images of a dragon, ogre, faerie, or even glance, whereas those thousand words
Mickey Mouse). An image can thus be “the require time to listen to or read.
thing itself”—the object of inquiry. Even in In the last few decades of the 20th
a post-postmodern era, there is a growing century, qualitative researchers in the social
tendency to speak of images as part of both sciences began to pay serious attention to
external and internal “realities” reflecting the use of image to enhance their under-
the relationship of image to the dialectics of standing of the human condition (Prosser,
human perception and sense-making, help- 1998b). These uses encompass a wide range
ing frame the concept more as a dynamic of visual forms, including films, video, pho-
product of our interaction with the world tographs, drawings, cartoons, graffiti, maps,
than as an immutable and independent diagrams, cyber graphics, signs, and symbols.
object in the world. The fields of visual sociology and visual
anthropology have done much of the pio-
neering work on image-based methodolo-
♦ Using Visual Images in gies, and consequently, their Web sites
(e.g., and http://
the Social Sciences and and
Humanities journals (e.g., Visual Studies and Visual
Anthropology Review) remain valuable
THE VALUE OF IMAGES TO resources for researchers from other disci-
RESEARCH plines as well. For something more hip and
artistic, I recommend the online e-zine
There are many kinds of image sources Stimulus (
available to researchers and scholars. As as a possible harbinger of what some future
this Handbook illustrates in detail, different image-based scholarship might look like.
kinds of images are central to arts-related Similarly interesting journals, too numerous
approaches to social science research and to mention, abound in the fields of educa-
lead to different ways of knowing (Allen, tion and communication. The sprawling
1995; Denzin, 1995; Eisner, 1997; Greene, field of cultural studies, with its vast array
1995; Paley, 1995). An image can be a mul- of journals, has also been home to highly
tilayered theoretical statement, simul- relevant theoretical works on visual culture
taneously positing even contradictory (e.g., Evans & Hall, 1999; Jenks, 1995;

Mirzoeff, 1998) that are very useful across 1. Images can be used to capture the
a broad span of research contexts and ineffable, the hard-to-put-into-words.
methodologies. The problem is that academ- Some things just need to be shown,
ics are too seldom aware of the publications not merely stated. Artistic images can help
and methods outside their chosen field that us access those elusive, hard-to-put-into-
could speak eloquently to their own disci- words aspects of knowledge that might oth-
plinary concerns. erwise remain hidden or are ignored. Eisner
Researchers seeking theoretical ground- (1995) argues that the use of images pro-
ing for the use of the visual in their work vides an ‘‘all-at-once-ness’’ that reveals
often draw on the seminal theories of what would be hard to grasp through lan-
philosophers such as John Berger (1972), guage and numbers alone (p. 1). The use of
Gaston Bachelard (1964), Jean Baudrillard visual images is not a luxury or add-on to
(1988), Roland Barthes (1981, 1983), Walter scholarship but, in many situations, essen-
Benjamin (1969), Pierre Bourdieu (1990), tial. A word and number description of the
Michel Foucault (1983), Susanne Langer number of tons of toxic waste produced by
(1957), and Susan Sontag (1977). The a municipality and their short- and long-
work of scholars such as Becker (1986), term effects on the environment simply does
Chaplin (1994), Denzin and Lincoln not have the same meaning as an image-
(2000), Harper (1998, 2002), Hubbard based account would. Concepts such as
(1994), Mirzoeff (1998), Paley (1995), poverty, pollution, racism, war, genocide,
Ruby (1996), and Steele (1998), as well as bureaucracy, utopia, and illness may require
the useful reviews and updates of visual visual exemplars to give them breadth and
methodologies by researchers such as Banks depth, to point to an understanding that is
(2001), Gauntlett (1997), Mitchell and connected to the world.
Weber (in press), Prosser (1998a, 1998b),
2. Images can make us pay attention to
van Leeuwen and Jewitt (2001), and Weber
things in new ways.
and Mitchell (2004b) exemplify the bur-
Art makes us look; it engages us. The reason
geoning literature available to researchers
we need and create art has to do with its
seeking a firm base from which to venture
ability to discover what we didn’t know
forth. It is this theoretical grounding, as
we knew, or to see what we never noticed
much as the images, that makes these
before, even when it was right in front of
research approaches so valuable and applic-
our noses. Artistic uses of images can make
able to a variety of social sciences. The
the ordinary seem extraordinary—breaking
remainder of this chapter will focus on arts-
through common resistance, forcing us to
related visual images, leaving literary
consider new ways of seeing or doing things.
images and science graphics to other
As Grumet (1988) observes,
authors to explore.

WHY USE ARTS-RELATED the aesthetic is distinguished from the

VISUAL IMAGES IN RESEARCH? flow of daily experience, the phone con-
TEN GOOD REASONS versations, the walk to the corner store,
only by the intensity, completeness, and
There are many arguments that can be unity of its elements and by a form that
made for the use of visual images in research, calls forth a level of perception that is, in
all of them interlinked. Here are 10: itself, satisfying. (p. 88)
Visual Images in Research–––◆–––45

There was nothing extraordinary, for objects in a photo can reveal as much infor-
example, about the ubiquitous and familiar mation as several pages of written text, or
red and white Campbell soup can until pop convey a different kind of information that
artist Andy Warhol made it the focus of his keeps a context always present. In other
work, thrusting it in the public eye on large words, through the ways in which they are
canvas, interrogating common notions of made and displayed, images can talk; they
art, commodification, and the popular. can have what Ong (1982) calls an “oral-
Giving a new symbolic visual twist to plain ity,” a narrative quality or the ability to
old things works well because we do not provoke or reconstruct conversations.
have our guard up against the mundane,
5. Images can enhance empathic under-
allowing it to break through our everyday
standing and generalizability.
perceptions and get us to think outside of
Images literally help us to adopt someone
the theoretical box.
else’s gaze, see someone else’s point of view,
3. Images are likely to be memorable. and borrow their experience for a moment.
Some images are more memorable than aca- This enables a comparison with our own
demic texts, and therefore more likely views and experience. Artful representa-
to influence the ways we think and act. tion works well when it facilitates empathy
Images elicit emotional as well as intellectual or enables the viewer to see through the
responses and have overtones that stay with researcher-artist’s eye. Hearing or seeing
us and have a habit of popping up unbidden or feeling the details of a lived experience,
later on. Using images as representation thus its textures and shapes, helps make the rep-
increases the likelihood of making an impact resentation trustworthy or believable.
on the reader/viewer/community, something As Eisner (1995) writes, “artistically crafted
granting agencies keep pestering the acad- work creates a paradox, revealing what is
emy to do. The power of art helps get our universal by examining in detail what is par-
research findings across to a much wider ticular” (p. 3). The more visual detail that is
audience who may pay more attention provided about the context and phenome-
because they can see what we mean, both lit- non being investigated, the better able the
erally and figuratively. Images tend not only audience is to judge how it may or may not
to convey additional information but also to apply to its own situation, models, or con-
“burn themselves into our brain,” forming cerns, and the more trustworthy the work
internal memories that may be hard to erase. appears, leaving the readers to decide or
“see” for themselves.
4. Images can be used to communicate
more holistically, incorporating mul- 6. Through metaphor and symbol, artis-
tiple layers, and evoking stories or tic images can carry theory elegantly
questions. and eloquently.
Images enable us to simultaneously keep The possibilities for using the visual to
the whole and the part in view, telling a make effective and economical theoretical
story and helping us synthesize knowledge statements is, for the most part, dismally
in a highly efficient way. Those who put up undertapped and undervalued in the human-
billboards or design magazine ads know ities and social sciences. The advertising
that it is possible to convey a lot of things industry and political cartoonists seem to
with just one image. Looking at a telling be way ahead of the academy in this regard.
and artful juxtaposition of figures and Some images (the double helix of DNA

comes to mind) are simultaneously the most popular images make many visual expressions
simple yet the most effective knowledge far more accessible than usual academic
statement possible. Others are less straight- language. To the degree that the mandate of
forward but nonetheless effective. I recall, the academy is to provoke discussion and
for example, a picture on a magazine cover thinking as well as communicate research
of a woman torn down the middle, the left to a broader audience (even within the
half dressed in casual “mommy” clothes, academy), the use of images becomes sig-
the left hand reaching down to clutch a nificant. Many people who would never
child. The right half was dressed for busi- read scholarly texts are willing to engage
ness, clutching a battered briefcase. Uniden- with photography displayed on a Web site
tified hands came clutching at both sides of or a documentary on television.
the woman, trying to pull her in different
9. Images can facilitate reflexivity in
directions. To me, at least, the image was
research design.
making complex statements about the con-
Using images connects to the self yet pro-
temporary roles of women in industrialized
vides a certain distance. An image reveals
societies, summing up in an instant what so
at least as much about the person who took
many women felt or still feel.
or chose or produced it as it does about
7. Images encourage embodied knowledge. the people or objects who are figured in it.
Visual methods help researchers keep their Under the right conditions, using images
own bodies and the bodies of those they can thus facilitate or encourage a certain
study in mind. In a variety of disciplines, transparency, introducing the potential
scholars are beginning to acknowledge the for reflexivity into the research design. In
embodied nature of all knowledge. It is, after a futile hope of maintaining “objectivity,”
all, through their bodies that investigators researchers too often ignore the way their
conduct research. People are not ideas, but own viewpoints, personal experiences, and
flesh and blood beings learning through their ways of seeing affect their research. By its
senses and responding to images through very nature, artistic expression taps into
their embodied experiences. The visual dis- and reveals aspects of the self and puts us in
arms or bypasses the purely intellectual, lead- closer touch with how we really feel and
ing to a more authentic and complete glimpse look and act. Paradoxically, such self-
of what a particular experience is like or of revelation also forces us to take a step back
what people think and feel. There is an unin- and look at ourselves from the new per-
tentional but automatic and visceral identifi- spective provided by the medium itself,
cation with some images; we cannot escape increasing the potential that we will better
contemplating or even, on some level, experi- understand our own subjectivity, leading to
encing the situations depicted, even if they humbler and more nuanced knowledge
were previously unfamiliar to us. claims.

8. Images can be more accessible than 10. Images provoke action for social justice.
most forms of academic discourse. No matter how personal or intimate they
Scholars such as Barone (1995), Cole may seem at first glance, images, by the very
(2001), and Greene (1995) assert that artis- nature of their provenance and creation, are
tic forms of representation provide a also social. In an era when the relevance
refreshing and necessary challenge to pre- of research to questions of social justice
vailing modes of academic discourse. The is increasingly expected, few features can
use of widely shared cultural codes and provoke critical questions and encourage
Visual Images in Research–––◆–––47

individual and collective action as well as to the research questions or the phenomena
images. Take, for example, the powerful being investigated. Or the researcher might
photograph taken by Nick Ut during the be the one making new images. Once the
Vietnam War of an obviously terrified visual material is produced, the resulting col-
young Vietnamese girl running naked down lection might then be the basis of further dis-
a street to flee a napalm fire bomb. It may cussion, interviews, and/or analysis, although
have done more to galvanize the antiwar the very process of creating images is often a
movement in the West than all the scholarly major part of the research process itself.
papers on the horrors of war. To the extent Examples of the production of images
that various uses of images are authentic, for research include asking people to draw
nuanced, and contextualized, we can create a teacher (Weber & Mitchell, 1995a, 1996)
bodies of visual work that may be useful in and, in another project, inviting girls to
the service of changes for justice in social make a short film about their experiences
policies or cultural practices. This objective of technology (Weber & Weber, 2007). As
is central to a growing number of scholars a further variation on the production of
in a variety of disciplines. images, in Secret Games: Collaborative
To sum up, this ability of images to Works With Children, photographer Wendy
evoke visceral and emotional responses in Ewald (2000) bridges the gap between
ways that are memorable, coupled with researcher-as-photographer and participant-
their capacity to help us empathize or see as-photographer by inviting the children she
another’s point of view and to provoke new was researching to suggest subject matter,
ways of looking at things critically, makes poses, and props to give her direction for the
them powerful tools for researchers to use artful photographs she took.
in different ways during various phases of Wang’s (1999) articulation of a visual
research. methodology called “photovoice” illustrates
how engaging and connected to social issues
research can be when it is the participants
themselves producing the images. This
♦ Visual Images and method is used in the service of social cri-
Research Processes tique and involves group as well as individ-
ual interpretations of the photos produced
by the participants. Hubbard’s (1994)
Images can be integral and essential compo-
anthropological research on a Navajo
nents of different sorts of inquiries on a wide
reserve, where it was the residents who took
range of topics, and research questions may
the photographs, resulted in an artful book,
call for a visual component in one or more
Shooting Back From the Reservation, that
of the following ways:
brings out the “emic” point of view that is
so often illusive in the usual volumes of writ-
PRODUCTION OF ARTISTIC ten fieldnotes. Methods that put the produc-
IMAGES AS DATA tion in the hands of nonprofessionals can
project a credibility and authenticity that
Images can be newly produced by par- more polished and accomplished works of
ticipants or researchers; for example, the art cannot always achieve. It is the very lack
researcher may invite people to draw or of artifice in the not-always-technically-
paint or take photographs or make a short perfect images that sometimes makes them
video or create an art installation that relates more convincing, more true to life.

USE OF EXISTING (FOUND) semistructured interviews. Giving people an

ARTISTIC IMAGES AS DATA OR image or object to talk about sparks multi-
SPRINGBOARDS FOR THEORIZING ple reactions, leading often to outpourings
of all kinds of information, feelings, thoughts,
The primary source of images on which and situation details. The concreteness, the
the research question focuses may be found materiality of photographs, artwork, and
material or already existing images, whether objects (see Winterson, 1995) seems to pro-
from museum archives, books, billboards, vide a versatile and movable scaffolding for
film archives, videotapes, magazines, and the telling of life history, life events, life
so forth, or images already created by or material. Things that might be too embar-
belonging to participants in the research rassing or too painful to ask someone or to
project, including photo albums, artwork, tackle head on are often brought to the fore
or artifacts. Langford (2001), for example, incidentally and gently when the focus is on,
did a fascinating analysis of a family photo for example, the shirt a departed loved one
album she found in the archives of the wore rather than on death and loss itself. In
McCord Museum that became a theoretical Not Just Any Dress: Narratives of Memory,
work on the orality of photo albums. Personal Body, and Identity (Weber & Mitchell,
photographs from their own lives became 2004a), as a final example, items of clothing
springboards for the insightful work of schol- and photographs of dress provided the
ars such as Chalfen (1987), Kuhn (1995), impetus for revealing narratives that give
and Walkerdine (1990). Analyzing Hollywood insight into many issues important to the
“teacher movies” to see how teachers have social sciences, including professional and
been depicted in film over the years (Weber national identities, birth, marriage, aging,
& Mitchell, 1995b) and speculating on the conformity, maternity, rebellion, body image,
reproduction of cultural images through the social codes, and death. Asking people to
phenomenon of school class photographs talk about visual images already in their
are two final examples of the use of the possession is thus a very promising research
visual in different projects (Mitchell & Weber, method.
1998, 1999a, 1999b).


Researchers often visually document
Sometimes data that are the focus of data collection by using a video or still cam-
an inquiry are elicited or obtained through era to capture at least some of what hap-
the use of images or objects as memory pens throughout the project. Not only does
prompts for writing or as points of departure this provide a visual running record, it pro-
for semistructured interviews. “Photo elicita- vides another eye on the process as well
tion,” for example, has become a frequently as valuable feedback, helping researchers
used method of data collection in conduct- assess, adjust, and fine-tune. Image-ing the
ing ethnographic studies.2 As Harper (2002) research process changes the research,
describes it, the procedure involves asking making it more transparent, suggesting new
people to take pictures and then looking at directions, and facilitating self-critique. A
and discussing the photos with them during telling example from my work concerns the
Visual Images in Research–––◆–––49

reviewing of taped interviews with children. Jo Spence’s seminal work (1995), as a fur-
It was only when I saw those tapes, and ther example, featured the careful construct-
noticed the children’s facial expressions, ing of symbolic images (for example, nude
body language, and, most embarrassing, photographs of herself as “meat for sale”)
my own rapid-fire delivery, that I realized as both the method of inquiry and the
how little time or space I was allowing for mode of interpretation and representation,
them to address the questions I was too reminding us that any attempts to com-
intent on asking. As a result, I changed the pletely separate method from findings is
questions and my manner of interacting artificial and somewhat arbitrary.
and got much more meaningful data, all the The importance of images to presenting
while providing children with a more enjoy- research findings was never more apparent
able and comfortable experience. Excerpts to me than when I tried to write about a pro-
from those videos provided convincing ject on the high school prom. Words alone
“evidence” for subsequent conference just didn’t do justice to the phenomenon.
presentations of my findings (Mitchell & The studies involved so much visual detail—
Weber, in press; Weber, 2002; Weber the dresses, the fabrics, the girls and boys all
& Mitchell, 1995b; Weber, Mitchell, & dressed up, the limos, the dances, the pho-
Tardiff, 2002). tographs, the disillusioned or happy facial
expressions, and the dozens of teen movies—
all of which simply refused to be flattened
USE OF IMAGES AS MODE OF onto a page of scholarly text. A highly ritu-
INTERPRETATION AND/OR alized yet complex social phenomenon, the
REPRESENTATION prom is known and portrayed largely
through the visual language of popular cul-
As the norms and expectations for com-
ture. The question was how to keep all the
municating research results change, a grow-
layers of the phenomenon in view when
ing number of scholars are turning to
communicating the results? And so I turned
image-based modes of representation, creat-
to artistic visual modes to theorize and rep-
ing art to express their findings and theories
resent some of our findings, directing two
(see Bagley & Cancienne, 2002a, 2002b;
films, Dress Fitting (Weber & Mitchell,
Cole & McIntyre, 2001; Jipson & Payley,
2000) and Canadian Pie (Weber & Mitchell
1997; and this handbook). Sociologist
2003), as well as a multimedia art installa-
Cathy Greenblat (2005) comments cre-
tion, I Am a Woman Now (Weber, 2004).
atively on Alzheimer’s disease through care-
fully sequenced close-up photographs of
small clear plastic “baggies” that contain a
collection of things one would not ordi- ♦ Questions and Caveats
narily group together, for example, a straw, Regarding the Use of
two pennies, an empty candy wrapper, and Images in Research
a valuable diamond ring. Many such bags
were found stashed in various places in
her mother’s house shortly after she died All of the preceding discussions do not
of Alzheimer’s. Greenblat uses her pho- mean, of course, that images per se are
tographs of them to symbolically represent “good” or guarantee any sort of research
and examine the disease, giving us a peak outcome or automatically lead to deeper
at the world through her mother’s eyes. understanding or theoretical insight. Not

all images are equal or equally effective or theoretical positions, can retain more of the
valid. Images, like words, can be used to whole within less space, can combine cul-
twist and distort and mislead. Ethical issues tural and transcultural elements, can evoke
(what is a responsible use of images of other but also sometimes transcend the specific
people, who owns or controls them, loss of context in which they are created, and
anonymity, and so on) can be very thorny can use specific instances to comment on or
and complicated. The effusive praise of illustrate wider generalities. Images can
image needs to be tempered by critical simultaneously present multiple viewpoints
considerations and further explanation. As or generate multiple interpretations, and
is the case with any other element of research, can call attention to the everyday by mak-
it is the quality and the judicious and ing it strange or casting it in a new light.
knowledgeable choices and uses of images Given the centrality of image to culture and
(see Tagg, 1993), the way they fit into the sense-making, social scientists are increas-
overall research design and dissemination, ingly interested in developing more sophis-
that likely determines how useful a specific ticated understandings of image processes
image can be in any given situation. and are more routinely incorporating delib-
Images are open to interrogation and erate and rigorous uses of images as part
interpretation, and there are so many ques- of their research methods. Accordingly, we
tions to consider. How do images mean? can expect the reporting of research find-
What or whose reality, if any, do images rep- ings in the social sciences and humanities to
resent? Whose gaze? What social, cultural, be more and more image-based, exploiting
or political knowledge is required to be able the power of images and imagery to com-
to interpret specific images? What makes municate both theoretical and empirical
some images trustworthy and others less so? meaning effectively.
What constitutes a valid interpretation of
images? Is there such a thing? What is the
role of social and cultural context to inter- ♦ Notes
pretation? Individual experience? How does
the visual genre used affect the research? In
1. So much of my own and other people’s
other words, how does the medium shape
thinking about images is influenced by John
the inquiry and the message? What kinds of Berger’s Ways of Seeing. First published in Britain
stories can images tell? When does image-ing by the BBC in 1972, it is based on a lecture series
become theorizing? What relationships are given by Berger, now available from Penguin
possible between visual images and words? Books. It is one of the seminal works on images.
There are no satisfactory universal answers Even thought the ostensible focus is on art, its lan-
to these questions, but they do provide use- guage and application are interdisciplinary. I rec-
ful criteria for the critique and evaluation of ommend it highly to all social science researchers.
image-based research. 2. See, for example, Prosser’s (1992) discus-
sion of the role of photography in ethnography.

♦ Conclusion ♦ References

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 Ardra L. Cole and J. Gary Knowles


Contemporary American artist Martha Rosler (cited in Gever, 1981)

states, “[If you want to] bring conscious, concrete knowledge to your
work . . . you had better locate yourself pretty concretely in it” (p. 11).
We are life history researchers with deep roots in meaning making
systems that honor the many and diverse ways of knowing—personal,
narrative, embodied, artistic, aesthetic—that stand outside sanctioned
intellectual frameworks. To begin this chapter we surface these roots.


As the youngest of three children and an only and much-wanted

daughter, I grew up in the coddled environment of adults. Around
kitchen tables, with my mother and her friends, I learned to make
sense of the world. It was there that meaning was given to all that was
good, bad, and indifferent in my mother’s world as she and her friends
philosophized and analyzed their way through bottomless teacups
and countless packs of Black Cat cigarettes. Together for friendly vis-
its, neighborly chats, weekly card games, domestic chores, or plan-
ning and preparing for community events, they’d tell stories, share

◆ 55

opinions and confidences, gossip, give and GARY

receive advice and emotional support. I’d
listen and watch as smoke, slowly but con- I lived in the southernmost province of
fidently released through crimson- and Aotearoa, New Zealand, for the first 22 years
cotton candy–colored lips, enwreathed of my life. As an only child I often came to
their spoken words. I took it all in, adding express and require the quietness of solitude
the knowledge to my accumulating under- in explorations of landscape and commu-
standings of my small but growing world. nity. This fostered an ability to follow my
I formed (silent) opinions of my own, felt own intuitions and dreams rather than those
pleasure and pain, learned compassion, of siblings or peers. Also, for the first 13
made promises to myself about how years of my life, I grew head and shoulders
I would be in the world and what I would above my peers in physical stature and this
do. As a child of the 1950s and 1960s, at played out in some unexpected ways. For
“the academy of the kitchen table” instance, I never experienced degradation at
(Neilsen, 1998) in the company of women, the hand of bullies and was most often the
I ground the lenses through which I see master of my own childhood games, fan-
and understand the world. tasies, and explorations.
After my mother’s funeral, on the way to In a windswept, small, rural town I
the cemetery, the silence of our inconsolable learned about the power of place and had
grief was finally broken by my niece who, the freedom to explore and express the
between body-wracking sobs, pleaded with learnings that resulted from being relatively
her father to tell some “Nanny stories.” unfettered in my day-to-day movements.
Telling stories of my mother, at a time when Cycling throughout the community and
almost nothing made sense or seemed fair, beyond, I learned the powers of under-
was the only thing that did make sense to us. standing that, perhaps, only finely tuned
After all, “The truth about stories,” says observations can bring. I learned experien-
Aboriginal scholar Thomas King (2003, p. 2), tially and geographically because I had the
“is that’s all we are.” They are who we are, freedom to roam, sometimes by foot but,
who we have been, and who we will mostly, by bicycle.
become. Intergenerationally, strong women led
I grew up in a working-class family, my family and, to them, I attribute much
steeped in the Protestant work ethic, where learning about the order of the world
actions spoke louder than words and “big around me. Everything that was done
feeling” people with “high falutin’” ideas within the family had practical value borne
didn’t pass muster. What mattered most of working-class roots and a quest for neo-
was the reward of a solid day’s work and middle-class status. Under these condi-
meaty ideas that produced tangible results tions and circumstances adults impressed
and made a difference in the lives of every- upon me values and stories that afforded a
day people. It was no surprise to discover glimpse into who I was and would become
in graduate school that William James’s and where I came from. The power of per-
philosophy of pragmatism made inherent sonal and family stories was more than
sense to me. Subsequently, the choices I mildly obvious to me then as it is now. Like
made throughout my academic life and me, extended family members had both
career naturally reflected the values and individual and familial scripts to follow
perspectives I grew up with. but, unlike me, had little opportunity to
Arts-Informed Research–––◆–––57

deviate from them. Family stories, often academy did not ring true to us or how we
about the context or experiences of labor, perceived our task.
were told and retold in the context of yet We quickly became disillusioned by the
more laboring work. Such was the source moat of science and mysticism built to keep
of my ingrained perspectives on the rela- researchers in and communities out of the
tionship between the purpose of one’s life ivory tower. Bolstered and challenged by
work and the public good. our personal histories to build a bridge
Influenced strongly by a pragmatic, hard across the moat, we began to question the
working mother, my emerging values were pragmatic value of our conventional-looking
metered by an avocational artist father scholarship and imagine new possibilities.
(whose dreams of daily existence seldom The language of the academy and all that it
experienced joy in the mundane). Influenced symbolized fell short in its ability to capture
by him, I gravitated toward the visual arts, and communicate the complexity of human
eventually becoming involved in architec- experience in all its diversity. Even challeng-
ture. Not surprisingly, it was the technical, ing conventions of positivism and following
the pragmatic—the vernacular—that guided qualitative research methodologies resulted
the emerging principles of design and aes- in research representations wrung dry of
thetics that I came to hold. A job needed to life—of emotion, of sensuality, of physical-
be accomplished, a building built, and there ity. Individuals and their lives were flattened
was always a bottom-line, functional ele- into a form mostly unrecognizable to those
ment involved. Years later, having honed my directly and indirectly involved or repre-
drafting and painterly skills, I regularly exhib- sented. The result, with just the right acade-
ited work and came to see myself as a visual mic ring, satisfied the academy but, with the
artist. This coincided somewhat with the extraction of life juices, those words became
process of becoming an academic, seeing too light to take hold in the lives of the
myself as a scholar. Given these circum- people and communities we researched.
stances, it was natural that I sought ways to We sought what we considered to be
fuse artistry and artmaking with scholarship more appropriately inclusive approaches to
that evidenced a practical bent. inquiry processes and representation—
methodologies that honored the diverse
forms of knowing that were part of everyday
♦ Dissatisfaction experience and that paid appropriate respect
and Disillusionment to both research participants and those who
“read” or might be interested in “reading”
research texts. Our goals related to integrity,
Prior to assuming roles as academics and relevance, accessibility, and engagement. We
learning the language of the academy, we wanted research to reach audiences beyond
did not put names on how we (and others) the academy and to make a difference.
came to know the world. But, as professors,
we quickly came to know that our jobs
were in large part defined by our abilities to ♦ Enter the Arts
attach words of explanation to phenomena,
experiences, processes, contexts, and systems.
We soon discovered, however, that the pre- Within the broad paradigmatic framework
dominant language—or discourse—of the containing qualitative methodologies, we

began to experiment with process and form. nature or its broader commitment to
We started in small ways, beginning, for practice and practical application of
example, by writing journal articles in alter- research, there is a history of method-
native formats and in a personal narrative ological innovation. In 1993, Elliot Eisner
style with autobiographical elements. Our gave a distinguished Presidential Address
challenges to methodological convention got to the Annual Meeting of the American
bolder as our experimentations with form Educational Research Association (AERA)
brought color, texture, and life into work in which he speculated about the future of
that had begun to seem grey, flat, and life- educational research witnessing an
less. These explorations, and the promises and expanding array of research methods to
possibilities they inspired, reawakened in us acknowledge and account for the range of
an excitement for our work. They reconnected forms and modes of understanding that
us with our long-held epistemological roots comprise human development. “Images
and brought together elements of our per- created by literature, poetry, the visual
sonal and professional lives that had, to arts, dance, and music,” he states,
that point, been forced apart by academic
orthodoxy. We continued to push bound- give us insights that inform us in the
aries of what was then possible in inquiry special ways that only artistically ren-
and representation (i.e., marginally accept- dered forms make possible. . . . [Beyond
able as scholarship), trying to get closer and stories and narrative] film, video, the mul-
closer to human experience and to com- tiple displays made possible through com-
municate it in a way that seemed truer to puters, and even poetically crafted
its original form and to those who may be narrative are waiting in the wings. . . . We
involved. won’t have long to wait until they are
Drawing on our artistic sensibilities, rela- called to center stage. (pp. 7, 8)
tionship to the arts, and respect for ways in
which artists of all genres have, throughout Soon after, the Arts-Based Educational
history, tackled society’s pressing sociopolit- Research Special Interest Group of AERA
ical concerns and confronted public audi- was formed and quickly grew.
ences with their messages, we turned our In 1997, Stefinee Pinnegar organized
attention to the relationship between art a groundbreaking session at the AERA
and research and the possibilities inherent Annual Meeting in which she invited sev-
in infusing processes and representational eral researchers to represent a set of con-
forms of the arts into social science inquiry. ventionally gathered data each using a
We began by dabbling with two- and three- different art form such as painting, dance,
dimensional art, performance, and fiction creative nonfiction, readers’ theatre, and
mainly for purposes of representation. At the poetry. At about this time a small but
same time we encouraged graduate students growing number of scholarly outlets (book
to explore media of poetry, literary prose, and journal publications and professional
playwriting, visual arts, dance, and music as and academic conferences) started to sup-
alternative approaches to knowledge repre- port “alternative” qualitative research. In
sentation and advancement. 1998, at the Ontario Institute for Studies in
By the early 1990s, a wave of change Education of the University of Toronto, we
began to swell particularly in the educa- started an informal working group of fac-
tional research community where, per- ulty and graduate students with a shared
haps because of its broad intellectual commitment to exploring, articulating, and
heritage or because of its interdisciplinary supporting each other in bringing together
Arts-Informed Research–––◆–––59

art and social science research. As word got more accessible. The methodology infuses the
out and interest grew, the working group languages, processes, and forms of literary,
became formalized. visual, and performing arts with the expan-
The Centre for Arts-Informed Research sive possibilities of scholarly inquiry
was established in 2000. It provides a con- for purposes of advancing knowledge (Cole,
text for promoting innovative research that 2001, 2004; Cole & Knowles, 2001;
infuses processes and forms of the arts into Knowles & Cole, 2002). Researchers work-
scholarly work for purposes of advancing ing in this way might explicitly ground the
knowledge and bridging the connection processes and representational forms in one
between academy and community. Those or several of the arts (see, e.g., Cole, Neilsen,
associated with the Centre continue to Knowles, & Luciani, 2004; Knowles, Luciani,
explore, encourage, and foster arts-informed Cole, & Neilsen, 2007; Neilsen, Cole, &
research in a variety of ways through semi- Knowles, 2001).
nars, workshops, and works-in-progress series; Arts-informed research is a way of
exhibits, performances, and conference pre- redefining research form and representation
sentations; an active research and publishing and creating new understandings of process,
program; and ongoing supervision and sup- spirit, purpose, subjectivities, emotion,
port of graduate students engaged in arts- responsiveness, and the ethical dimensions of
informed research. inquiry. This redefinition reflects an explicit
The time was right to forge ahead with challenge to logical positivism and technical
formalizing and articulating the theoretical rationality as the only acceptable guides to
underpinnings, practices, and issues associ- explaining human behavior and understand-
ated with the methodology that was emerg- ing. Bringing together the systematic and
ing from our research and that of graduate rigorous qualities of conventional qualita-
students with whom we worked. It was tive methodologies with the artistic, disci-
also important to distinguish it from other plined, and imaginative qualities of the arts
companion methodologies established and acknowledges the power of art forms to
evolving at the same time, such as arts- reach diverse audiences and the importance
based research, art-based inquiry, image- of diverse languages for gaining insights into
based research, and visual sociology. This the complexities of the human condition.
was important so as to, in Eisner’s (1993) The dominant paradigm of positivism
words, “achieve complementarity rather than historically has governed the way research
methodological hegemony” (p. 9). is defined, conducted, and communicated
and consciously and unconsciously defined
what society accepts as Knowledge; how-
♦ Arts-Informed Research ever, it is not a paradigm that reflects how
individuals in society actually experience
and process the world. Life is lived and
Arts-informed research is a mode and form of knowledge made through kitchen table
qualitative research in the social sciences that conversations and yarnin’ at the wharf or
is influenced by, but not based in, the arts transit station or coffee shop or tavern, in
broadly conceived. The central purposes of the imaginative spaces created between the
arts-informed research are to enhance under- lines of a good book or an encounter with
standing of the human condition through an evocative photograph, in an embodied
alternative (to conventional) processes and response to a musical composition or inter-
representational forms of inquiry, and to reach pretive dance. These moments of meaning
multiple audiences by making scholarship making, however, are not typically thought

of as Knowledge. “Knowledge,” as society accessible, evocative, embodied, empathic, and

has learned to define it, dwells beyond the provocative.
realm of the everyday. It is discovered by Following Suzi Gablik (1991), arts-
intellectuals—researchers and theorists— informed research is part of a larger agenda
and held by them until its implications are to reenchant research. According to Gablik,
determined and passed on for consumption. reenchantment
Knowledge is propositional and generaliz-
able and Research is the process by which it means stepping beyond the modern
is generated. traditions of mechanism, positivism,
According to this paradigmatic view, empiricism, rationalism, materialism,
Knowledge remains the purview of the acad- secularism and scientism—the whole
emy where it can be carefully defined and objectifying consciousness of the
controlled. But, as Eisner (1993, p. 6) states: Enlightenment—in a way that allows for
a return of soul. . . . It also refers to that
Humans are sentient creatures who live change in the general social mood
in a qualitative world. The sensory toward a new paradigmatic idealism and
system that humans possess provides the a more integrated value system that brings
means through which the qualities of head and heart together. (p. 11)
the world are experienced . . . [and] out
of experience, concepts are formed. . . .
Our conceptual life, shaped by imagina- ♦ Defining Elements
tion and the qualities of the world expe-
rienced, gives rise to the intentions that
and Form
direct our activities.
• How can the arts (broadly conceived)
Arts-informed research, with one of its inform the research process?
main goals of accessibility (and breadth of
audience), is an attempt to acknowledge • How can the arts inform the represen-
individuals in societies as knowledge tational form of research?
makers engaged in the act of knowledge
advancement. Tied to moral purpose, it is As a framework for inquiry, arts-informed
also an explicit attempt to make a differ- research is sufficiently fluid and flexible to
ence through research, not only in the lives serve either as a methodological enhance-
of ordinary citizens but also in the thinking ment to other research approaches or as a
and decisions of policymakers, politicians, stand-alone qualitative methodology. For
legislators, and other key decision makers. example, as a methodological enhancement,
Arts-informed research is part of a one might conduct an arts-informed life his-
broader commitment to shift the dominant tory study (see, e.g., McIntyre, 2000; Miller,
paradigmatic view that keeps the academy 2001; Promislow, 2005), an arts-informed
and community separated: to acknowledge phenomenological inquiry (see, e.g., Halifax,
the multiple dimensions that constitute and 2002; Rykov, 2006; Thomas, 2004), an arts-
form the human condition—physical, emo- informed narrative inquiry (see, e.g., Kunkel,
tional, spiritual, social, cultural—and the 2000), or an arts-informed ethnography (see,
myriad ways of engaging in the world—oral, e.g., McIntyre, 2005). As a stand-alone
literal, visual, embodied. That is, to connect methodology, situated within a qualitative
the work of the academy with the life and framework, arts-informed research perspec-
lives of communities through research that is tives enhance the possibilities of information
Arts-Informed Research–––◆–––61

gathering and representation (see, e.g., in life. Moreover, we infer that researchers
brown, 2000; Cole & McIntyre, 2001, 2004, can learn from artists about matters of
2006; de Freitas, 2003; Gosse, 2005; Grant, process. That is, the processes of art making
2003; Knowles & Thomas, 2002; Luciani, inform the inquiry in ways congruent with
2006; Mantas, 2004; Sbrocchi, 2005). the artistic sensitivities and technical (artistic)
strengths of the researcher in concert with the
overall spirit and purpose of the inquiry.
• Also, as in most qualitative research,
Broadly grounded in assumptions that the subjective and reflexive presence of the
define a qualitative paradigm, arts-informed researcher is evident in the research text in
research has several defining elements: varying ways depending on the focus and
purpose of the inquiry. In arts-informed
• First and foremost, arts-informed research, however, the researcher’s artistry
research involves a commitment to a partic- is also predominant. By artistry, we include
ular art form (or forms in the case of mixed conceptual artistry and creative and aes-
or multimedia) that is reflected in elements thetic sensibilities, not only technical skills
of the creative research process and in the or an externally sanctioned title of “artist.”
representation of the research “text.” The Extending the idea from qualitative inquiry
selected art form or forms serve to frame of “researcher as instrument,” in arts-informed
and define the inquiry process and “text.” research the “instrument” of research is also
the researcher-as-artist.
• The methodological integrity of the
research, a second defining element, is deter- • Although we operate on the assumption
mined in large part by the relationship between that all research is inherently autobio-
the form and substance of the research text graphical—a reflection of who we are—
and the inquiry process reflected in the text. arts-informed research is not exclusively about
In other words, the rationale for the use of the researcher. In other words, although the
photography, for example, as the defining art focus of an arts-informed inquiry may be the
form guiding the inquiry or representation researcher herself or himself, it is not neces-
must be readily apparent by how and how sarily so. Arts-informed research differs, for
well it works to illuminate and achieve the example, from autoethnography (see Scott-
research purposes. Hoy & Ellis, this volume) or autobiography,
both of which focus on the researcher as the
• Following the emergent nature of subject of inquiry. Arts-informed research
qualitative research in general, the creative has strong reflexive elements that evidence
inquiry process of arts-informed research is the presence and signature of the researcher,
defined by an openness to the expansive but the researcher is not necessarily the focus
possibilities of the human imagination. Rather or subject of study.
than adhering to a set of rigid guidelines for
gathering and working with research mate- • A sixth defining element of arts-
rial, a researcher using arts-informed informed research relates to audience. Consis-
methodology follows a more natural process tent with one of the overarching purposes
of engagement relying on commonsense of arts-informed research, there must be an
decision making, intuition, and a general explicit intention for the research to reach
responsiveness to the natural flow of events communities and audiences including but
and experiences. Serendipity plays a key beyond the academy. The choice and articu-
role in the inquiry process much as it does lation of form will reflect this intention.

• Related to research relevance and form as genre are prior experiences and
accessibility to audience is the centrality of familiarity with the particular genre or
audience engagement. The use of the arts in medium and how the use of that medium
research is not for art’s sake. It is explicitly will contribute to knowledge production—in
tied to moral purposes of social responsibil- other words, how representation and inquiry
ity and epistemological equity. Thus, the process are unified.
research text is intended to involve the
reader/audience in an active process of • Form as method speaks to the rela-
meaning making that is likely to have trans- tionship between the art form and the cre-
formative potential. Relying on the power ative inquiry processes. Carl Leggo (2004)
of art to both inform and engage, the describes himself as living in the world as a
research text is explicitly intended to evoke poet, eager to rethink poetry into human
and provoke emotion, thought, and action. life by engaging in a poetics of research. He
describes poetry as a way of “making the
world in words . . . a site for dwelling, for
FORM holding up, for stopping” (Leggo, 1998,
p. 182). Carl’s poetic research texts and the
To embrace the potential of the arts to creative process they represent echo his
inform scholarship is to be open to the way of being in the world as a poet. His
ways in which the literary, visual, or per- work is a vivid example of how form and
forming arts—and the inherent methods method can dwell in communion.
and processes of those various art forms—
• Form as structural element refers to
can inform processes and representations
the literal or metaphorical arrangements of
of scholarly inquiry. The relationship
theoretical constructs, narratives, experi-
between and among research purposes
ences, and their various representations, so
related to knowledge advancement and
that there is a coherent articulation of a par-
research communication, art form, and the
ticular perspective that illustrates knowledge
artist-researchers’ grounding in and devel-
production and purposeful communication.
oping expertise/competence with the cho-
For example, Lois Kunkel’s (2000) research
sen art form is key. Indeed, form is the
about children of missionaries from their
main defining element of arts-informed
now adult perspectives is set in West Africa,
research. Choice of art form that will guide
where the author herself grew up as a child
inquiry processes and/or representation
of missionary parents. West Africa is also
involves a consideration of form in its
the home of the mythological character,
many manifestations.
Anansi the Spider. Because, coincidentally,
an epiphanal event in Lois’s early life also
• Form as genre and/or medium means involved a spider, she chose to work with a
the way or mode of presenting the text or spider metaphor to define the structure of
concepts including text-based means such as her research text. The result is an evocative
fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry; and compelling arts-informed narrative,
performative and time-sensitive approaches Spiders Spin Silk, with the Anansi stories
such as dance, performance, theatre, and providing the metaphorical structure for the
music; and image-based approaches includ- research text.
ing painting, photography, collage, multi-
media, sculpture, film/video, folk arts, and • Form as technical element refers to
installation art. Important in decisions about the place of templates for designing the
Arts-Informed Research–––◆–––63

physical appearance of the document— evocation and resonance—combine to con-

how the text and media are presented on tribute to the beauty of the work. Attending
the page. In her book Of Earth and Flesh to aesthetics of form does not necessarily
and Bones and Breath: Landscapes of mean that researchers identify themselves
Embodiment and Moments of Re-enactment, as artists or have extensive background or
Suzanne Thomas (2004) uses languages experience in arts production. It does mean,
of poetry and photography to create an though, that the researcher-as-artist must
intertextual space for phenomenological make a commitment to learning how the
engagement with the natural world. Her aesthetic elements of an art form can
intent is for the reader to “dwell in the inti- inform a research project.
macy of knowledge” and experience aes-
• Form as procedural element and
thetic representations “as a continuous
emergent phenomenon means that elements
unfolding of meanings” (p. 12). To create
of form may change over time as the
this kind of engagement, Suzanne devel-
inquiry matures or develops and as ideas
oped a template for the aesthetic arrange-
evolve. Inspiration for form may come at
ment of visual and textual fragments—a
the outset and drive an inquiry. Inspiration
skeletal frame to hold image and text in
may also present itself in various ways at
rhythmic patterns. The beauty, sensuality,
any point in the research process; often it is
and overall power of this work are in large
because of implicit or metaphorical connec-
part due to the author’s attention to com-
tions that become evident while immersed
positional arrangement and her use of an
in the inquiry process. Inspiration may have
organizational template to “develop a sym-
rational, reasoned sources or it may be hap-
biotic synergy between the elements of
penstance, serendipitous. It is at these times
images/space/words” (p. 7).
that the researcher’s full depth of profes-
• Form as communication element sional experience and perspective come into
involves a consideration of both audience play. The researcher is, after all, the instru-
and research purpose to determine whether ment of form.
the form is optimal for full and rich commu-
• Form as reflection of the qualities of
nication of ideas and constructs. In other
goodness of inquiry requires that, while
words, to paraphrase Elliot Eisner (1993),
the research must exhibit qualities of sound
decisions about form as communication
scholarship (focus, intensity, authority, rel-
involve consideration of the question, “How
evance, substance, and so on), it must do
and whom will the form inform?”
so in a way that is congruent with the art
• Form as aesthetic element relates to form used. This speaks to the form being
how the work “should” look based on the integral to research purposes and proce-
aesthetic principles and conventions of the dural approaches in conjunction with the
genre. By aesthetic we mean consideration potential of the work to influence the pub-
of the enduring principles of form and com- lic good. The qualities of goodness (elabo-
position, of weight and light, of color and rated later in the chapter) are a set of broad
line, of texture and tone, as when working principles that guide and define the quali-
in the painterly arts, for example. The ties of arts-informed research. Under
aesthetic element reflects how central prin- scrutiny it ought to be evident that the pur-
ciples upheld in a variety of art forms— poses, processes, orientations, literatures,
internal consistency and coherence, clarity and outcomes of the study work together in
and quality, authenticity and sincerity, harmony.

♦ Ways and Means life for women. Together, the images rely on
shock value and exaggeration to draw view-
of Finding Form ers in to connect with the truths expressed,
the ultimate goal being to precipitate the
FINDING FORM THROUGH DATA creation of a more humane and generous
reality for teacher educators in the academy.
During research conversations with pro-
fessors of teacher education in a life history
study, Ardra became vividly aware that some FINDING FORM BASED ON
of the experiences being recounted were so RESEARCHER’S ARTISTIC
imbued with emotion and such poignant IDENTITY
illustrations of the often dysfunctional rela-
tionship between academic institutions and During a visit to an art gallery, Gary
individual faculty members’ goals and values came across the photographic and instal-
that conventional forms of representing lation work of Canadian artist Marlene
these experiences seemed inadequate. Creates. He was both intrigued and moti-
Frequently, the participants used graphic lan- vated by the resonance he felt with her
guage to create images or metaphors to art. The exhibit was a one-person, multi-
describe elements of their experience. They installation, retrospective work entitled
often struggled to find words to adequately Marlene Creates: Land Works 1979–1991
convey the passion and emotion felt about (Creates, 1992). The work portrays notions
certain issues and experiences. In an attempt of space and place and humans’ impres-
to find a representational form that would sions and responses.
more closely render the aesthetic of lived Two installations within the larger
experience, however partial, and afford read- exhibit clearly expressed Creates’s method
ers better opportunities for their own reso- of artistic inquiry. The Distance Between
nant interpretations, Ardra turned to the Two Points Is Measured in Memories
tableau art form, inspired by American con- (Creates, 1990) explored “the relationship
temporary artists Edward Kienholz and between human experience and the land-
Nancy Reddin Kienholz. scape and, in particular, the ways in which
The experiences recounted by the teacher landscape is richly and profoundly differen-
educators, and the themes and issues embed- tiated into ‘places’” (Creates, quoted in
ded in those experiences and in the telling of Garvey, 1993, p. 20). The artist was pri-
them, inspired the conceptualization and marily interested in how people remember
creation of a series of three-dimensional rep- place, and she used black and white pho-
resentations entitled Living in Paradox tography, personal narratives, and graphite
(Cole, Knowles, brown, & Buttignol, 1999). map drawings on paper with artifacts/
In Academic Altarcations a conveyor belt found objects to articulate her artistic find-
carries symbols of personal sacrifice to the ings about individuals’ memories of the
altar of the academy. A Perfect Imbalance is landscape. Places of Presence: Newfoundland
an unevenly weighted balance scale that Kin and Ancestral Land, Newfoundland,
depicts the dual mandate of teacher educa- 1989–1991 (Creates, 1991) consisted of
tors’ work and the associated elusive pur- photographs, handwritten narratives, and
suit of a balanced life. In Wrestling hand-drawn memory maps, along with
Differences, action figures set up in a toy found objects as artifacts.
wrestling ring depict the gender inequities The complexities, yet also the simplicities,
that continue to define much of academic of Creates’s life history-based, visual stories
Arts-Informed Research–––◆–––65

were obvious. She showed the personal others and enjoy conversation over a puzzle
strengths and attachments of her relatives or game; share a thought, impression,
to place and community and her own or story by writing in a journal or speak-
responses to them and their contexts. Her ing into a tape recorder; leave a memory
work reinforced Gary’s intuitive feelings (a poem, photograph, or memento) and be
about the limitations of conventional, oral, part of a collective remembering of care;
and text-based life history work. Creates’s and/or participate in a group conversation
work also offered insights into the creative about issues of caregiving. Creating spaces
art-making inquiry process. This happen- for people to feel comfortable with the
stance encounter by one artist with the work work was one of the central principles guid-
of another gave rise to a program of research ing the researchers’ attention to form.
on “sense of place” that evolved over several Regardless of how or when an art form
years (see, e.g., Knowles & Thomas, 2000, is selected as a key methodological compo-
2002; Thomas & Knowles, 2002). nent, important in arts-informed research is
the researcher’s commitment to it in all of
its manifestations.
♦ Qualities of Goodness in
In a research project on caregiving and Arts-Informed Research
Alzheimer’s disease (Cole & McIntyre,
2004, 2006; McIntyre & Cole, 2006), the
researchers identified public education and Arts-informed research, in process and rep-
caregiver support as two of their goals. resentational form, is neither prescriptive
They created a seven-piece, two- and three- nor codified. It is the creative meshing of
dimensional mixed media installation scholarly and artistic endeavors. Nevertheless,
about caregiving and Alzheimer’s disease like all research, studies following arts-
that paid tribute to those with the illness informed research methodology must be
and those in caregiving roles. One purpose subjected to scrutiny to assess, and perhaps
of the exhibit was to make Alzheimer’s help to explain, their worth or value as
disease more familiar to a wide public audi- research. A broad assessment is guided by
ence. Another aim was to provide opportu- the two general questions: How do the arts
nities for those directly affected by the inform the research process, and how do
illness to feel affirmed and supported. The the arts inform the research representa-
Alzheimer’s Project was displayed for sev- tion? More specifically, a study imbued
eral days in prominent public venues across with the following qualities is one that is
Canada, and family caregivers were invited likely to both exemplify and contribute to
to view the work and share their experi- the broad agenda of arts-informed research,
ences of Alzheimer’s disease and caregiving that of enhancing understanding of the
through group and individual conversa- human condition through alternative (to
tions and by contributing written responses conventional) processes and representa-
and artifacts related to their experiences. tional forms of inquiry, and reaching multi-
Members of the general public responded ple audiences by making scholarship more
through written comments and audiotape- accessible.
recorded stories. Visitors to the exhibit
were invited to participate in different • Intentionality. All research has one
ways. They could view the work; sit with or more purposes but not all research is

driven by a moral commitment. Consistent elements of an arts-informed research proj-

with the broad agenda of social science ect is defined by how well the artistic
research to improve the human condition, process and form serve research goals.
arts-informed research has both a clear Attention to the aesthetics of a particular
intellectual purpose and moral purpose. genre are, therefore, important; aesthetics
Ultimately, the research must stand for of form are integrally tied to communica-
something. Arts-informed research repre- tion. In On Women’s Domestic Knowledge
sentations, then, are not intended as titilla- and Work: Growing Up in an Italian
tions but as opportunities for transformation, Kitchen (2006), Teresa Luciani combines
revelation, or some other intellectual and fiction, autobiography, and photography
moral shift. They must be more than good in an exploration that celebrates the depth
stories, images, or performances. For example and complexity of domestic knowledge
brenda brown’s (2000) Lost Bodies and and makes visible women’s domestic labor.
Wild Imaginations is a provocative tale about The power and beauty of her work reflects
telling and “what it’s like to tell about rigorous attention to the aesthetic qualities
childhood sexual abuse through artistic of each art form and, in turn, how the
enterprise.” brown describes the intention art forms combine in an aesthetic whole.
of her work as “a testimony to lives lost (
and lives reclaimed, to the power of the
• Methodological Commitment. Arts-
imagination to . . . return these histories to
informed research evidences attention to
their rightful place in the world” (p. ii).
the defining elements and form of arts-
informed research. As such the work
• Researcher Presence. A researcher’s reflects a methodological commitment
presence is evident in a number of ways through evidence of a principled process,
throughout an arts-informed research procedural harmony, and attention to aes-
“text” (in whatever form it is presented thetic quality. Love Stories About Caregiving
and, by implication, throughout the entire and Alzheimer’s Disease (McIntyre &
researching process). The researcher is pre- Cole, 2006) is a 45-minute spoken word
sent through an explicit reflexive self- performance created from data gathered in
accounting; her presence is also implied a study of caregivers’ experiences of caring
and felt, and the research text (the repre- for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.
sentational form) clearly bears the signa- Working with the data to identify substan-
ture or fingerprint of researcher-as-artist. tive themes related to the research pur-
Nancy Davis Halifax is a visual artist, poet, pose, it became clear that, to preserve the
prose writer, and researcher in areas of integrity of and honor the caregivers’ expe-
health, disability, and homelessness. Her riences, the form of representation needed
work (e.g., Halifax, 2002, 2007) is a vivid to remain true to the narrative and emotive
example of artist-researcher confluence. quality of what people contributed. (www
• Aesthetic Quality. The central pur- • Holistic Quality. From purpose to
pose of arts-informed research is knowl- method to interpretation and representa-
edge advancement through research, not tion, arts-informed research is a holistic
the production of fine art works. Art is a process and rendering that runs counter to
medium through which research purposes more conventional research endeavors
are achieved. The quality of the artistic that tend to be more linear, sequential,
Arts-Informed Research–––◆–––67

compartmentalized, and distanced from work and spend time at the various spaces
researcher and participants. A rigorous in the exhibit created for social interaction,
arts-informed “text” is imbued with an information exchange, or silent repose.
internal consistency and coherence that (
represents a strong and seamless relation-
ship between purpose and method (process • Knowledge Advancement. Research
and form). The research text also evidences is about advancing knowledge however
a high level of authenticity that speaks to “knowledge” is defined. The knowledge
the truthfulness and sincerity of the advanced in arts-informed research is
research relationship, process of inquiry, generative rather than propositional and
interpretation, and representational form. based on assumptions that reflect the
Gary Knowles’s and Suzanne Thomas’s multidimensional, complex, dynamic,
research with high school students explor- intersubjective, and contextual nature of
ing sense of place in schools (Knowles & human experience. In so doing, knowledge
Thomas, 2000, 2002; Thomas & Knowles, claims must be made with sufficient ambi-
2002) is an example of holistic quality in guity and humility to allow for multiple
research. The student-researchers in the interpretations and reader response. Kathryn
project were at once information gatherers, Church’s research-based installation, Fabri-
portraiture artists, and interpreters of cations: Stitching Ourselves Together, is
experience. The students’ creations, made constructed around 22 wedding dresses
up of personal narratives, photographs, that her mother sewed over 50 years. From
memory maps, and found objects, became 1997 to 2001, she exhibited the work in
at once “data” and representations indica- public venues to audiences who could imme-
tive of the inquiry focus. (www.sagepub diately connect with the familiarity of the
.com/knowlessupplement) display and be challenged, perhaps for
the first time, to think about some of the
• Communicability. Foremost in arts- sociocultural complexities depicted. (www
informed work are issues related to audi-
ence and the transformative potential of
the work. Research that maximizes its • Contributions. Tied to the intellec-
communicative potential addresses concerns tual and moral purposes of arts-informed
about the accessibility of the research research are its theoretical and practical
account usually through the form and lan- contributions. Sound and rigorous arts-
guage in which it is written, performed, or informed work has both theoretical poten-
otherwise presented. Accessibility is related tial and transformative potential. The former
to the potential for audience engagement acknowledges the centrality of the So What?
and response. Such representations of question and the power of the inquiry
research have the express purpose of con- work to provide insights into the human
necting, in a holistic way, with the hearts, condition, while the latter urges researchers
souls, and minds of the audience. They are to imagine new possibilities for those whom
intended to have an evocative quality and the work is about and for. Researchers are
a high level of resonance for diverse audi- not passive agents of the state, university,
ences. In the Alzheimer’s Project, described or any other agency of society. Researchers’
earlier, children, rural women, and men responsibilities are toward fellow humans,
over 80—people who do not usually attend neighbors, and community members. Ross
research presentations—came to see the Gray and Chris Sinding poignantly

confront this issue in their research-based of the American Educational Research

dramas on/with people living with cancer Association, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
(see, e.g., Gray & Sinding, 2002). (www Cole, A. L., & McIntyre, M. (2001). “Dance me to an understanding of teaching”: A
performative text. Journal of Curriculum
Theorizing, 17(2), 43–60.
The transformative potential of arts-
Cole, A. L., & McIntyre, M. (2004) Research as
informed research speaks to the need for
aesthetic contemplation: The role of the audi-
researchers to develop representations that
ence in research interpretation. Educational
address audiences in ways that do not Insights, 9(1).
pacify or indulge the senses but arouse them Cole, A. L., & McIntyre, M. (2006). Living and
and the intellect to new heights of response dying with dignity: The Alzheimer’s project.
and action. In essence, and ideally, the Halifax, Nova Scotia/Toronto, Ontario,
educative possibilities of arts-informed Canada: Backalong Books/Centre for Arts-
work are foremost in the heart, soul, and Informed Research.
mind of the researcher from the onset of an Cole, A. L., Neilsen, L., Knowles, J. G., &
inquiry. The possibilities of such educative Luciani, T. (Eds.). (2004). Provoked by art:
endeavors, broadly defined, are near limit- Theorizing arts-informed inquiry (Vol. 2,
Arts-Informed Inquiry Series). Halifax,
less; their power to inform and provoke
Nova Scotia, Canada: Backalong Books.
action are only constrained by the human
Creates, M. (1990). The distance between two
spirit and its energies.
points is measured in memories, Labrador
1988. North Vancouver, British Columbia,
Canada: Presentation House Gallery.
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Gosse, D. (2005). Breaking silences: Marginality, Kunkel, L. I. (2000). Spiders spin silk: Reflections
resistance and the creative research process. of missionary kids at midlife. Unpublished
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Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

 Susan Finley

A rts-based inquiry is uniquely positioned as a methodology for

radical, ethical, and revolutionary research that is futuristic,
socially responsible, and useful in addressing social inequities. By its
integration of multiple methodologies used in the arts with the post-
modern ethics of participative, action-oriented, and politically situ-
ated perspectives for human social inquiry, arts-based inquiry has the
potential to facilitate critical race, indigenous, queer, feminist, and
border theories and research methodologies. As a form of perfor-
mance pedagogy, arts-based inquiry can be used to advance a subver-
sive political agenda that addresses issues of social inequity. Such
work exposes oppression, targets sites of resistance, and outlines pos-
sibilities for transformative praxis. From this perspective, arts-based
inquiry can explore multiple, new, and diverse ways of understand-
ing and living in the world. This chapter historically situates critical
arts-based research, provides examples of its methodologies and rep-
resentations, and suggests some ways to reposition arts-based research
in order to better assure its usefulness as a tool of resistance against
the politics of neoconservatism.

◆ 71

♦ What Is Unique About These tensions create the open and dia-
logic spaces in which arts-based research
Arts-Based Research in performs social reconstructions (cf., Garoian,
Relation to Various Forms 1999; Houston & Pulido, 2002). Arts-based
of Postmodern Qualitative research involves processes of discovery
Inquiry? and invention. These are the “moments of
epiphany in the culture. Suspended in time,
they are liminal moments. They open up
At the heart of arts-based inquiry is a radi- institutions and their practices for critical
cal, politically grounded statement about inspection and evaluation” (Lincoln &
social justice and control over the produc- Denzin, 2003, p. 377). They form the “con-
tion and dissemination of knowledge. By tingency” spaces in which interpretations
calling upon artful ways of knowing and of cultural issues are performed (Garoian,
being in the world, arts-based researchers 1999, p. 72). Arts-based research method-
make a rather audacious challenge to the dom- ologies play out in what are often discontin-
inant, entrenched academic community and uous and discordant social constructions;
its claims to scientific ways of knowing. In these are the contested sites that form the
addition, arts-based methodologies bring “zone of contention” (Garoian, 1999, p. 43)
both arts and social inquiry out of the elitist that take shape in negotiation between pub-
institutions of academe and art museums, lic and private worlds, forming liminal spaces
and relocate inquiry within the realm of in which relationships are made between
local, personal, everyday places and events. people and politics, imagination and action,
From my reviews of the genre of arts and theory and activism. They are also the sites
research (S. Finley, 2003; see also S. Finley, in which a critical arts-based research can
2005), its most salient features include that unveil oppression (discovery) and transform
arts-based research (1) makes use of emotive, praxis (invention).
affective experiences, senses, and bodies, and Thus, arts-based inquiry creates and
imagination and emotion as well as intellect, inhabits contested, liminal spaces. It takes
as ways of knowing and responding to the form in the hyphen between art and social
world; for example, arts-based researchers science research. It creates a place where
have explored the bounds of space and place epistemological standpoints of artists and
with the artist’s own body (for discussions social science workers collide, coalesce, and
and examples, see Blumenfeld-Jones, 1995; restructure to originate something new and
Cancienne, 1999; Cancienne & Snowber, unique among research practices. It forms
2003; S. Finley, 2001a, 2001b); (2) gives in the tension between truthfulness and
interpretive license to the researcher to create artistic integrity (Meyer & Moran, 2004).
meaning from experience (e.g., for discus- Other dialectics take form on the contested
sion in the context of poetics, see Brady, hyphen in arts-based research—they emerge
2004, 2005); (3) attends to the role of form in the thin lines of epistemological differ-
in shaping meaning (Eisner, 1981; see also ence between plastic (visual) arts and per-
Arnheim, 1954, 1971; Langer, 1951) by forming arts and narrative forms of discourse.
representing research in many different Another tension exists between artistic
arrangements appropriated from the arts excellence and political effectiveness, and
(e.g., dance, film, plastic arts, photography, there is sometimes tension when a researcher’s
drama, poetry, and narrative writing); and criteria for excellence do not harmonize
(4) exists in the tensions of blurred bound- with the standards for excellence held by
aries (Slattery, 2003). artists for a particular art form (Saldaña,
Arts-Based Research–––◆–––73

2005). Similarly, there is tension between complements to science and urged accep-
place-specific and sociopolitical goals for tance of narratives in the forms of novels as
arts-based research, and between the pri- desirable manuscripts for doctoral disserta-
macy of ephemeral, rapid local change in tions, and he envisaged adaptations of music,
dynamic communities and cultures and his- dance, and poetry as forms of research
torically situated, cultural pride that enhances representation.
self-identity. Like the emancipatory teacher, In consequence of this wave of critical
the arts-based researcher is a “liminal servant” reflection about research methodologies,
(Garoian, 1999, p. 43) whose responsibility researchers implemented multiple, newly
is the creation of entrances to emotional, developed approaches to human inquiry
spiritual, and ephemeral spaces. and cast their narratives in an amazing
Arts-based research was initially con- variety of arts-based narrative forms, partic-
structed within a dialogue occurring in ularly poetry and drama. A smaller guild of
academic circles with regard to research—it “artists as researchers/researchers as artists”
was a product of a time in which researchers (S. Finley & Knowles, 1995) have chosen to
were actively rethinking the science behind document their inquiry as drama, dance,
social science research methodologies, while painting, collage, and other forms of visual
many researchers were trying to plot a and performing arts.
futuristic vision of communal social science.
Culturally, historically, and sensually, this
contextualizing foundation was shared by
artists working toward new genre public ♦ Arts-Based Inquiry
art in which artists deliberately functioned in the 21st Century:
as social critics (Denzin, 2003). Thus, arts- Engaging a Radical,
based research emerged as a social construc-
tion that crossed the borders between
Ethical, Political, and
science and art, and was contextualized by Aesthetic Qualitative
diverse efforts to revolutionize institutional- Inquiry Useful in
ized classist, racist, and colonializing ways Addressing Social
of experiencing and discoursing about Inequities
human experience. These adaptations of
artistic ways of collecting evidence to make
meanings about the world and of arts-based The potential exists for arts-based research
forms for conveying those meanings to to enact inquiry in the social world as one
an ever-broadening, nonacademic audience feature of a people’s pedagogy (S. Finley,
marked a profound breaking away from 2003, 2005). Denzin (1997) calls for quali-
academic research orthodoxy. To claim art tative researchers to engage in ground-level
and aesthetic ways of knowing as research is “guerrilla warfare” (pp. 568, 572) as part
an act of rebellion against the monolithic of a revolutionary pedagogy to confront the
“truth” that science is supposed to entail. oppressions of everyday life. Emancipation
As an early proponent of arts-based from colonizing human research that objec-
research, Elliot Eisner (e.g., 1981, 1998, 2001) tifies its participants (casting them as sub-
carefully spelled out the differences between jects) is not possible unless research is
scientific and artistic approaches to democratized and brought under the con-
qualitative research in educational inquiry trol of people in their daily lives. One objec-
(Eisner, 1981). He encouraged social scien- tive the arts-based researcher can serve is to
tists to accept artistic ways of knowing as provide tools and opportunity for participants

to perform inquiry, reflect on their perfor- should research stories be told?” In response
mances, and preserve, create, and rewrite to current social pressures, focus is shift-
culture in dynamic indigenous spaces. ing to a different set of questions, such
Thus, in critical arts-based inquiry, the as “How can research generate social
location of research changes from the iso- change?” and “How do we move arts-
lated sanctuaries of the laboratory and con- based research to progressive social action,
structed and bounded environments to places to theory and method that connects poli-
where people meet, including schools, tics, pedagogy, and ethics to action in the
homeless shelters, and working-class and world?” (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005, p. x).
minority neighborhoods. Socially responsi- Arts-based research is a political move-
ble research for and by the people cannot ment in the making and, as do all move-
reside inside the lonely walls of academic ments that challenge prevailing authority
institutions. structures in attempts to broaden access to
In arts-based research, everyday living power, its future depends upon how effec-
comprises its own aesthetic, characterized by tively its defenders stand against aggressive
vernacular language, cultural and historical assaults to its purpose.
aesthetics, and ephemeral moments in daily
life (Barone, 2001a, 2001b; Barone &
Eisner, 1997); that is, 21st century arts-based ♦ Restating the Purpose of
research enacts standpoint epistemologies Arts-Based Research:
that see the world from the point of view of
Performing a Public,
oppressed persons of color, women, and
gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Moral Enterprise
persons, and research advances political
movements based in critical race theories As we enter the 21st century, arts-based
and social justice activism (Denzin, 2003). research is under siege, particularly in the
Thus, research becomes an available forum United States, by neoconservative efforts to
for advancing critical race theory and an aes- control access to information (e.g., Mayer,
thetic of artist-researchers and participant- 2000, 2001). In this context, there is a
observers belonging to oppressed groups and pressing need to reorient arts-based research
individuals traditionally excluded from toward the conscious, considered articula-
established research locations. tion and performance of critical pedagogy.
In the current historical moment, arts- Arts-based researchers live in a new histor-
based researchers have an opportunity to ical moment. It is imperative that its practi-
consciously reject research practices that tioners take a political, moral stance in this
are implicated in colonialist traditions of moment, because not taking such a stance
objectivity and that treat production of allows the oppression of neoconservatism
knowledge as a function of social privilege. and the crisis of increasing social inequality
The grounding theory and methodologies to continue and grow (for discussion, see
for arts-based research approaches to human Lincoln & Canella, 2004). Wrote Freire
studies emerged in a historical epoch when (2001):
the focus among qualitative researchers had
turned to a particular set of questions, such Cultural action is always a systemic and
as “What is research?” “How can we involve deliberate form of action which operates
participants in research?” and “How upon the social structure, either with the
Arts-Based Research–––◆–––75

objective of preserving that structure or as coequal collaborators in doing

of transforming it. . . . Cultural action research;
either serves domination (consciously or
(3) develop a passionate respect for the
unconsciously) or it serves the liberation
insights of street critics (and street
of men and women. (p. 180)
Time is passing for arts-based researchers (4) reorient discussions about quality
to engage in deliberate “cultural action” to from their current inward focus on
resist the tides of neoconservatism in service assessments of structural form and
of liberation. It is time to affirm a people’s toward assessments that place value
pedagogy in which arts-based research is in diversity, inclusivity, dialogic
performed for the purpose of unveiling creativity, and openness to the par-
oppression and advocating social trans- ticipation of an ephemeral, dynamic
formation. The opportunity exists for community of participants, and that
the discourse community of social science promote the dialogic and performa-
researchers to purposefully adopt arts- tive qualities of research events and
based methodologies in order to reject representations;
research practices that are implicated in
(5) intensify attention to the important
paternalistic and colonizing traditions, or
roles of research audiences and plan
that treat production and acquisition of
for the roles of the audiences of the
knowledge as a function of social privilege.
research in the research design; and
To this end, arts-based researchers must
focus on the inherent promise that artful (6) reassert openness to diverse art
representations have the capacity to pro- forms and media while contextual-
voke both reflective dialogue and meaning- izing arts-based research in its rela-
ful action and, thereby, to change the world tionship to art, rather than defining
in positive ways that contribute to progres- it in contrast to science.
sive, participatory, and ethical social action.
Yet several transformative discourses and If the purpose of arts-based research is
actions need to be undertaken in order to to unveil oppression and transform unjust
construct a social norm that arts-based social practices, then it needs to connect
research should be activist, engaged in pub- with the everyday lives of real people. The
lic criticism, and resistant to neoconserva- tasks of unveiling and naming oppressors
tive discourses that threaten social justice. will cause the arts-based researcher to chal-
Specifically, taking this political and moral lenge the assumptions behind social con-
stance requires that arts-based researchers structions that are engrained in everyday
experience. This transformation of practice
(1) revisit and even restate the goals of requires imaginative reordering of what
arts-based research, with renewed seems to be the natural order of things.
emphasis on arts-based research as a Most often, reformation of a participatory
public, moral enterprise; democracy will be achieved in small, local
(2) revitalize practices in which arts- steps, through community-based projects.
based researchers renounce the role From the perspective of a social revolu-
of expert and fully accept the com- tionary, Freire (2001) used the terms
munities of participants and audiences cultural invasion and cultural synthesis to

describe these types of pedagogical, com- for the purpose of open, critical critique.
munity interactions. In cultural invasions, Arts-based researchers should ask: Does the
“actors draw the thematic content of their representation seem authentic to the com-
action from their own values and ideology: munity of participant-practitioners?
their starting point is their own world,
from which they enter the world of those
they invade” (p. 180). By contrast, in cul- ♦ Why Arts-Based Research
tural synthesis, Cannot Tolerate
the actors become integrated with the
Expertism: Valuing
people, who are coauthors of the action Diversity, Inclusivity,
that both perform [italics added] upon Dialogic Creativity, and
the world. . . . They do not come to Performative Qualities in
teach or to transmit or to give anything,
Arts-Based Research
but rather to learn, with the people,
about the people’s world. (p. 180)
If the basic fundamental values for doing
From the perspective of a community- arts-based research include respect for
based artist, Lippard (1998) similarly argues indigenous knowledge and vernacular utter-
for a conceptualization of community art as ances, then researcher-artists must follow
cultural synthesis. Wrote Lippard through with antipaternalistic and anticolo-
nialist principles that forbid the researcher
If the skilled muralist continues to probe from speaking for people who are capable
for the hidden histories, the politics, and of making political assertions and social
the underlying tensions of a place and its observations for themselves (see Delgado,
people, a more real story begins to emerge, 1995; hooks, 1981, 1994).
based in lived experiences rather than Diversity of worldview, of media, of levels
imposed ideas, revealing the stress lines, of preparation to perform “arts” is poten-
and, ideally, suggesting ways to approach tially one of the strongest features of critical
them that will not only present problems arts-based research. Diversity defies stan-
but suggest solutions. (p. xiv) dards. Indigenous or locally generated arts
situate research in community. Not all com-
In the context of arts-based research, it is munity researchers will be educated in the
the arts-based researcher’s role to integrate specifics of research methodology, and not
herself into the community of participants all community researchers will be trained
as learners, and to initiate introspection, artists. Instead, the performative, arts-based
reflection, and representations that teach. researcher needs to facilitate community-
Thus, the critical, revolutionary arts-based based inquiry without taking the stance of
researcher needs to develop passionate either expert researcher or expert artist.
respect for the insights of street artists and Equalizing the roles of researcher and partic-
street critics. The forms of art that are ipant is one way to value diversity and inclu-
indigenous to a community might be the sivity in field-based research. Debunking the
best forms in which to tell a particular need for researchers to be experts who stand
story. Artist-researchers might also intro- above and outside the community of partici-
duce their own “tellings” that, in turn, pants is a good place to begin. The role of the
might be brought back into the community “artist as expert” draws undue attention to
Arts-Based Research–––◆–––77

form and distracts from meaningful conver- artful forms of representation may allow
sation about social issues brought to light by the arts-based researcher broader audience—
the research. “Sociologist as expert” imposes diversifying discourse communities beyond
one worldview on another. the immediate place in which inquiry occurs
By contrast, many arts-based researchers for representation among academic, policy-
have argued that quality representations of making, and other audiences who have polit-
research require that the researcher possess ical power and the potential for advancing
fundamental “technical skills” necessary to social change that will benefit the com-
the arts they employ (e.g., Eisner, 2001; munity in which research occurred. Yet
Saldaña, 2005; see S. Finley, 2003, for a through evocations of events of everyday
review of literature focused on representa- life, researchers can raise questions about
tional quality in arts-based research). Other biases, presuppositions, and worldviews that
writers seek ways to legitimate arts-based play out in those events. Arts-based researchers
research in the culture of science (e.g., can then take on the responsibility of creating
Piantanida, McMahon, & Garman, 2003). spaces where “unjust practices are identified
These urges to legitimize arts-based research and interrogated” (Madison, 1998, quoted in
by standardizing the qualities of form have Denzin, 2003).
deleterious effects on efforts to use arts- Moreover, the “power of form to
based inquiry in a larger project of social inform” multiple, diverse audiences calls
resistance and reform. The need for recog- for expanded collaborations—a researcher-
nition in the academy and the desire to artist may not have the agility to equally
remain a person of standing in a powerful utilize the various forms of painting, dance,
role in a community of scholars has cre- and poetry, but may recognize that a topic
ated undo emphasis on procedure and role. or audience calls for one of these forms not
Concentration on form grows out of an readily available to her. (There have been
attempt to legitimize the work of arts-based many exemplary productions of interdis-
researchers. ciplinary multimedia representations by
Writing in counterpoint to Piantanida arts-based researchers, e.g., S. Finley, 2006;
and colleagues, Slattery (2003) asked the S. Finley, Cole, Knowles, & Elijah, 2000;
rhetorical question, “What is the purpose of Preisinger, Schroeder, & Scott-Hoy, 2000.)
legitimate [arts-based] research: to predict, Susanne Langer (1951) suggested that
to understand, to empower, or to evoke” interdisciplinarity among the arts would
(p. 195)? In a people’s pedagogy forged for expand human intellect and bring about
the purposes of social reform and social jus- more complex, more imaginative ways of
tice, arts-based research unveils oppression understanding human experience. “Scholars
and evokes social transformation. in ethnography have much to contribute to
The first level of reference is the commu- those initially educated as artists, and artists
nity in which the research occurs. Among well versed in the creative process and prod-
the avenues to social transformation is the ucts of theatre have much to offer ethnog-
empowerment and performance of research raphers” (p. 29).
by communities of involved participants. An example is Street Rat (Saldaña,
Here, the role of artist-as-researcher is to Finley, & Finley, 2005), in which dramatist
facilitate the production of knowledge in Johnny Saldaña guided the theatrical adap-
community. However, in representing what tation of S. Finley and M. Finley’s arts-based,
the researcher learns, facility with specific educational ethnographies from their field-
research methodologies as well as specific work and experiences with homeless youth

in New Orleans. Previous incarnations of this Whereas Saldaña holds open the question
work included more or less “traditional” of standards, he re-centers the discussion in
ethnographic narratives (e.g., S. Finley, 2001a, the context of communal interactions. In this
2001b) as well as representations in vari- construction, the arbiters of arts-based
ous art forms, including short story (e.g., research would no longer inhabit the “inner
“Roach’s Story” by Susan Finley, in S. Finley circle” of academics but would instead reside
& Finley, 1999), reader’s theater (S. Finley & in the “people’s world” (Freire, 2001, p. 180).
Finley, 1998), and poetry (M. Finley, 2000, We (arts-based researchers) would seek affir-
2003; S. Finley, 2000). It would have been mation for our research from the collabora-
impossible for the original researchers, of tors who inhabit the spaces of the people’s
which I was one, to bring this work to the world and who have been both our teachers
stage as a full-scale theatrical production. and our coauthors of actions that we co-
Most of the dialogue came directly from the perform upon the world.
previously published pieces, and in particu- These would be emancipatory perfor-
lar, it presented the poetry selections as mances, enriched by intertextual refer-
“poetic dialogue,” but Saldaña rearranged ences to popular culture performances.
the excerpts into a single storyline. More- This is an arts-based research that invokes
over, Saldaña possessed the tools to stage vernacular symbols, mythologies, and sto-
the production—including his access to rytelling traditions. It takes multiple repre-
actors and his ability to direct them in their sentational forms—music, movies, poetry,
performance of the script. In this project, paintings, murals, plays, dance, and so on.
story, poetry, paintings, and reader’s theatre Further, “these performances record the
were shared with the actual participants histories of injustices experienced by the
in the research project and with other members of oppressed groups. They show
unhoused street youths for several purposes, how members of local groups have strug-
including (1) to check for authenticity and gled to find places of dignity and respect in
(2) to facilitate activism and create continu- a violent, racist, and sexist civil society”
ing dialogue. (Denzin, 2003, p. 123).
If arts-based researchers can reorient If arts-based researchers actively create a
discussions about quality from their current body of work that tells the stories of local
inward focus on assessments of structural groups and individuals, while it exposes
form and instead restate the values of injustices people have experienced as sub-
diversity, inclusivity, and openness to the jects to the tyranny of the majority, and in
participation of varied communities of par- which diverse forms of art are used as a
ticipants, then they should be able to assess means to draw attention to citizens’ articu-
arts-based research according to its propen- lations of oppression, arts-based research
sity to promote dialogic creativity and its can retrace and expose the common threads
performative qualities. Saldaña (2005) of racism, sexism, and discrimination that
offers that, in his experience of writing form the social contract to which Delgado
research data into dramatic performances, (1995) referred. Citation to dialogue and
“there are no established or standardized actions taken by individuals and discourse
criteria for what constitutes ‘good’ ethn- communities in the forms of artworks can
odrama. The success of work is jointly “give minority viewpoints and literature the
constructed and determined by the partici- full consideration due” (p. 53). This is espe-
pants, the artistic collaborators, and their cially true when the people are collaborat-
audiences” (p. 14). ing artists or coauthors working in the
Arts-Based Research–––◆–––79

context of cultural synthesis. “In cultural also important values that should guide
synthesis—and only in cultural synthesis,” the construction of research designs in arts-
wrote Freire (2001), based research.

it is possible to resolve the contradiction

between the worldview of the leaders ♦ Performing Arts-Based
and that of the people, to the enrich- Research
ment of both. Cultural synthesis does
not deny the differences between the
two views; indeed, it is based on these Arts-based research describes an epistemo-
differences. It does deny the invasion of logical foundation for human inquiry that
one by the other, but affirms the unde- utilizes artful ways of understanding and
niable support each gives to the other. representing the worlds in which research is
(p. 180) constructed. Arts-based research is difficult
to characterize because its forms and meth-
It is, of course, possible to produce research ods vary according to location, diversity of
as a product, to have the goal be (re)presen- participants, and the range of ways through
tations of characters, or (re)productions of which researchers, artists, and participants
epiphanic life events that characterize some describe, interpret, and make meanings
aspect of the human condition. But if this is from experiences, as well as by multiple
the end of research, the outcomes could be forms of representation available to the artist-
only to entertain or to eroticize the lives of as-researcher—e.g., novel, poetry, film, dance,
those persons portrayed in the research rep- photographic portfolios, visual art installa-
resentation. In looking for higher purpose, tions, or dramatic performance. Arts-based
such work could offer insight or intention- research makes use of diverse ways of
ally expose audiences to life experiences that knowing and experiencing the world. As
they would not encounter except vicari- such, the term arts-based research cannot
ously, through their adaptation to an art be reduced to a prescriptive set of methods
medium. But to reach an even higher aim of for generating and representing empirical
transformative praxis, arts-based researchers materials. It is more of an “umbrella term”
need to revisit the importance of the power for many methodologies that follow from a
of form, not only to inform, but also to pro- constructivist, emotive, empiricist research
mote dialogic, performative, activist responses aesthetic.
among audience participants. A particularly When arts-based research is grounded
important phase in the process of doing in a critical performance pedagogy, it can
research is left out of the research process be used to advance a progressive political
when the “end” is strictly informational, agenda that addresses issues of social
rather than provocative. inequity. Performance opens contested
I believe that the arts make more forms spaces and liminal sites for community dia-
of communication available to people and logue used to “critique dominant cultural
provide opportunities for self-expression. It assumptions, to construct identity, and to
is then my role as a researcher to facilitate attain political agency” (Garoian, 1999,
learning the skills and providing the techno- p. 2). The power of performance moves the
logical support for making art available to arts-based researcher “from interpretation
community participants. This role empha- and emotional evocation to praxis, empow-
sizes that equity and access to learning are erment, and social change” (Denzin, 2003,

p. 133). Performativity is the quality crite- literature. In K. Crenshaw, N. Gotanda,

rion I emphasize as being necessary to G. Peller, & K. Thomas (Eds.), Critical race
achieve arts-based approaches to inquiry theory: The key writings that formed the
that is activist, engages in critical reflection, movement (pp. 46–57). New York: The
New Press.
resists neoconservatism in preference of
Denzin, N. K. (1997). Interpretive ethnography:
social justice, and purposefully facilitates
Ethnographic practices for the 21st century.
imaginative thinking about multiple, new,
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
and diverse ways of understanding and Denzin, N. K. (2003). Performance ethnogra-
living in the world. phy: Critical pedagogy and the politics of
culture. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (Eds.). (2005).
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in qualitative research: Tying knots in a 9(2), 192–198.

 Stephanie Springgay, Rita L. Irwin,

and Sylvia Kind

C ommunities are peculiar places, both inclusive and perverse. They

are inclusive insofar as they can only ever make sense of, or
reference, what is excluded. Understood as having something in common,
community becomes an inside, a within, an interior. Yet communities
are also perverse, deviating from the common path, refusing to be con-
tained or constrained by their insides. Thus, the outside itself becomes
a community that one can never fully or completely occupy because the
outside of something is always the inside of another (Grosz, 2001). It is
this temporality and interpenetration between inside and outside that
Elizabeth Grosz (2001) believes enables criticality and evaluation. What
exists in the space between inside and outside is an unknown relation-
ship between self and other, a relationship that is itself a community
of understanding. Similarly, in theories of visual art and culture, schol-
ars are reexamining community from the perspective of situation rather
than defining it as a physical, geographical, or locational place (Doherty,
2004). In this sense, community is re-imag(e)-ined as a set of circum-
stances that are not fixed but are ever evolving (Agamben, 1993).
Emphasizing experience that is constituted through social, economic,

◆ 83

cultural, and political processes, site (as complexity theory in order to articulate
in learning, community, location, identity, what relational acts of teaching and learn-
art work) becomes relational (Bourriaud, ing through living inquiry might look like.
2002; Kwon, 2002). Thus, art, both the In the second section we frame our discus-
process of creation and its outcomes, is sion using an example from contemporary
marked by social engagements that break art. The third and final section examines
down conventional distinctions between the relational practices and understand-
artist, artwork, and audience. Irit Rogoff ings of artists, researchers, and teachers. In
(2004) maintains that we need to find a doing so we will argue that a/r/tographical
critical language to talk about artistic research, although concerned with the
meaning making beyond the specifics of artistic products or representations of arts-
time and place. For instance, scholars need based educational research, is committed to
to examine art not from the perspective of an enactive space of living inquiry in and
when it was made and where it is located, through singular time and space.
but rather unravel the implications of
the work relationally. It is this relational
understanding of community, art, and ♦ Relational Acts
research that shapes the methodology of
of Living Inquiry
A/r/tography is a methodology that
resides in the space of the in-between and in Complexity theories of learning (Davis,
doing so redefines community, knowledge, Sumara, & Luce-Kapler, 2000) describe
and research by unsettling perception learning as participatory and evolutionary.
(Irwin & de Cosson, 2003, 2004). As an Rather than being concerned with the
arts-related methodology, a/r/tography acquisition of information, learners are
interfaces the arts and scholarly writing concerned with one’s changing and evolv-
through living inquiry. In a/r/tographic ing circumstances. “Learning is coming
practices the identities, roles, and under- to be understood as a participation in the
standings of artist/researcher/teacher are world, a co-evolution of knower and known
intertwined in an approach to social science that transforms both” (p. 64). As such,
research that is dedicated to perceiving the learning and knowing can never be pre-
world artistically and educationally (Irwin, dictable. Complexity theories of learning
1999). It is an inquiry process that lingers in emphasize learning as nonlinear, dynamic,
the liminal spaces inside and outside— and relational. Learning occurs within
the between—of a(artist) and r(researcher) communities of practice (Lave & Wenger,
and t(teacher). Vacillating between inti- 1991) and within a social world and webs
macy and distance, a/r/tography constructs of interconnection (Capra, 1996). Learning
research and knowledge as acts of compli- environments, such as classrooms and
cation. Rather than reassuring a reader/ schools, are viewed as relational, intercon-
viewer with an easily shared idea or a com- nected, interdependent living systems that
monly held belief, a/r/tography recognizes adapt themselves to changing circum-
that meaning making can be disturbing, stances. Generally classrooms, teachers,
unexpected, and hesitant. students, and caregivers have been viewed
This chapter develops the conditions as distinct, separate, and discrete elements
for enacting a/r/tography as relational. The in the larger whole of schooling and learn-
first section draws on educational uses of ing viewed as an individual matter between
A/R/Tographers and Living Inquiry–––◆–––85

teacher and student. However, within com- ♦ Relational Inquiring:

plexity theory, learning events occur not in
isolation but in relation and within a com-
Exploring the
plex system of action and reaction. Even Methodological
small things matter and profoundly influ- Conditions of
ence the learning community. Linda A/R/Tography
Laidlaw (2004) illustrates this as she
recounts the story of an elementary school
deciding not to punctuate the school day During the winter of 2003, on the public
with electronic bells. The simple act of turn- streets of icy Montreal, artist Rachel
ing off bells prompted many other intercon- Echenberg enacted a series of performative
nected changes. gestures that placed her body heat against
Laidlaw describes how, on a typical the winter cold. Incorporating homemade
school morning since eliminating the use of ice blocks that she positioned throughout
bells, children enter the school foyer, sit in the city—at bus stops and metro stations,
comfortable chairs, read, play board games, near busy restaurants and bars, and in the
dance to music in the library, engage in quiet corners of the darkened night—
activities in the hallways, or work on com- Echenberg’s body heat transformed each ice
puters. It is also common for parents and sculpture. Lying on a bench in the stillness
caregivers to join in the morning activities, of falling snow, her body heat molded the
creating an easier transition between home ice blocks buried beneath her. In other inter-
and school and a more porous relationship. ventions she melted snowballs with her
Rather than the jarring interruption of bells, breath, or lay for hours letting the snow pile
typical outdoor line-ups, morning scuffles, up on and around her—processes of interac-
and disturbances, the school day emerges tion with the elements and time and space.
more peacefully and gradually. She Art critic Nicolas Bourriaud (2002) states
describes how it is the small things, and the that postmodern art is marked by interven-
relationships between things, that matter. tions that require viewers to be called to a
The simple acts of turning off bells and particular time and place, unlike the Great
inviting children and caregivers to gather Masters’ paintings, for example, which
together at the beginning of the day had hang throughout time in museums and are
profound, continuing effects, much like accessible continuously. Both the accessibil-
concentric waves that are created when a ity and continuity of these “master works”
pebble is tossed into a pond. Other rituals, and of museums could be highly contested.
such as singing to send children off to class- According to Bourriaud (2002), contempo-
rooms at the beginning of the school day, rary artists who challenge fixed notions of
are spontaneous events that evolve into “site” operate from a position that he calls
more elaborate patterns and responses. relational aesthetics. The meaning of the
Thus, the nature of the school community is work emerges not from the work itself (the
shaped differently from one “structured by inside), nor an assigned value given to it by
bell time and linear waits at the door” (p. 4). the artist, curator, or institutional frame-
It keeps a different pace and brings forth a work (outside), but through a movement
different set of relations and structures. between and an encounter within the exhi-
There is a rhythmic and fluid flow within bition space. In other words, a work of art
open systems and a continual relational becomes meaningful only through inter-
process of response and change. actions and engagements with an audience.

Art becomes a socially useful activity. the encounters that produce and change
Relational aesthetics turns the apparatus of it. Relationality insists that the phenom-
viewing and meaning making from some- ena being studied and their assemblages of
thing that is done to an art work (decon- interpretation are embodied, intercorporeal,
structive critique) into a situation where and folded with, in, and through each other.
subject (art) and subject (viewer) are con- Similarly, patterns of relationality are per-
fronted and mutually interrogated. For ceived as interpenetrative between beings.
instance, Echenberg’s body heat gestures Each ice block, frozen, heated, and molded,
exist only in the moment of encounter and becomes a momentary grouping of rela-
exchange between her actions and the tionships alluding to the effects of cli-
actions of viewers as they make meaning of mate, geography, location, identity, body
such actions. Her art resides in the seem- heat, pressure, and change. Whether encoun-
ingly contiguous and unstable moments of tering Echenberg’s performance as a gallery
interaction that her work generates. event, or stumbling upon her in the velvet
Many of Echenberg’s body–time interven- hours of snow-lit nights, each experience
tions exist without the ruse of formal audi- poses an encounter between being(s)-in-
ences (those that are called to witness this relation, shaping participation and meaning
event as an art exhibit), and they remain, making simultaneously (Springgay, 2005a,
transforming and mutating long after the 2005b). A transformed ice block, imprinted
artist has disappeared. Echenberg’s artistic with the artist’s tongue, folds the subject–
interventions, like many other contemporary object relationship such that we, the viewers,
artists working in the space of relational aes- become embedded in her actions. Merleau-
thetics, question the ways that art has tradi- Ponty (1964) writes of this intertwining
tionally been viewed and decoded. This is between self and other, inside and outside,
not to say that in the future all artists must where the seer and seen become folded
take to the streets in the dead of night in the together in a porous encounter: “The bodies
icy chill of winter, but rather educational of others are not objects; they are phenomena
scholars devoted to acts of interpretation can that are coextensive with one’s own body”
learn from such artists. Interpretive engage- (p. 118). This active and dynamic body
ments are not methods applied to a phenom- shapes experience through lived encounters,
enon (something from the outside brought to where participation becomes an exposure, an
bear on the inside in order to make sense of opening up toward the other.
it), nor does a phenomenon embody mean- A/r/tography is a methodology of rela-
ing simply within itself that needs to be tional aesthetics where patterns exist not
unleashed (an inclusive inside that fails to as predetermined identities but as “co-
recognize the influences of social, political, appearance”—a being with-one-another.
and cultural power structures); rather, inter- Meaning thus circulates, moving in all
pretation exists in the interstitial space directions simultaneously. According to
between inside and outside. Feminist art Nancy (2000) this co-appearance is both
activist Suzanne Lacy (1995) states, “What unity and uniqueness, the singular plural of
exists in the space between the words public being. In other words, each individual
and art is an unknown relationship between identity is brought to being through
artist and audience, a relationship that may encounters with other beings, and it is the
itself be the artwork” (p. 19). with that maintains both the contiguity
Relational aesthetics suggests that and the distinctiveness of each pattern.
meaning is not external to action. Meaning Relational aesthetics does not represent a
is not separated from the gestures and theory of art with an implied statement of
A/R/Tographers and Living Inquiry–––◆–––87

origin and destination, but a theory of form relationality, a/r/tography reassembles the
where art is part of an overall series of exist- relationships between artist, researcher, and
ing forms. Forms come into being through teacher. For example, one form of research
encounters between and the collective elab- is to investigate artists and the work they
oration of meaning. Likewise, we might do. This mode of inquiry posits already
understand relationality in terms of the act existing theories onto the activities and
of folding and unfolding—a movement, a work of an artist. Similarly, educational
hesitation, and a stuttering. research often examines what teachers do
Deleuze (1993) translates the fold as sen- in order to support theoretical claims and
suous vibrations, a world made up of diver- hypotheses. In both instances there is a
gent series, an infinity of pleats and creases. fixed entity—a given. An artwork that now
Un/folding divides endlessly, folds within needs to be deconstructed in order to pro-
folds touching one another. A fold is not vide the public (or at least the academic
divisible into independent points, but rather public) with its meaning. In education one
any un/folding results in additional folds; it is might research a pedagogical strategy and
the movement or operation of one fold to frame it by existing educational theories
another. Thus, perception is not a question and practices. This top-down approach to
then of part to whole but a singular totality research has of course been troubled by a
“where the totality can be as imperceptible host of postmodern methodologies, includ-
as the parts” (p. 87). Perception is not ing a/r/tography. However, a/r/tography
embodied in perceiving the sum of all parts; troubles the structures of research through
rather, it is distinguished by and within the aesthetic, artistic, and creative means.
fold. Both Deleuze (1994b) and Grosz If we take what we have learned from
(2001) exemplify this act of folding through relational aesthetics and apply it to the
another metaphor—stuttering. When lan- interrelationships between artist, researcher,
guage (meaning) reaches a limit, it begins to and teacher, we begin to see new patterns
stutter, to murmur and reverberate. This of knowledge production emerge. In one
stuttering may provide a point of mobiliza- instance we are arguing that a/r/togra-
tion and destabilization and enable educa- phers need to be attentive to their artist,
tional scholars to think of inquiry—the researcher, and teacher selves. A/r/togra-
stuff of art, research, and teaching—as a phers don’t simply research phenomena in
“wrenching of concepts away from their the arts using qualitative means; they are
usual configurations, outside the systems in artists-and-teachers-and-researchers who
which they have a home, and outside the examine educational phenomena through
structures of recognition that constrain an artistic understanding and inquiry process.
through to the already known” (Grosz, It is thinking as doing that produces a/r/
2001, p. 61). A/r/tography forces us to tographical knowledge. This calls for a slip-
search for the unknown, to think while mak- page in “time.”
ing, to think as doing (Grosz, 2001). A/r/tographical time is not linear. It is
not the time of clocks and schedules. It is
not a time of codification and systematiza-
♦ Artist, Researcher, tion. In a/r/tographical research, time is sin-
gular (Deleuze, 1994a; Nancy, 2000).
Teacher as Relational
Singular refers to the complexities that are
assembled and contained with one. For
In addition to the reconstruction of inquiry example, “we” is the singular plural of
and interpretation from the perspective of the first-person “I.” “We” is often used to

describe a universal quality, a generalization— modern Western society, time is meta-

as in we—the entire field of educational phorically understood to be immutable
research. A singular approach to we would and uniformly flowing without regard for
understand we as containing within it individuals or the actions they take.
divergent multiplicities, dividing endlessly Likewise, space is metaphorically seen as a
into itself—extraordinary, remarkable, and container or even the vast emptiness of the
uncommon. The singular is distinguished universe. Space becomes something to be
from the plural. It is a unit of measurement filled or acted upon. Postmodern configu-
that denotes one, a peculiarity. However, rations of space and time shift these under-
singularity in the Deleuzian sense is not a standings. For instance, feminist theories
universalizing one, where difference is con- argue that space is linked with how one
sumed by the common or the same; it is a encounters, constructs, and performs iden-
one that embodies within it the uniqueness tity, thereby mapping the relationship of
of difference. Nancy (2000) writes that space to subjectivity, corporeality, and
ways of knowing (Ahmed & Stacey, 2001).
the touch of meaning brings into play In other words, a body is not simply in space
its own singularity, its distinction, and (an object placed in a particular location),
brings into play the plurality of the but rather the body is spatial itself. Knowl-
“each time” of every touch of meaning, edge and space shape and define one
“mine” as well as all the others, each one another.
of which is “mine” in turn, according to Many contemporary artists like Rachel
the singular turn of its affirmation. (p. 6) Echenberg explore such connections between
inquiry, learning, and space. Their vocabu-
A/r/tographically speaking, singularity lary for time includes such language as
refers to the question, How are we experi- pausing, enduring, changing, slowing, inter-
encing lived experience? By implication, ruption, cycles, haste, and pacing, while
Echenberg’s art can be regarded as a singu- space may be seen as open, vast, expansive,
lar endeavor within a larger context, fragmented, and connected. A/r/tographers
which is a complex collective of dynamic, see time and space as singular and as condi-
interacting systems. Her interventions become tions for living inquiry that is relational.
relational moments provoking deeper Moreover,
understandings within and between other
assemblages. For a/r/tographers these impli- meaning arises not just in the fact of
cations prompt a number of questions regard- action, and the type of action, but also in
ing the nature of art making, teaching, the how. How is that action or activity
learning, and researching as relational. performed: more slowly or more quickly,
What might we uncover if we consider rarely or often, all at once or in fits and
learning through a singular understanding starts, in a small space or across a large
of time? Echenberg’s icy gestures force us to one, in one place or in many, with the
interrogate assumptions and demand that grain of the place or against it? (Lemke,
we not stand on the outside gazing in as 2004)
passive viewers. Instead, we become active
producers in and through singular time. Exploring singular perceptions of time
Another facet of time in a/r/tographical and space offers artists, researchers, and
research has to do with the way in which teachers opportunities to know the world in
meaning unfolds or evolves over time. In different ways.
A/R/Tographers and Living Inquiry–––◆–––89

Perceptions of time and space are also ♦ Note

bound by our thoughts and memories.
Roland Barthes (1981) names the phe-
nomenon of an intense personal experi- 1. For other essays that conceptualize the field
ence while viewing a photograph to be a of a/r/tographical research, see Cole, Neilsen,
Knowles, & Luciani, 2004; Darts, 2004; de
punctum. The punctum gives the viewer
Cosson, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003; de Cosson,
insights that are particularly personal and
Irwin, Grauer, & Wilson, 2003; de Cosson, Irwin,
profound. While viewing a photograph of
Kind, & Springgay, in press; de Cosson, Wilson,
his mother, Barthes at once felt an aware- et al., 2003; Irwin, 1999, 2003, 2004; Irwin & de
ness of her when he was a child, while Cosson, 2003, 2004; Irwin, et al., 1998; Irwin,
simultaneously knowing of her death Mastri, & Robertson, 2000; Irwin, Stephenson,
beyond the time of the photograph. In this Robertson, & Reynolds, 2001; Springgay, 2002,
moment of viewing the photograph, he 2003, 2004, 2005a, 2005b; Springgay & Irwin,
experienced the past and the future along- 2004; Springgay, Irwin, & Kind, in press; Wilson,
side the recognition of her character as a 2000; Wilson et al., 2002. For other information
woman. Barthes’s punctum is particular to on a/r/tography, please check the Web site
his life experience. Through photographs,
forms of art, or living attentively in the
world, individuals may experience their
own punctum. Echenberg’s art, which ♦ References
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understandings of body knowledge through

 Lorri Neilsen

I speak of the body, the spirit,

the mockingbird, the hollyhock, leaves opening in the
rain, music, faith, angels seen at dusk—and seven
more people leave the room and are seen running
down the road. . . .
—Oliver, 2002, p. 4

Being is the interconnectedness, the resonant ecology of

things . . . to be wise is to grasp another form of life without
abandoning one’s own; to be able to translate experience in
and out of two original tongues . . . one can no more hope to
understand metaphor if one is not sure the “real world”
exists, than one can hope to understand music if one does not
have a body.
—Zwicky, 2003, p. 43

Author’s Note: The author wishes to thank the following for conversations
that contributed to the writing of this chapter: Lekkie Hopkins, Jan Zwicky,
Don McKay, Carl Leggo, and Gary Rasberry.

◆ 93

invite: literary or academic, subjective or
yric inquiry draws upon nonrationalist objective, science or art, humanities or social
and nondiscursive ways of knowing in sciences. To understand the scope of lyric
order to engage in inquiry practices and to inquiry, we must abandon disciplinary dis-
produce written forms that have, up to now, tinctions and look at the broader field of
been undervalued or ignored in scholarly writing in life, learning, and scholarship.
discourses. Lyric inquiry is informed by aes- The primary point of this chapter is two-
thetic and philosophical principles of writ- fold: to offer the idea that lyric inquiry is
ing; it is based on a conviction that using one of many legitimate methodologies avail-
expressive and poetic functions of language able to us in the social sciences, and to argue
creates the possibility of a resonant, ethical, that lyric inquiry has profound possibilities
and engaged relationship between the knower for addressing issues in research such as the
and the known. Because it often strikes deep, quality of our relationships and the rele-
lyric inquiry can move us, in all senses of vance and inclusiveness of our work.
that word. The irony in a statement about “the point
The term lyric inquiry refers both to the of a chapter on lyric inquiry” is obvious: We
engagement in inquiry (the process) and typically associate propositional language, not
the outcome of this engagement (the writ- lyric language, with the academy. And so the
ten work). Such research foregrounds the writing of this chapter becomes an example
personal and the aesthetic. As a scholar, both of the challenge and the opportunity fac-
researcher, and poet who has both under- ing us as social science researchers. To invite
taken and taught lyric inquiry practices for the reader into an understanding here of lyric
several years, I provide here a description of inquiry, I primarily use conventional academic
the impetus and rationale for lyric inquiry, discourse. But to reach and engage the reader,
as well as its implications for rethinking I could also write a letter (expressive), a poem
research in education and the social sci- (rhetorical, lyric, or narrative), tell a story (fic-
ences. Research I have undertaken over the tional or personal anecdote), or choose any of
last 15 years has informed my belief that the increasingly blurred genres across the
our researching and writing selves—both spectrum of written communication. As this
individual and collective—seek the lan- chapter unfolds, I will explore the linguistic
guage that best creates intimate and ethical means necessary to describe this perspective
connections with one another. on inquiry; as a scholar and poet, I balance a
Characteristic of lyric inquiry and its tension: to tell and to show using language
written works are features such as the fol- that addresses through art. For the reader to
lowing: liminality, ineffability, metaphori- embrace the ideas, she must be as willing as
cal thinking, embodied understanding, the writer to be comfortable with uncertainty.
personal evocations, domestic and local Lyric inquiry is marked by the willingness to
understanding, and an embrace of the eros let go, and with the recognition that aesthetic
of language—the desire to honor and expe- writing is the inquiry. Impact, in other words,
rience phenomena through words, ambigu- can be achieved with resonance as much as
ous and inadequate as they might be, and to with report.
communicate this experience to others.
The term lyric is a term with the roomy Phenomenology, Or Later, that same day
capacity to include the expressive, the The cat comes back, the doctor calls,
poetic, and the phenomenological in our things happen in ways you can only
scholarship without returning to the false begin to imagine. The story
distinctions or choices our enterprises often comes after, remember? You turn
Lyric Inquiry–––◆–––95

the strange into familiar with what is generally, “poetic.” The term sometimes
at hand. Most of your life is like this: connotes the pathetic, sentimental, or—as in
memory, mercy, the ballast the term “waxing lyrical”—highly enthusias-
of desire, heavier for the words tic. The specific, concrete, sensory, and often
you’ve wrapped around them,
intimate language of poetry and narrative
and lighter too. (Glenn, 2007)
marks those genres as lyrical. Lyric language
is often grounded in the particular and has
Increasingly, scholars are choosing to
been described as resonant and embodied
explore phenomena in ways that fuse their
(Cixous, 1991; Kirsch, 1993; Kristeva, 1981;
scholarship with their aesthetic perspectives;
Neilsen, 1998a, 2002a, 2002b, 2002c,
the resulting scholartistry (Neilsen, 2001) has
2004). Because lyric language is associated
created room for a discussion that is long
with the personal and with the imaginative,
overdue. To advocate for lyric inquiry and
it is often segregated or marginalized. What
expression requires that we reconsider what
Zwicky argues, however, is that we need to
counts as knowledge. We cannot, like Mary
recognize that imagination allows us to enter
Oliver’s audience (above), come undone and
the experience of another without appropri-
leave the room. We must also rethink the
ation, ownership, or reductiveness (Zwicky,
purposes of our research, of coming to know.
2003). Or to phrase it another way, lyric
Poets typically understand that written lan-
language allows us to hear the music of
guage is merely a finger pointing at the moon
the other.
(McKay, 2001); discursive practices that
As Abram (1996) notes, the birth of the
adhere in social science research, however,
alphabet was a step toward a cognitive, dis-
seem to perpetuate our use of language to
embodied relationship with the landscape.
land on the moon, name and categorize it,
In indigenous oral cultures, nature speaks;
and perhaps claim and populate it as well.
landforms have presence; humans, just one
of many forms of life on the planet, are of
the earth, not separate from it. When the
sensory experience of living reveals itself in
♦ What Is Lyric? language, each of us—bird, animal, river,
human—sings the world. Feminists have
long spoken of such connection among and
Lyricism, a singing self, empathetic, between humans and the environment as
embodied. embodiment. Lyric, whether song, expres-
sive language, or poem, is embodied lan-
—Lee, 1998, p. 31
guage: the self (and selves) of our personal
landscapes embodied in aesthetic forms of
The word lyric refers to “any fairly short writing. In other words, as Abram suggests,
poem expressing the personal mood, feeling, the flesh of language and experience are
or meditation of a speaker” (Burchfield, mutually constitutive.
1996, p. 473). Lyric and lyrics also refer to
the words of a song. Greek myth reminds us
that Hermes, the trickster, created the lyre by ♦ What Is Lyric Inquiry?
scooping out the shell of the tortoise and
stringing the instrument with gut; in this
way, music was born. Any spoken or written Lyric inquiry marries lyric with research. It
language can be described as “lyrical,” often is a methodology that acknowledges the role
taken to mean song-like, personal, and, of the expressive and poetic in inquiry and

in the aesthetics of communicating the results creates lyric forms to communicate to read-
of such inquiry, regardless of discipline. ers such engagements emphasizes concrete,
Lyric inquiry acknowledges the processes specific, located language; concise, artful
and demands, as well as the tropes, conven- word choice; and metaphorical, allegorical,
tions, and semiotic and sensory interplay or analogical approaches. She emphasizes
involved in the creation of an aesthetic language that aims to create an aesthetic
work. To engage in this inquiry is to engage experience, transporting a reader into a
in all manner of nonrationalist writing— world, a mind, a voice (her own, or others’)
narrative, poetry, fiction and creative non- in the same way as does a fiction writer, a
fiction, journals, prose poetry, dialogue, and songwriter, or a poet. She apprentices her-
monologue (among other forms usually self to the craft of expression. The effect is
thought of as written artistic expression)— not, to use Rosenblatt’s (1976) term, effer-
to explore and to communicate to others ent: A reader does not take away three key
an issue, dilemma, or phenomenon. Lyric points or five examples. A reader comes
inquiry, as a term, has greater scope than away with the resonance of another’s world,
narrative inquiry (more genres and options in the way we emerge from the reading of a
are available) and lyric poetry (usually poem or a novel, from a film screening or a
thought of as expressive, meditative). It is a musical event—physically transported or
phenomenological process and practice that moved, often unaware of the architecture or
embraces ambiguity, metaphor, recursive- structure that created the experience, our
ness, silence, sensory immersion, and reso- senses stimulated, our spirit and emotions
nance, creating forms of writing that may affected. Emily Dickinson (1976) knew
become art, or may simply create an aes- good poetry when the words made her hair
thetic experience for the writer. stand on end. “Take me there” is a phrase I
Lyric inquiry aims for such an effect on have often used with students writing in
the reader as well. The process and the work lyric forms: Rather than tell me or summa-
are such that their conceptual and aesthetic rize for me or editorialize or judge—show
integrity create a resonant, or what read- me. Use vivid, sensory language that I can
ing theorist Louise Rosenblatt (1976) has fall into, that makes the world come alive.
called an aesthetic effect, on the reader/
audience. Having undertaken the inquiry
process through language (a process that ♦ Why Lyric Inquiry?
is neither linear nor amenable to imposed
structure) and having produced a written
work of artistic merit, the inquirer brings Language theorists and linguists have
the artistic work of writing to light not as argued since the middle of the 20th century
proof, as with our conventional practices that human linguistic and intellectual devel-
in social science, but as illumination and opment hinges on participation in a range
connection. of linguistic forms and functions. James
Lyric inquiry has an uneasy relationship Britton and Janet Emig (Neilsen, Jessome,
with knowledge as product, commodity, Horsfall, & Hollis, 2000), among others,
or “trump card.” Knowing, instead, is an argued for the use of all modes of writing in
experience of immersion and expression education: expository (telling), argumenta-
rather than one of gathering data only to tive (arguing), transactional (doing) modes,
advance an argument. A researcher who expressive, and the poetic (imaginative,
Lyric Inquiry–––◆–––97

personal, reflective). The result—increased In a climate where concern for the pro-
attention to “creative” forms of writing for tection of individual rights and privacy is at
children in schools—is that we associate the an all-time high, lyric inquiry provides new
expressive and poetic with the early years; possibilities: Poetry related to place, for
in high school and college, the emphasis has example, or fiction or a script as an account
remained on transactional and argumenta- allow the researcher or scholartist to enter
tive writing. into an experience in the only way any
Personal responses to readings or journal researcher can (regardless of method)—as
keeping seem to be the only forms of lyric herself, observing and recording. She does
writing in postsecondary education—those not presume to speak for another. But there
and literary writing produced in creative is a difference, and that difference is pri-
writing programs. It is rare, except in circles marily one of perspective on knowing.
of arts-informed or arts-based researchers,
to see lyric forms used as legitimate schol-
arly discourse across disciplines. Literary ♦ Liminality and Knowing
writing (fiction, poetry, and plays), accord-
ing to traditional academic beliefs, belongs
to the humanities, alongside criticism (argu-
ment, expository); social science writing, My text is flawed not when it is
however, does not share this diverse reper- ambiguous or even contradictory,
toire of expression—argument and exposi- but only when it leaves you no
tory remain the primary genres through room for stories of your own.
which social scientists communicate. Despite —Mairs, 1994, p. 74
the introduction of narrative inquiry into the
research community, that form of research That knowledge is and must be proof, propo-
is still primarily used as a vehicle for ratio- sition, muscle for prediction and control is
nalist thought (for using story to make a bound inextricably with our Western belief
point). To date, whether they include poetic in the individual as a separate, autonomous
epigrams, narrative accounts, or snippets of being and with our fear of the unknown
journals or researcher diaries, most theses, (Neilsen, 1998a, 2002b). In the social sci-
dissertations, and scholarly articles are ences, our preference for propositional
written to build an argument or to get knowledge may be a result of a collective
things done. perception that society wants research and
Our need to delineate categories pre- practices that know and prove with cer-
vents us from drawing upon all linguistic tainty. This ontological bias toward founda-
resources across all disciplines, allowing for tional knowledge has prevailed, regardless
the possibility of poetry alone, for example, of the testimonies we hear from scientists
as being sufficient “evidence” of inquiry and theorists in a spectrum of disciplines
and of knowing. Further, this segregation who describe their own knowledge-creating
of linguistic practices by discipline blunts processes as fertile, imaginative states with
the knowledge in the discipline, prevents it intuitive leaps and places of indecision and
from being explored in new ways, produc- liminality.
ing ontological stagnation and creating a Literary writers commonly refer to the
climate of self-referential and self-justifying state of liminality in some variation of the
structures of knowing. question attributed to E. M. Forster: “How

do I know what I think until I see what for questions and for connection—for find-
I say?” Language is always inadequate: ing the universal in the particular and for
We are always struggling with the space rethinking any belief that suggests we can
between and among perceptions, ideas, and know the other.
words. Poet Don McKay (2001) refers to In this way, poetic language can be a
this state “before, under, through the won- transgressive and powerful tool, especially
derful terrible wrestling with words” as for women and others who prefer to write
poetic attention. McKay says that “poets outside rationalist forms of language—“to
are supremely interested in what language let go, to explode forms, and create fantas-
can’t do” and “to gesture outside, they use tic transgressions” (Neilsen & Clifford,
language in a way that flirts with its destruc- 1996, p. 1)—and who often have had little
tion” (p. 32). Liminality is “a space that opportunity to see their experiences through
invites anomaly, and relishes ambiguity” their own lens or write them in the forms in
(Neilsen, 1998a, p. 273), a place where we which they want to be represented. Lyric
“perceive patterns in new ways, find sensu- forms, in this sense, are political; they chal-
ous openings into new understandings, fresh lenge the status quo of accepted academic
concepts, wild possibilities,” a place where language, and they remind us of the inherent
we “subvert the ordinary and see the extra- biases in speaking for others. Writing the
ordinary” (p. 274). Where liminal and lyric personal can be risky, because of the folk-
meet is a place of play, fluidity, and imagi- historical association of women with the
nation. It is also a means of connection. As forces of unreason; yet writing the personal
poet Jane Hirshfield (1997) writes: can also be seen as courageous (Rogers,
1993). Expressive and poetic writing is often
The liminal is not opposite to, but the dismissed as “merely subjective,” a charge
necessary companion of, identity and that is based on the mistaken assumption
particularity—a person who steps out- that disembodied and distanced language
side her usual position falls away from carries more weight or is owed more author-
any singular relationship to others and ity. Yet consider what we know from stud-
into oneness with the community as a ies in technology: When encountering the
whole. Within the separateness of limi- liminal space of new media, women and
nality, separateness itself is remade . . . girls typically opt for lyric forms of commu-
entire societies, as well as individuals, at nication (expressive, personal) over rational-
times enter the condition of threshold ist discourse (Neilsen, 1997). Literary writers
for renewal. (p. 204) write about the transformative power of
writing. Nancy Mairs (1994) claims writing
In social science research, liminality and didn’t help her find her voice; it helped
uncertainty seem antithetical to a discipline her find Nancy. Nadine Gordimer (1995)
that looks for answers and is founded on turned to writing “as a means to find what
practices of studying and then attempting my truth was” (p. 123). Bronwen Wallace
to represent others. Yet although a thresh- (1987) writes of remapping her life, all
old space can be uncertain, its redeeming her “selves incomplete and ambiguous”
quality is curiosity, a desire to learn. It is a (pp. 108–109).
space that is in love with the questions. In Further, we know from our encounters
exploring and expressing identity through with the everyday that when provided with
language, lyric inquiry creates a space both information that is locally situated, specific,
Lyric Inquiry–––◆–––99

and embodied (for example, a news feature Lyric inquiry returns us to pre-Cartesian
or a magazine or journal article in print and beliefs about our connection to the land-
visual media), consumers of information scape that carries us. According to Abram
typically remember the “color” stories—the (1996), “the world of our direct, unmedi-
grounded particulars. The news media pro- ated interactions is always local . . . the sen-
vide consumers with a range of linguistic suous world is the particular ground on
options—the “color” of the personal, the which we walk.” He further claims that we,
narrative, the imagistic, as well as argument as humans, are shaped “by the places (we)
and persuasion and exposition. Why do inhabit, both individually and collectively.
we, as researchers and scholars whose work Our bodily rhythms, our moods, cycles of
needs to have more community currency creativity and stillness, and even our
than ever before, remain wedded to telling thoughts are readily engaged and influ-
rather than showing or imagining? As our enced by shifting patterns in the land” (pp.
research increasingly reaches into the public 266–267). Yet our technologically medi-
domain to investigate a myriad of social ated experiences—using language and other
phenomena, a reaching that is often moti- systems that lift us away from the local—
vated by a desire for social justice, we can have inspired and reinforced the belief we
look to lyric inquiry to make the research are separate from the environment that car-
accessible and memorable and, we hope, to ries us. Language as a uniquely human tool
foster agency and action. has also reinforced the belief that our
thoughts reside in an otherworldly place
called our mind. Ackerman (1990) and
♦ Body Writing others, however, claim that the mind “trav-
els the whole body in caravans of hormone
and enzyme, busily making sense of the cat-
alogue of wonders we call touch, taste,
Write your self. Your body must smell, hearing, vision” (p. xix).
be heard. Helene Cixous’s (1991) work explores the
—Cixous, 1991, p. 335 relationship of body with language, women’s
bodies in particular. Because language is
When narrative forms and writing as inquiry part of a symbolic structure that is largely
were introduced to social science research male in invention and influence, she argues
about 20 years ago, a struggle ensued to wrest that women must learn l’ecriture feminine,
the methodology from criteria associated with writing that springs from the body and sub-
rationalist discourse and positivist assump- verts the given structures and available
tions about research. The struggle continues forms. This writing is typically sensory and
today with questions about whether literary poetic in nature. Yet writing from the body,
works can be accepted as dissertations and in spite of feminist arguments about the
theses, and the degree to which these docu- patriarchal nature of language, is not a prac-
ments must adhere to rationalist forms of tice or a possibility limited to women. Our
dissemination in order to be considered educational conventions in postsecondary
“knowledge.” Again, the issue is ontological: institutions have simply reinforced that
How do we know, and how do we tell? belief by denying all students and scholars
Lyric forms make connections among opportunities for—and legitimization of—
intellect, emotion, spirit, and the body. embodied writing.

♦ A Lyric Ontology linear, foundational, hypostatic, analytical)

and embodied (relational, fluid, sensory,
experiential, located, “personal”) and all
Social science research and writing have his- their myriad intersections and overlaps—
torically embraced the hypostatic—finding allowing for the full range of linguistic
truths, laws, and principles that we can expression, and thus firing our thinking,
count on that add up, perhaps, to a whole- our knowing, and our imagination in well-
ness or a summary of what is. The pursuit of rounded ways.
the hypostatic is important, but so, too, is
the pursuit of the ineffable. For alongside the
pursuit of laws and principles is the onto- ♦ Lyric Inquiry
logical perspective of knowledge as particu-
lar and present, and often impossible to
and Possibility
pin down. Ontological attention, as Zwicky
(2003) refers to it, is a position of awe—of Current thought in philosophy and poet-
honoring what we see through the inade- ics considers the resonant, metaphorical,
quate language resources we have available. and elusive (as well as allusive) dimensions
For her, this ontology is fundamentally an of language. Lyric forms of writing draw on
ethical position. Zwicky (2003) writes: the immediate and the material, and recog-
nize the power of the particular to invoke
Ontological attention is a response to par- the universal. In Zwicky’s (1992) terms,
ticularity; this porch, this laundry basket, “analysis is a laser; lyric is a bell” (p. 284).
this day. Its object cannot be substituted Lyric inquiry’s embrace of resonance is con-
for, even when it is an object of consider- nected to its tolerance for ambiguity and
able generality (“the country,” “cheese,” liminality, all characteristics of the develop-
“garage sales”). It is the antithesis of the ment (and reception) of literary works. The
attitude that regards things as “resources,” implications of this perspective on lan-
mere means to human ends. In perceiving guage are both ethical and ontological. To
thisness, we respond to having been name, categorize, and judge, one might argue,
addressed (In fact, we are addressed all are a form of control, appropriation, or
the time, but we don’t always notice this). dominance. Yet lyric inquiry, following
(p. 52) Levinas’s philosophy (McKay, 2001), is a
means of recording and honoring phenom-
Research undertaken through and informed ena, often translating this “listening” or
by the arts challenges what counts as legiti- “being with” into prose that makes no claim
mate knowledge and considers research to to knowledge or power over; it aims only
be a form of address. Lyric inquiry, in par- to create resonance and aesthetic impact
ticular, because of its reliance on language, through address. Lyric inquiry is “an invita-
challenges both the impulse for pursuing tion to begin to live poetically in the work,
universal truths or laws and the attendant to embrace the suspended moments inside
agonistic practices of argument and persua- which words dangle us—elusive, mysteri-
sion that bring them to the fore. Although ous, fecund states which our controlling selves
binaries run the risk of reinforcing essen- have traditionally been schooled to master,
tialist categories, it might be worth consi- define, name, or categorize” (Neilsen, 1998a,
dering the ways we can pursue the kind of p. 273).
inquiry that opens up knowledge and know- Lyric inquiry practices are especially
ing to include both the rationalist (objective, appealing to women and girls (Neilsen,
Lyric Inquiry–––◆–––101

1996, 1998a, 1998b, 1998c, 2002b, 2002c), Lyric inquiry as a means of studying
affording them opportunities to both engage and communicating phenomena in social
with academic work and resist it, even as science research recognizes that the only lin-
they use lyric inquiry for epistemic growth guistic tool we have—human language—is
and understanding. Less than 150 years ago, more than a blunt instrument with which
women and other traditionally underrepre- we gather or claim or control knowledge; it
sented groups had little access to university is a powerful mix of art and the phenome-
study; they now comprise the majority of nological, honoring not only phenomena
the postsecondary student population. It under our gaze, but the epistemic possibili-
seems timely, then, to extend the reaches of ties of writing in a new key.
our inquiry to include forms of written
expression that are both inclusive and repre-
sentative. Social scientists across disciplines ♦ References
are, increasingly, a gender-balanced and cul-
turally diverse group. The continued use
Abram, D. (1996). The spell of the sensuous.
of primarily rationalist discourse in the
New York: Vintage Books.
academy is a source of imbalance, not only
Ackerman, D. (1990). A natural history of the
epistemologically, but culturally and lin-
senses. New York: Vintage Books.
guistically (McCann, 2002). Attention to Burchfield, R. W. (Ed.). (1996). New Fowler’s
the development of lyric inquiry allows us, modern English usage (3rd ed.). Oxford:
as human users of language, to develop lin- Clarendon Press.
guistic muscles that are, in many cases, our Cixous, H. (1991). The laugh of the medusa. In
natural preferences or strengths and, in R. R. Warhol & D. Price Herndel (Eds.),
other cases, muscles we have allowed to Feminisms: An anthology of literary theory
become atrophied. When we increase the and criticism (p. 335). New Brunswick, NJ:
richness and diversity of our scholarly writ- Rutgers.
ing, we expand our possibilities: We do not Dickinson, E. (1976). Linscott, Robert (Ed.).
Selected poems and letters of Emily
replace one form for another or eliminate
Dickinson. New York: Bantam Doubleday
any form that has served well.
Lyric inquiry, as I have learned in my
Glenn, L. N. (2007). Phenomenology. In
research into inquiry itself, results in at L. N. Glenn, Combustion (p. 69). London,
least three benefits. First, this entry into Ontario, Canada: Brick Books.
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and agency for both researcher and partic- Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
ipants, many of whom have found that Hirshfield, J. (1997). Nine gates: Entering the mind
their work has been ignored inside main- of poetry. New York: Harper Perennial.
stream social science practices. Second, lyric Kirsch, G. (1993). Women writing the academy.
inquiry foregrounds conceptual and philo- Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
sophical processes marked by metaphor, res- Kristeva, J. (1981). Women’s time (Alice Jardine
and Harry Blake, Trans.). Signs, 7(33–34),
onance, and liminality, all processes that
ignite the imagination and have a strong
Lee, D. (1998). Body music. Toronto, Ontario,
heuristic effect for both researcher and
Canada: Anansi Press.
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us with the vivifying effects of imagination a (woman) writer. Boston: Beacon Press.
and beauty—those long-forgotten quali- McCann, H. (2002). Other lives, other learning.
ties that add grace and wisdom to public Unpublished doctoral dissertation, James
discourse. Cook University, Australia.

McKay, D. (2001). Vis a vis: Fieldnotes on Neilsen, L. (2002b, Spring). Lyric inquiry: Line
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Educational Research, 48(3), 206–214. Press.


B ringing the arts into research to advance knowledge means that

research no longer looks a particular way. Bringing the arts into
research throws into disarray the set of shared and accepted beliefs, val-
ues, techniques, discourses, and so on about research that academics
(including many qualitative researchers) have come to accept as para-
digmatic givens. And, like any paradigm shift, a fundamental change at
the level of deep structure takes time (a long time). Even entertaining the
prospects and possibilities of such a shift is perhaps best begun with
examples of what such research might look like. The chapters in this
section are the heart of the Handbook. Individually and collectively, the
many chapters both show and tell how specific arts genres advance
knowledge in ways that are different from conventional social science
research methodologies. Authors describe what research employing dif-
ferent art forms might look like. They discuss some of the main issues
and challenges associated with using various art forms so as to illumi-
nate their possibilities in qualitative research methodologies. Because of
the many different art forms and genres, chapters in this section are
clustered in subsections: literary forms, performance, visual art, new
media, and popular and folk art forms.

♦ Literary Forms

• Creative Nonfiction and Social Research, Tom Barone

• Interpretive Biography, Norman K. Denzin
• Wording Pictures: Discovering Heartful Autoethnography, Karen
Scott-Hoy and Carolyn Ellis
◆ 103
104–––◆–––Handbook of the Arts in Qualitative Research

• Métissage: A Research Praxis, Cynthia ♦ New Media

Chambers and Erika Hasebe-Ludt
with Dwayne Donald, Wanda Hurren,
Carl Leggo, and Antoinette Oberg • Digital Content: Video as Research,
• Writing as Theory: In Defense of Janice Rahn
Fiction, Stephen Banks
• Blogs, Robert Runte
• Astonishing Silence: Knowing in Poetry,
Carl Leggo • Zines: Individual to Community, Troy
R. Lovata

• Radio in/for Research: Creating

♦ Performance
Knowledge Waves, Christine McKenzie

• Dance, Choreography, and Social

Science Research, Donald Blumenfeld- ♦ Folk and Popular
Jones Art Forms
• Performative Inquiry: Embodiment
and Its Challenges, Ronald J. Pelias
• Touching Minds and Hearts: Commu-
• Ethnodrama and Ethnotheatre, Johnny
nity Arts as Collaborative Research,
Deborah Barndt
• Readers’ Theater as a Display Strategy,
Robert Donmoyer and June Yennie • Quilts, Helen K. Ball
• The Music Lesson, Liora Bresler

♦ Visual Art

• Painting as Research: Create and

Critique, Graeme Sullivan
• Photographs and/as Social Documen-
tary, Claudia Mitchell and Susan Allnutt

• Collage as Inquiry, Lynn Butler-Kisber

• Textu(r)al Walking/Writing Through

Sculpture, Alex F. de Cosson

• Installation Art-as-Research, Ardra L.

Cole and Maura McIntyre
9 Literary Forms


 Tom Barone

A chasm between scientists who have claimed the ability through

rigorous methods to approach “objective truth” and literary/
artistic types who valorize texts of fiction has long divided them into
what C. P. Snow (1959/1998) called two cultures. Snow identified these
two polar groups as the literary intellectuals and the scientists. These
two cultures, with their dramatically different epistemological stances
and ways of viewing the world, still exist today. The associated scientific/
literary dichotomy remains apparent as we search for works labeled
“fiction” or “nonfiction” in the library, on Internet bookseller sites, or
in segregated best-seller lists.
These classifications are meant as guidance for an intended reader-
ship about how to regard and use the contents of a particular work.
Without such guidance, notes the literary theorist Wolfgang Iser (1993),
“inappropriate reactions will ensue” (p. 12). The post-positivist Phillips
(1994) agrees with the seemingly commonsensical notion that there is
indeed danger in mistaking fiction (or fantasy) for fact, even (or espe-
cially) in storied accounts: “If an action is taken on the basis of an incor-
rect narrative, even if disaster does not always ensue, we [will likely] end
up with consequences that we neither anticipated nor desired” (p. 17).

◆ 105

For Phillips, actions that rely upon non- labels of “art” and “science,” “fiction” and
fictional (“correct”) accounts of events— “nonfiction,” many have emphasized the
events that “actually happened”—are more commonalities between the two terms in
likely to be “successful” than those based each of these apparent dyads (Latour, 1987;
on stories that are “incorrect,” not literally Nisbet, 1976; Vattimo, 1988).
“true.” Before the 17th century, these dualisms
Within this dualistic mindset, stories were nowhere to be found. As Levine (1985)
classified as fictional may serve certain non- notes: “Surely no one in the West before
research purposes, but not the purposes of 1600 intended to cast the discussion of
social science. They may not be considered human affairs in the language of precise
legitimate as social research. This dichotomiz- propositions” (p. 1). It took an “assault on
ing supports a “single drop of blood” per- ambiguity” by the mathematical and physi-
spective regarding the purity of social cal sciences, with their emphases on theo-
research texts. Stories categorized as non- retical rigor and metric precision alluded to
fictional, and therefore as correct and use- above, to devalue the then prevailing “nat-
ful, must at least strive toward “truth” as a ural” forms of discourse through the erec-
regulative ideal. They must aim to consis- tion of a hierarchy of language genres.
tently, directly, and precisely mirror the Since that time, however, some social
“real world.” scientists and artists have transgressed
In our Western culture, fiction continues against the conventional hierarchy and
to be associated with the fantastic, and as boundaries between these separate domains.
such, “remain[s] a no-no, a mode of expres- As early as the 19th century, literary types
sion . . . that is simply off-limits in conven- (especially novelists) could be found engag-
tional academic discourse” (Banks & Banks, ing in the close scrutiny of the world that
1998, p. 17). And to the extent that “nonfic- was supposedly the exclusive hallmark of
tional stories” tolerate ambiguity, imagina- science, while social scientists (and journal-
tion, or creativity—indeed, subjectivity of ists and other writers professionally betrothed
any sort—they may be seen as diminished in to the “factual”) began to creatively employ
terms of the reliability, validity, and objectiv- metaphorical, evocative language and the
ity so important for conventional forms of storied formats that reside ostensibly within
research, and therefore are still reviled as the realm of imaginative literature.
tainted, dismissed as illegitimate half-breeds. This transgression occurred in various
sorts of texts, including mid-19th-century
British literary criticism, 18th-century travel
♦ Creativity in Nonfictional literature, certain early forms of autobiog-
Social Inquiry Texts: raphy, confessional life stories (including
the first by Rousseau), and social realist nov-
els advocated by the likes of Honore de Balzac
and Emile Zola.
Despite the dominance of the dichotomy In the 20th century, the most brazen
identified by Snow (1959/1998), some schol- moves (outside of the academy) to prob-
ars have suggested that the line between lematize the boundaries between fact and fic-
science and art (including the literary arts) tion occurred within the New Journalism
and the line between fiction and nonfiction movement (Barone 1980; Johnson, 1971).
have never been easily discernible. Although New Journalism emerged in the 1960s in
most would admit to sufficiently distinct magazines such as Esquire and The New
identifying marks to warrant the use of the Yorker, as well as in books by Tom Wolfe
Creative Nonfiction and Social Research–––◆–––107

(1969, 1973, 1979), Joan Didion (1969), enormously influential in, and emblematic
Hunter S. Thompson (1973), Michael Herr of, the “turnings,” were the sociologist
(1968), and others. Most notably, Truman Robert Nisbet, the anthropologist Clifford
Capote (1963) published In Cold Blood, Geertz, and the educationist Elliot Eisner.
a work that he called a “nonfiction novel.” Nisbet’s (1976) book Sociology as an Art
Norman Mailer (1968) subtitled his Armies Form argued persuasively for the dissolution
of the Night, an award-winning account of of Snow’s dualism, claiming that sociology
a protest march on the Pentagon, “History was/is not only one of the sciences but also
as a Novel, The Novel as History.” Elizabeth one of the arts. He suggested that a close
Hardwick’s (1979) acclaimed Sleepless affinity of sociology with the world of art
Nights was described as an “autobiographi- could be found in various features: the
cal novel.” And Alex Haley (1976), refusing themes explored within each field, the styles
the fact/fiction dualism, insisted instead in which each reveals itself, the modes of
upon the hybrid term faction as more accu- representation that each employs.
rately descriptive of his book Roots. Although Nisbet focused primarily on
The New Journalists shared a preference the historical similarities between the two
for accounts that defied the entrenched notion intellectual domains, his recognition of
of the reporter as a detached and “objective” common features within their means of rep-
recorder of events in favor of one who, resenting reality—portraiture, landscape,
employing an evocative and metaphorical and a dynamic sense of temporal and spa-
language of description, also moves to inter- tial flow—may have promoted a kind of lit-
pret and evaluate those events from an obvi- erary sociology. Similarly, Clifford Geertz
ous point of view. Or as Johnson (1971) put both described and advocated for the story-
it, “New Journalists aimed for novelistic or telling and poetic qualities of ethnography.
impressionistic reconstructions of actual The ethnographic essays of Geertz, a
events” (p. 40). The sort of literary nonfic- self-described anthropologist/storyteller,
tion espoused and practiced by the New are both aesthetically and substantively
Journalists survives in the form of New impressive; indeed, they are accomplished
Journalism (Boynton, 2005). literary essays. Moreover, Geertz (1973)
argued they are, in a certain sense, like all
ethnographies, works of fiction, at least in the
♦ Three Pioneers “sense that they are ‘something made,’ ‘some-
in Academia thing fashioned’” (p. 16). Geertz (1983),
moreover, is credited with coining the term
genre blurring, suggesting a recognition and
Concurrent with the advent of literary style acceptance of the use of artistic design ele-
journalism, similar stirrings could be felt ments in crafting works of ethnography and
within the walls of the academy. The move- those within the other fields of the human
ment was gradual and broad-based, push- sciences.
ing the culture of the scientist ever closer to In the field of education, a similar cham-
that of the author of literature. The movement pion of creative nonfiction was Elliot Eisner
occurred within what has been character- of Stanford University. An arts educator, cur-
ized as the rhetorical, narrative, literary, ricularist, and qualitative research metho-
and performative “turns” during the last three dologist, Eisner (1979) theorized about the
decades of the 20th century. Among the possibilities of bringing the talents of the art
scholars in the humanities and social sci- critic to bear in the fields of educational
ences whose works of the late 1970s were research and evaluation. Eisner noted that art

critics often employed a language that is highly films and videos, nonfictional novels and short
vivid, evocative, and metaphorical, while stories, educational criticism, and reader’s
adequately referring to the phenomena being theater. Richardson (2000, p. 930) has pro-
observed, studied, and represented. Similarly, vided a list of “creative analytical practices”
the educational critic was conceived by Eisner in ethnography, fiction-stories, polyvocal
(1979, 1991) as someone who could artfully texts, responsive readings, aphorisms, com-
disclose subtle and important facets of educa- edy and satire, visual presentations, allegory,
tional phenomena. Taking Eisner’s lead, sev- conversation, layered accounts, writing-
eral educational researchers explored the stories, and mixed genres.
utility of educational criticism for writing Why has creative nonfiction proliferated
about the realms of teaching (Greer, 1973), in light of the well-established fact/fiction
curriculum materials (Vallance, 1977), class- dichotomy? Is it because works of creative
room life (McCutcheon, 1976), and the par- nonfiction serve a purpose that is somehow
allels between this sort of creative nonfiction distinct from texts that are more easily clas-
and literary journalism (Barone, 1979, 1980). sified as either fictional or factual? Perhaps
Later, Barone and Eisner (1997) began to they claim a space between fact and fiction
refer to research that contained a number of in which a different sort of textual dynamic
aesthetic design elements in the research and is played out, the same sort of dynamic
compositional process as arts-based research. present in the viewing of books and films
that claim to be “based on a true story” or
“inspired by actual events” or that are
♦ Tropisms and Dialectics described as follows:

Though this is a work of nonfiction,

These and other scholars in fields often iden- I have taken certain storytelling liber-
tified with social science challenged the ties. . . . When the narrative strays from
traditional fact/fiction dualism in creative strict nonfiction, my intention has been
ways. Still, their work was/is often qualified to remain faithful to the characters and
and characterized as creative or literary, to the essential drift of events as they
nonfiction. Does this terminology signify really happened. (Berendt, 1994, p. 389)
that the fact/fiction dichotomy has managed
to persist and survive the strong movement Like the term creative nonfiction, these
toward genre blurring? Yes, conventions of authorial declarations seem to signal to
all sorts die hard. the reader the coexistence of two appar-
Since the 1970s, cultural texts or docu- ently conflicting reasons for reading a
ments of social research that might con- particular text. The first is to secure a prox-
ventionally be characterized as creative imity to the truth, the “essential drift of
nonfiction have indeed burgeoned. In the events as they really happened”; and the
various fields and disciplines of the social second reason is one often associated with
sciences and humanities, these works have the reading of a work of fiction imbued
taken on various literary forms (Denzin with “storytelling liberties.” I will elaborate
& Lincoln, 1998; Ellis, 1995, 2004; Ellis & on this point by extrapolating from the
Bochner, 1996; Richardson, 1997). These ideas of the literary critic Wolfgang Iser.
include, but are not limited to, the follow- Two opposing forces or tendencies may
ing: life stories, life histories, literary style be seen operating in all human discourse,
essays, autoethnographies, ethnodramas, including the reading of inquiry texts. These
performance ethnographies, documentary forces may be identified as the centripetal
Creative Nonfiction and Social Research–––◆–––109

and the centrifugal. In the reading of texts a complex conception of the act of reading
in which centripetal forces dominate, one as one in which a delicious dialectic tension
senses design elements that serve as stimuli between actuality and imagination may be
or cues to adopt a certain epistemological experienced. Indeed, a boundary between
attitude toward the text. This “pull” or fact and fiction has never been, itself, an
“tropism” honors the ultimate aim of objective, strictly “factual” entity. Rather it
human inquiry that Rorty (1979) described is a human (social) construction, an artifact
as a “quest for truth.” The kind of text in of convention, one born out of a general
which centripetal forces strongly dominate need for an unambiguous classification of
suggests a final, standard, authoritative, otherwise indeterminate entities.
unambiguous, conventionally truthful ren- A persistent yearning for the resolution
dition of events. It honors a correspondence of ambiguities regarding what constitutes
theory of truth wherein language is meant to fiction and nonfiction may indeed be
mirror the objects of a real world. Texts of viewed as an ongoing manifestation of an
this sort aim to be maximally denotative, ancient desire to reduce anxiety about the
purely factual, strictly nonfictional, highly indefinite. But an adequate understanding
valid, literally true. of the manner in which texts of creative
Those texts in which centrifugal forces nonfiction operate requires an acceptance
dominate lean in an opposite direction, as of the inevitability of ambiguity. To illus-
Iser (1993) would argue, toward fantasy trate this point, we return to the notion of
and formlessness, toward the territory of opposing centripetal and centrifugal forces
the scattered, the incoherent, the impossibly operating within texts.
distant, the absolutely arbitrary. They
would tend to be chaotic, nonsensical texts
that partake of what Iser (1993) calls the ♦ Reading Creative
“imaginary.” This imaginary “tends to Nonfiction as Fiction?
manifest itself in a somewhat diffuse man- Three Examples
ner, in fleeting impressions that defy our
attempts to pin it down in a concrete and
stabilized form” (p. 3). Just as ethnography may be, on the one hand,
This chaotic realm of the fantastic is often described as an “artful science” (Brady,
associated in the traditional paradigm of 1991), some social research that has been
Western thought with that of fiction. That is described as arts-based may, on the other
unfortunate—a mistake. Indeed, Iser (1993) hand, claim a “nonfictional” rather than “fic-
argues that it is precisely in the act of fiction- tional” status. Indeed, arts-based research
alizing that these opposing forces—the tro- texts, like those labeled sociological or
pisms toward literal truth and a formless ethnographic or journalistic, exhibit vary-
imaginary—are successfully harnessed into a ing degrees of centripetal and centrifugal
productive dialectic. In an act of fictionaliz- tropisms. Some may lean toward the pro-
ing, “reproduced reality is made to point to motion of a privileged, “correct” version of
a ‘reality’ beyond itself, while the imaginary behaviors and events. For example, a text
is lured into form.” In the production of may be advertised as a summative evalua-
a work of fiction, “extra-textual reality tion, a terminal, overall appraisal of a pub-
merges into the imaginary and the imaginary lic program. Or a text may purport to offer
emerges into reality” (p. 3). an accurate depiction of auto/biographical
The prevailing binary of truth and fic- or historical phenomena. Texts of these
tion (or fantasy) is thereby replaced with sorts, with strong centripetal tendencies,

may indeed be prestructured to promote usually meant to be performed on stage.

certainty rather than ambiguity and thus The ethnodrama is a kind of performance
suggest a desire to be regarded as valid, lit- text (Denzin, 1997). In other sorts of per-
erally true, trustworthy, and (in one sense) formance texts, poems, short stories, diary
useful. entries, and interview texts are re-crafted
But within the very same text, literary into dramatic presentations.
dimensions and devices may also be dis- Street Rat may be considered a work of
cerned. These devices are usually the ones creative nonfiction that focuses on the lives
that serve to justify the modification of of some homeless youths in New Orleans.
the nonfictional text as “creative.” Among The play was adapted by Johnny Saldaña,
these may be the following: expressive, con- Susan Finley, and her son, Macklin, from
notative language; contextualized, vernacu- a research story composed by the Finleys
lar language; the presence of an aesthetic (S. Finley & Finley, 1999; Saldaña, 2005)
form, perhaps a story or quasi-storied for- and from poetry written by Macklin (M.
mat; composite characters; inner dialogue; Finley, 2000). I attended a production of
complex characterization; invented dia- this ethnodrama directed by Saldaña.
logue; obvious point of view; plot; narrative The script, based on participant-observer
drive; metaphor; allusions; flashbacks and Macklin’s experiences with his informants,
flash forwards; synecdoche; tone shifts; and was based on the lives of “real characters.”
so on. The presence of these literary attrib- It moved briskly from an introduction of
utes serves as a countervailing, centrifugal the two main characters, Roach and Tigger,
tendency. to complications arising partly from their
This centrifugal tendency may be so relationships with each other and their
strong that, regardless of the presence of homeless friends, to a dramatic climax as
opposing linguistic cues, or the apparent violence nearly erupts, and finally a touch-
desire of the author or readers to label, cat- ing denouement, a scene in which Tigger
egorize, or classify the text unambiguously and Roach, obviously filling a void in each
as nonfiction, one is enabled to read the text other’s lives left there by others, declared
as either fiction or nonfiction, or as both. To in their garbage-strewn living quarters
illustrate this point, I offer, from an enor- that they were, at least for the time being,
mous array of possibilities, three examples, home. The narrative drive of the story was
each representing a different form of cre- punctuated by the recitation of poems of
ative nonfiction. various lengths, composed by Macklin,
who thereby became, himself, a character in
the play.
♦ Street Rat Other theatrical touches added to the
production’s effective mise en scène. Absent
a proscenium arch, audience members were
The first example is the ethnodrama Street seated in a black-draped, rectangular room,
Rat (Saldaña, Finley, & Finley, 2002). its floor shared with the actors. The mini-
Ethnodrama, performance ethnography, mal props, authentic costuming, and back-
ethnoperformance, ethnodrama, and reality ground music were all carefully designed
theatre are all terms used to identify a form and selected to advance the vision of the
of literary nonfictional data representation director and his collaborators.
in which the qualitative researcher “play- The formal attributes of Street Rat
writes with data” (Saldaña, 2005, p. 2), were matched by its content. The telling
creating a play out of an ethnographic text details in the lives of Roach, Tigger, and
Creative Nonfiction and Social Research–––◆–––111

their comrades enabled me to dwell within Richardson concludes the book with a
an otherwise largely unavailable world of powerful personal essay that circles back to
homeless young people. Through an array her early life as a child, focusing on an inci-
of concrete images, particular forms of dent at the age of eight that may have
intelligence were revealed to me, the struc- served as a starting point in the history of
ture of moral codes laid bare. Through a her desire to write.
cascade of specific utterances and gestures,
I was granted access to their personal hopes,
dreams, and motivations. ♦ Touching Eternity

♦ Fields of Play The third example is my own book entitled

Touching Eternity: The Enduring Outcomes
of Teaching (Barone, 2001). This book
My second example is Fields of Play by investigates the work of a high school arts
Laurel Richardson (1997). This remarkable teacher named Don Forrister. The book first
book represents a creative reshaping of the presents an evaluative essay of the teacher
genre of collected scholarly works. Instead initially published in 1983. Part II of the
of offering the usual chronological or the- book consists of a set of nine life stories of
matic arrangement of individual writings his former students, elicited and composed
published over a portion of a scholar’s by the researcher more than a decade after
academic career, Richardson crafts a com- their graduation, life stories in which the
pelling personal/professional autobiography former students describe what they perceive
that is melded with theory. are Forrister’s long-range influences on their
Her most prominent experimental writ- lives. Part III highlights what Forrister per-
ings (including poems, literary essays, an ceives, in turn, as the influences of his for-
ethnographic drama, and other experimen- mer students on his own life story.
tal writings) themselves exhibit artful ele- Most of the first three parts of the book
ments of design as well as deeply personal are written in a language that is vernacu-
revelations and so become integral parts of lar in character, while also often vivid,
the plot of her life story. Indeed, these previ- metaphorical, and evocative. Its narrative
ously published works serve as flashbacks of and story-like features, as well as its varie-
a sort, placed into a temporal relief through gated formatting, are meant to contribute
her reflective present-day commentary. to an experimental, postmodernist biogra-
Her previously published “selections” phy of a teacher. Moreover, most of the sto-
for this book are situated among what she ries of Forrister’s former students suggest
calls writing-stories. These “forewords” certain enduring outcomes of his teaching,
and “afterwords” envelop each of the ear- pointing to the possibility that he had indeed
lier pieces, thereby serving as elegant “touched eternity” though them. But in
bridges that connect those textual islands Part IV the voice of the author/researcher is
and providing a kind of continuity to the heard analyzing the contents of the life sto-
lived experiences. They enable the reader to ries through two incommensurate and con-
experience vicariously the arc of the aca- flicting theoretical frameworks: one from
demic life of a sociologist whose creative phenomenology, one from critical theory.
nonfictional works defied traditions and In so doing, the text raises doubts about
contributed significantly to the literary whether Forrister was indeed able to have
turn in sociology. The arc is completed as a lasting impact on his students’ lives.

In each of these three examples, the refers to something else” (Iser, 1993, p. 15).
author of the text seems to claim a kind of That “something else” is the figurative—
creative nonfictional status for the work places and events that are analogues of
(without necessarily using that term). In those inscribed within the text.
each case, the authors have entered into a This may, in fact, be viewed as a central
tacit contract with the reader that the work activity within the crafting of a work of
is (at least partly) meant to focus on actual fiction—the creation by the author, and
incidents in the lives of specific individuals. recreation by the reader, of an “as if” world,
(In two of the cases—the Barone and albeit a credible, believable one. Iser (1993)
Richardson books—actual names were suggests this recreation is promoted through
used for the two protagonists; in Touching an author’s purposeful (and inevitable)
Eternity, as in the ethnodrama Street Rat, selection and combination of elements
pseudonyms were used for the youthful “from a variety of social, historical, cultural,
characters; Fields of Play is autobiographi- and literary systems outside the text”
cal.) In each case, centripetal forces operate (p. 10). In the production of a work of fic-
to direct the attention of readers inward, tion, such real world elements are indeed
signaling that they are becoming privy to needed to bring the imaginary into form.
truths (or at least partial truths—truths as Texts that are prestructured in this man-
seen from a particular perspective) about ner tend to promote a different kind of
central characters and events. reading than that offered by a nonliterary
In that sense, these works seem to earn text with centripetal tendencies. In the for-
the appellation of nonfiction. Readers may mer, the reader is more likely to momentar-
perceive themselves as coming to know ily bracket off the text from the ordinary
(better) these particular individuals. And if stream of consciousness. In so doing she
the “real” characters in the text are recog- may simultaneously view it as both repre-
nized as direct acquaintances of the reader, senting an actual world and presenting a
the text may serve as a basis for judgment as hypothetical “as if” or, in Iser’s sense of the
to how to regard and act toward them. In word, fictional world. Because of the inher-
that sort of reading, Phillips’s (1994) cau- ent ambiguity in this sort of textual experi-
tion about the need for “correct” informa- ence the reader may then be free to search
tion in narratives seems quite appropriate. for a reference (Ricouer, 1976) for the text,
But often the reader is not familiar with to take the text home into the world of
the actual people, events, or settings por- her daily experiences to see what it might
trayed within a social research text. In that say about familiar conditions, conventional
case, the reader may nevertheless still retain practices, and the values and ideologies that
an inward focus, regarding the text in a support them.
strictly literal fashion. Iser (1993) has noted So are these three works really examples
that the “real world” elements portrayed in of creative nonfiction, and not something
a text, inscribed in an attempt at mimetic else? My answer to that question is—an
replication, may indeed serve merely to ambiguous one. The texts do purport to
point to an actual individual involved in document reality, even as they evidence
purportedly “real-life” experiences. forms of creativity, experimenting with
But the centrifugal forces within a text writing strategies and textual design ele-
may allow for an additional or alternative ments that can be aptly characterized as lit-
reading, a fictional one. Then the mimicry erary. Several of these serve to entice the
of the conventionally real in the text “is not reader into experiencing the internal world
present [only] for its own sake, but [also] of the text, into leaving her own, nearby,
Creative Nonfiction and Social Research–––◆–––113

extra-textual world, in order to dwell vicar- combating a powerful array of pervasive

iously within the (presumably) actual world cultural formations that serve to undercut
being portrayed, and there to imagine the the impact of his work.
lives of the “real” characters of Don Forrister,
Laurel Richardson, and the homeless youths
of New Orleans. ♦ The Textual Dance
But despite the cautionary label of “non-
fiction,” these same literary devices and
constructions may lure the reader outward In choosing to adopt a kind of binocular
from a literal construal of textual content, vision for regarding works characterized as
enabling her to read the texts figuratively, creative nonfiction, the reader moves con-
as something other or more than a mirror stantly back and forth, reverberating between
image of reality. While accepting, to a the world of the text and her own fund of
degree, the “reality” of the portrayals, read- extra-textual “realities.” This requires a will-
ers are nevertheless encouraged to put the ingness on the part of the reader to be,
text to use as an imaginary, as an opening herself, creative in the reading of the text, to
into a possible world. engage in a kind of textual play that is
So in all three examples described above, premised on the understanding that there are
the reader may construe the textual world no final meanings inscribed within the text.
not only as an actual one about which to The meanings are, rather, ambiguous ones
learn the facts, but simultaneously as a that are brought into being within negotia-
hypothetical world that abandons the cir- tions between the text and the reader.
cumscribed territory of the “real” and For so very long social researchers con-
moves into the vast realm of the possible. In sidered ambiguity to be a disreputable qual-
providing the contract details of her own ity, an unwanted problem child whose dirty
life story, Richardson surely intends the hands threatened the presumed purity of
outcome suggested by Carolyn Ellis on the their textual accounts. Social researchers were
book’s back cover (Richardson, 1997): “to engaged in a quest to eliminate all forms of
evoke academic readers to critically assess contamination from their inquiry texts lest,
the taken-for-granted paths they have cho- they feared, they slide down a slippery slope
sen for themselves.” Likewise, Saldaña does from the safe, reassuring hard-high-ground
not intend to only present the real worlds of of the literally true into the dangerous abyss
the particular street kids whose lives were of subjective fictions, the fantastic, even
carefully researched by Macklin Finley. His hallucinatory, realm of the madman.
play also suggests the travails and tribula- But time passes and conditions change.
tions of youths who are living similar lives Nowadays ambiguity has become, for
in nearby neighborhoods. And my book many social researchers, an intriguing char-
concerns not only the pedagogical attrib- acteristic whose healthy presence in their
utes of a single Appalachian high school accounts has been not only accepted as
teacher. Indeed, my intent in Touching inevitable, but openly celebrated as desir-
Eternity was not to bring readers closer to able and even useful.
an answer to the question of what consti- Within this celebration, social researchers
tutes good teaching. Instead, it was meant can be found dancing back and forth across
to disturb and puzzle, to promote reflection what was once a clearly delineated and
about what constitutes quality in teaching. closed border between the true and the false,
It ponders the likelihood of success of a the factual and the fictional. They dance
hero-teacher’s single-handed attempts at in what may be seen as a fiesta of textual

possibilities, even as works of social research, Eisner, E. W. (1979). The educational imagina-
although qualified as “creative,” remain tion. New York: Macmillan.
conventionally classified as “nonfictional.” Eisner, E. W. (1991). The enlightened eye. New
York: Macmillan.
Ellis, C. (1995) Final negotiations: A story of
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AltaMira Press. Ellis, C., & Bochner, B. (Eds.). (1996). Compos-
Barone, T. (1979). Inquiry into classroom ing ethnography: Alternative forms of qual-
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Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Press.
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enced curriculum: Clues from the “new jour- Press, University of Detroit Mercy.
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10 Literary Forms


 Norman K. Denzin

T he subject matter of interpretive research is meaningful biograph-

ical experience. Interpretive studies are organized in terms of a
biographically meaningful event or moment in a subject’s life. This
event, the epiphany, how it is experienced, how it is defined, and how
it is woven through the multiple strands of a person’s life constitute the
focus of interpretive biographical research (Denzin, 2001).

♦ Epiphany and the Sting of Memory

The biographical project begins with personal history, with the sting of
childhood memory, with an event that lingers and remains in the
person’s life story (Ulmer, 1989). Interpretive biography, or autoethnog-
raphy, re-tells and re-performs these life experiences. The life story
becomes an invention, a re-presentation, a historical object ripped or
torn out of its contexts.
In writing a life story, I create the conditions for rediscovering the
meanings of a past sequence of events (Ulmer, 1989). In so doing, I cre-
ate new ways of performing and experiencing the past. To represent the
past this way does not mean to “recognize it ‘the way it really was.’ It
means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger”

◆ 117

(Benjamin, 1968, p. 257) to see and redis- is a crime in this country to be hungry!
cover the past, not as a succession of events I believe that too!
but as a series of scenes, inventions, emo-
tions, images, and stories (Ulmer, 1989). Voice 3: Grandmother
In bringing the past into the autobio- As Young Daughter
graphical present, I insert myself into the
past and create the conditions for rewrit- Mother made lunch for Mr. Thomas and
ing and hence reexperiencing it. History his family. They sat under the big oak tree
becomes a montage, moments quoted out in the front yard and had a picnic. Later,
of context, “juxtaposed fragments from when they were leaving, Mr. Thomas
widely dispersed places and times” (Ulmer, came back to the kitchen and thanked
1989, p. 112). Thus are revealed hidden mother again. He gave her a small hand-
features of the present as well as of the past woven wicker basket as a gift. I treasure
(Ulmer, 1989). I want to invent a new to this day this basket. It has become a
version of the past, a new history. This is family heirloom.
what interpretive biography does. Here is
an example, an excerpt from an ongoing
project (Denzin, 2005, 2007).
Voice 4: Narrator As Young Boy
SCENE ONE: THE PAST When I was not yet 10, one Sunday
Mother and Dad took my brother and me
Voice 1: Narrator As Young Boy to Tama, to the Mesquaki Reservation, to
When I was little, in the 1940s, living see a powwow. I wondered if we’d see
in south central Iowa, my grandmother Mr. Thomas, if I would even recognize
would tell stories about Indians. She him if he was there. We walked through
loved to tell the story about the day a tall the mud past teepees to the center of a big
Indian brave, with braided hair, came field. Indians in costumes with paint on
to her mother’s kitchen door and asked their faces and long braids of hair were
for some bread to eat. This happened singing, and dancing. Some were drum-
when grandma was a little girl, probably ming and singing. At the edge of the field
around 1915. tables under canvas tents were set up. Dad
bought some Indian fry bread for all of us,
and bottles of cold root beer. We took the
Voice 2: Grandmother fry bread and pop back to the dance area
This Indian was so polite and handsome. and watched the dancers. Then it rained
Mother said his wife and children stood some more and the dancing stopped and
right behind him in a straight row. The we got in the car and drove home.
Indian said his name was Mr. Thomas.
He said that he and his wife and his
children were traveling to the Mesquaki SCENE THREE:
Reservation near Tama, Iowa, to visit rel- MADE-FOR-MOVIE INDIANS
atives. Mother believed him. He said that
Voice 5: Narrator As Young Boy
they had run out of money and did not
like to ask for hand-outs, but this looked The next time I saw an Indian was the
like a friendly farm house. Mother said it following Saturday night when Grandpa
Interpretive Biography–––◆–––119

took me to a movie at the Strand Theater of performance, of process, and/or of analy-

in Iowa City, and we watched Broken sis. A focus on performance produces perfor-
Arrow with Jay Silverheels, Jimmy mance texts, like the narrative above. A focus
Stewart, Debra Paget, Will Geer, and Jeff on process examines a social form or event,
Chandler, who played Chief Cochise. for example, epiphanies. The focus on analy-
Those Indians did not look like the sis looks at the specific lives of individuals
Indians on the Tama Reservation. The who live the process that is being studied.
Tama Indians were less real, they kind of Building on Pollock (2006), Madison
looked like everybody else, except for (2006), and Thompson (1978), interpretive,
the dancers in their costumes. biographical materials may be presented in
four different ways. First, complex, multi-
leveled performance texts may be written,
♦ Selves, Narratives, staged, and performed, for example, the
and Sacred Places performance narratives assembled by Pelias
(2004). Second, following Spry (2006) sin-
gle, personal experience narratives may be
We live in a performative moment. The presented and connected to the life story of
dividing line between person and character, a given individual. Spry writes that after she
performer and actor, stage and setting, script lost her son in childbirth
and text, performance and reality has disap-
peared. Illusion and make-believe prevail. things fell apart. The shadowlands of
We live in stories, like the story above grief became my unwanted field of
about my grandmother, and my visit to study. . . . After losing our son in child-
the Tama Indian reservation when I was 10 birth, writing felt like the identification
years old. We need larger narratives, stories of body parts, as if each described piece
that connect us to others, to community, to of the experience were a cumbersome
the morality, and the moral self.1 In the first limb that I could snap off my body and
decade of a new century we need new sto- lay upon the ground. (Spry, 2006,
ries, new narratives that embed the self in pp. 340–341)
storied histories of sacred spaces and local
places. We need to re-narrate the past. We Third, a collection of self and personal
need to tell the past and its stories in ways experience stories may be collected and
that allow us to disrupt conventional narra- grouped around a common theme. Stewart
tives and conventional history. Such dis- (2005) does this in her recent essay on cul-
ruptions help us to better understand how tural poesis. She records and performs
racism and social injustice have been seam- episodes from mundane, everyday life,
lessly woven together, as in the story of including making trips to day care and the
Mr. Thomas, in our family histories. grocery store and picking up the sick dog at
the vet. Fourth, the researcher can offer a
cross-case analysis of the materials that have
♦ Process and Performance been collected, paying more attention to
the process being studied than to the
persons whose lives are embedded in those
The emphasis on self, biography, history, processes. Glaser and Strauss (1964) did this
and experience must always work back and in their famous analysis of the awareness
forth between three concerns—the concerns contexts (open, closed, suspicion, pretense)

that surround death and dying in the mod- that deal with events that have effects at the
ern hospital. deep level of a person’s life.
I recommend that all biographical- Experience can only be studied through
interpretive studies incorporate each of the performance (Bruner, 1986, p. 6). However,
above modes of presentation. Because any what counts as experience is shaped by a
individual can tell multiple stories about his politics of representation and hence is “nei-
or her life, it must be understood that a life ther self-evident nor straight-forward; it is
will consist of multiple narratives. No self or always contested and always therefore polit-
personal experience story will encompass all ical” (Scott, 1993, p. 412). Representations
the stories that can, or could, be told about of experience are performative, symbolic,
a single life, nor will any personal history and material. Anchored in performance events,
contain all the self-stories that could be told they include drama, ritual, and storytelling.
about that life’s story. Multiple narratives, This view of experience and the performa-
drawn from the self-stories of many individ- tive makes it difficult to sustain any distinction
uals located in different points in the process between “appearances and actualities”
being interpreted, must be secured. This tri- (Schechner, 1998, p. 362). Further, if, as Butler
angulation, or combination of biographical (1993) reminds us, there are no original per-
methods, ensures that history, structure, and formances, then every performance estab-
individuals receive fair and thorough con- lishes itself performatively as an original, a
sideration in any inquiry. personal and locally situated production.
An extended quote from Goffman
(1959) summarizes my position:
♦ Interpretive Assumptions
The legitimate performances of everyday
life are not “acted” or “put on” in the
A life refers to the biographical experiences sense that the performer knows in
of a named person. A person is a cultural advance just what he [she] is going to do,
creation. Every culture, for example, has and does this solely because of the effect
names for different types of persons: male, it is likely to have. The expressions it is
female, husband, wife, daughter, son, pro- felt he [she] is giving off will be especially
fessor, student, and so on. These names are “inaccessible” to him [her] . . . but the
attached to persons. Persons build biogra- incapacity of the ordinary individual to
phies around the experiences associated formulate in advance the movements of
with these names (i.e., old man, young his [her] eyes and body does not mean
man, divorced woman, only daughter, only that he [she] will not express him [her]
son, etc.). self through these devices in a way that is
These experiences have effects at two levels dramatized and pre-formed in his [her]
in a person’s life. On the surface level, effects repertoire of actions. In short, we all act
are barely felt. They are taken for granted and better than we know how. (pp. 73–74)
are nonproblematic, as when a person buys a
newspaper at the corner grocery. Behind and in front of their masks and
Effects at the deep level cut to the inner performances, persons are moral beings,
core of the person’s life and leave indelible already present in the world, ahead of
marks on them. These are the epiphanies of themselves, occupied and preoccupied with
a life. Interpretive researchers attempt to everyday doings and emotional practices
secure self and personal experience stories (see Denzin, 1984, p. 91).
Interpretive Biography–––◆–––121

♦ Liminality, Ritual, such atrocities. But I have been numb

for another reason, and it will be impor-
and the Structure tant to see my reasons as another part of
of the Epiphany the phenomenon which has struck so
deeply at the heart and soul of the United
The postmodern world stages existential States. I sat numb because my reactions
crises. Following Turner (1986), the ethnog- to grief are always usually private. They
rapher gravitates to these narratively struc- are always delayed. . . .
tured, liminal, existential spaces in the
My people—my family (of English and
culture. In these dramaturgical sites, people
Dutch and Scottish stock) were born and
take sides, forcing, threatening, inducing,
raised, as were their parents before them,
seducing, cajoling, nudging, loving, living,
in the southern Appalachian moun-
abusing, and killing one another (see
tains. . . . Mountain people . . . keep their
Turner, 1986). In these sites, ongoing social
emotions to themselves, especially those
dramas occur. These dramas have complex
of a most private nature. . . . The end result,
temporal rhythms. They are storied events,
I have come to realize, is a human being
narratives that rearrange chronology into
who lives with his or her grief for all their
multiple and differing forms and layers of
days. The future, like tears, never comes.
meaningful experience (Turner, 1986).
(Lincoln, 2002, p. 147)
The critical autoethnographer enters
those strange and familiar situations that
Epiphanies, like reactions to September
connect critical biographical experiences
11, are experienced as social dramas, as dra-
(epiphanies) with culture, history, and social
matic events with beginnings, middles, and
structure. He or she seeks out those narra-
endings. Epiphanies represent ruptures in
tives and stories people tell one another as
the structure of daily life.2 Turner (1986)
they attempt to make sense of the epipha-
reminds us that the theater of social life is
nies, or existential turning point moments,
often structured around a four-fold proces-
in their lives.
sual ritual model involving breach, crisis,
Here is an example. Yvonna S. Lincoln
redress, reintegration, or schism. Each of
writes about grieving immediately after the
these phases is organized as a ritual. Thus,
attacks on the World Trade Center Towers
there are rituals of breach, crisis, redress,
and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001:
reintegration, and schism. Americans sought
rituals of reintegration after September 11,
YVONNA LINCOLN: GRIEF IN AN ways of overcoming the shocks of breach,
APPALACHIAN REGISTER crisis, and disintegration.
Many rituals and epiphanies are associ-
For two weeks now, we have watched ated with life-crisis ceremonies, particularly
the staggering outpouring of grief, shock those of puberty, marriage, and death.
and horror as a nation struggles to come Turner (1986) contends that redressive and
to terms with the attacks. . . . And I, too, life-crisis rituals “contain within themselves a
have sat numb with shock, glued to the liminal phase, which provides a stage . . . for
television screen, struggling with the unique structures of experience” (p. 41). The
incomprehensibility of these acts, over- liminal phase of experience is a kind of no-
whelmed by the bewildering worldview person’s land, “on the edge of what is possi-
which could have led people to commit ble” (Broadhurst, 1999, p. 12), “betwixt and

between the structural past and the structural and effect” (Birringer, 1993, p. 196). An
future” (p. 41). evocative epistemology demands a postmod-
Epiphanies are ritually structured limi- ern performance aesthetic that goes beyond
nal experiences, connected to moments of “the already-seen and already-heard”
breach, crisis, redress, reintegration, and (Birringer, 1993, p. 186). This aesthetic crit-
schism, crossing from one space to another. icizes the ideological and technological
Mary Weems reads this sign, as she crosses requirements of late-capitalist social realism
the state line between Indiana and Illinois: and hyperrealism (Birringer, 1993).
Performances always return to the lived
“The People of Illinois Welcome You” body (Garoian, 1999). The body’s dra-
comes right after the LYNCH ROAD sign
maturgical presence is “a site and pretext
and the LYNCH ROAD sign comes right after
for . . . debates about representation and
I see a thin road strung with the bodies
of black men like burned out lights
gender, about history and postmodern cul-
their backs twisting in the wind, ture” (Birringer, 1993, p. 203). At this
the road littered with try out ropes, level, performance ethnography answers to
gleaned chicken parts, and cloth napkins Trinh’s (1991) call for works that seek the
soiled wiping the lips of the audience. truth of life’s fictions, where experiences are
I know roads don’t hang, evoked, not explained. The performer seeks
but the welcome sandwiched between a presentation that, like good fiction, is true
the words like bread in experience, but not necessarily true to
cuts off my air experience (Lockford, 1998).
and I pull to the side of the road Whether the events presented actually
loosen my collar
occurred is tangential to the larger project
and search for bones. (Weems, 2002, p. xx)
(Lockford, 1998). As dramatic theater,
The storied nature of epiphanic experi- with connections to Brecht (Epic Theater)
ences continually raises the following ques- and Artaud (Theater of Cruelty), these texts
tions: Whose story is being told (and made) turn tales of suffering, loss, pain, and vic-
here? Who is doing the telling? Who has tory into evocative performances that have
the authority to make their telling stick the ability to move audiences to reflective,
(Smith, 1990)? As soon as a chronological critical action, not just emotional catharsis
event is told in the form of a story, it enters (on Brecht’s theater, see Benjamin, 1968).3
a text-mediated system of discourse where The performed text is lived experience,
larger issues of power and control come and this is in two senses (Pelias, 1998). The
into play (Smith, 1990). In this text-mediated performance doubles back on the experi-
system new tellings occur. The interpre- ences previously represented in the writer’s
tations of original experience are now text. It then re-presents those experiences as
fitted to this larger interpretive structure an embodied performance. It thus privileges
(Smith, 1990). immediate experience, the evocative moment
The reflexive performance text contests when another’s experiences come alive.
the pull of traditional “realist” theater and
modernist ethnography wherein performers
and ethnographers reenact and recreate a ♦ Mystory as Montage4
“recognizable verisimilitude of setting, char-
acter and dialogue” (Cohn, 1988, p. 815)
where dramatic action reproduces a linear The mystory, for example, the excerpts from
sequence, a “mimetic representation of cause my family story above, is simultaneously a
Interpretive Biography–––◆–––123

personal mythology, a public story, a represented. It uses the devices of plot, set-
personal narrative, and a performance that ting, characters, characterization, temporal-
critiques. It is an interactive, dramatic per- ity, dialogue, protagonists, antagonists,
formance. It is participatory theater, a per- showing, not telling. The narration may
formance, not a text-centered interpretive move through Turner’s (1986) four-stage
event; that is, the emphasis is on perfor- dramatic cycle, emphasizing breach, crisis,
mance and improvisation, and not the read- redress, reintegration, or schism.
ing of a text. Jameson (1990) reminds us that works
The mystory is a montage text, cinematic of popular culture are always already ideo-
and multimedia in shape, filled with sounds, logical and utopian. Shaped by a dialectic of
music, poetry, and images taken from the anxiety and hope, such works revive and
writer’s personal history. This personal nar- manipulate fears and anxieties about the
rative is grafted onto discourses from popu- social order. Beginning with a fear, problem,
lar culture. It locates itself against the or crisis, these works move characters and
specialized knowledges that circulate in the audiences through the familiar three-stage
larger society. The audience co-performs the dramatic model of conflict, crisis, and resolu-
text, and the writer, as narrator, functions tion. In this way, they offer kernels of utopian
as a guide, a commentator, a co-performer. hope. They show how these anxieties and
The mystory text begins with those fears can be satisfactorily addressed by the
moments that define the crisis in question, a existing social order (Jameson, 1990). Hence
turning point in the person’s life. Ulmer the audience is lulled into believing that the
(1989, 1994) suggests the following starting problems of the social have in fact been suc-
point: cessfully resolved.
The mystory occupies a similar ideologi-
Write a mystory bringing into relation cal space, except it functions as critique. The
your experience with three levels of mystory is also ideological and utopian; it
discourse—personal (autobiography), begins from a progressive political position
popular (community stories, oral history stressing the politics of hope. The mystory
or popular culture), [and] expert (disci- uses the methods of drama and personal nar-
plines of knowledge). In each case use rative to present its critique and utopian
the punctum or sting of memory to vision. It presumes that the social order has
locate items significant to you. (Ulmer, to change if problems are to be successfully
1989, p. 209) resolved in the long run. If the status quo is
maintained, if only actors and not the social
The sting of memory locates the moment, order change, then the systemic processes
the beginning; once located, this moment is producing the problem remain in place.
dramatically described, fashioned into a text
to be performed. This moment is then sur-
rounded by those cultural representations ♦ Notes
and voices that define the experience in
question. These representations are con- 1. In the aftermath of the crisis of September
tested, challenged. 11, 2001, we need a platform for rethinking,
Focusing on epiphanies and liminal “What is meant by democracy and freedom in
moments of experience, the writer imposes America today?” “Can we revise our dominant
a narrative framework on the text. This mythologies about who we are?” “Can we fash-
framework shapes how experience will be ion a post-9/11 narrative that allows us to

reinvent and reimagine our laws in ways that Garoian, C. R. (1999). Performing pedagogy:
express a critical pedagogy of hope, liberation, Toward an art of politics. Albany: State
freedom, and love?” University of New York Press.
2. The next three paragraphs draw from Glaser, B., & Strauss, A. (1964). Awareness of
Denzin (2001, pp. 38–39). dying. Chicago: Aldine.
3. Benjamin (1968) contends that Brecht’s Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in
Epic Theater is didactic, and participatory everyday life. New York: Doubleday.
because it “facilitates . . . interchange between Jameson, F. (1990). Signatures of the visible.
audience and actors . . . and every spectator is New York: Routledge.
enabled to become a participant” (p. 154). Lincoln, Y. S. (2002). Grief in an Appalachian
4. The following section reworks Denzin register. Qualitative Inquiry, 8(2), 146–149.
(1997, pp. 115–120). Lockford, L. (1998). Emergent issues in the per-
formance of a border-transgressive narra-
tive. In S. J. Dailey (Ed.), The future of
♦ References performance studies: Visions and revisions
(pp. 214–220). Annadale, VA: National
Communication Association.
Benjamin, W. (1968). What is epic theater? In Madison, D. S. (2006). The dialogic performa-
W. Benjamin, Illuminations (H. Arendt, tive in critical ethnography. Text and
Ed., H. Zohn, Trans.; pp. 149–156). New Performance Quarterly, 26(4), 320–324.
York: Harcourt, Brace & World. Pelias, R. J. (1998). Meditations and mediations.
Birringer, J. (1993). Theatre, theory, postmod- In S. J. Dailey (Ed.), The future of per-
ernism. Bloomington: Indiana University formance studies: Visions and revisions
Press. (pp. 14–22). Washington, DC: National
Broadhurst, S. (1999). Liminal acts: A critical Communication Association.
overview of contemporary performance Pelias, R. J. (2004). A methodology of the heart.
and theory. New York: Cassell. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.
Bruner, E. M. (1986). Experience and its expres- Pollock, D. (2006). Making new directions in
sions. In V. M. Turner & E. M. Bruner (Eds.), performance ethnography. Text and Perfor-
The anthropology of experience (pp. 3–30). mance Quarterly, 26(4), 325–329.
Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Schechner, R. (1998). What is performance stud-
Butler, J. (1993). Bodies that matter. New York: ies anyway? In P. Phelan & J. Lane (Eds.),
Routledge. The ends of performance (pp. 357–362).
Cohn, R. (1988). Realism. In M. Banham (Ed.), New York: New York University Press.
The Cambridge guide to theatre (p. 815). Scott, J. W. (1993). The evidence of experience. In
Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University H. Abelove, M. A. Barale, & D. M. Halperin
Press. (Eds.), The lesbian and gay studies reader
Culler, J. (1981). The pursuit of signs. Ithaca, (pp. 397–415). New York: Routledge.
NY: Cornell University Press. Smith, D. E. (1990). The conceptual practices of
Denzin, N. K. (1984). On understanding emo- power: A feminist sociology of knowledge.
tion. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Boston: Northeastern University Press.
Denzin, N. K. (1997). Interpretive ethnography. Spry, T. (2006). A “Performative-I” copresence:
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Embodying the ethnographic turn in per-
Denzin, N. K. (2001). Interpretive interac- formance and the performance turn in
tionism (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: ethnography. Text and Performance Quar-
Sage. terly, 26(4), 339–346.
Denzin, N. K. (2005). Indians in the park. Stewart, K. (2005). Cultural poesis: The generativ-
Qualitative Research, 3, 9–33. ity of emergent things. In N. K. Denzin &
Denzin, N. K. (2007). Searching for Yellowstone: Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative
Performing race, nation, and nature in the new research (3rd ed., pp. 1027–1043). Thousand
West. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press. Oaks, CA: Sage.
Interpretive Biography–––◆–––125

Thompson, P. (1978). Voices of the past. anthropology of experience (pp. 33–44).

Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Trinh, T. M. H. (1991). When the moon waxes Ulmer, G. (1989). Teletheory. New York: Routledge.
red: Representation, gender, and cultural Ulmer, G. (1994). Heuretics: The logic of invention.
politics. New York: Routledge. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University
Turner, V. (1986). Dewey, Dilthey, and drama: Press.
An essay in the anthropology of experience. Weems, M. (2002). I speak from the wound in
In V. M. Turner & E. M. Bruner (Eds.), The my mouth. New York: Peter Lang.
11 Literary Forms

Discovering Heartful Autoethnography

 Karen Scott-Hoy and Carolyn Ellis

♦ Researching With Passion

Swallowing hard to contain my tears, I look with dismay at my pro-

fessor’s blue handwriting in the margin of the first draft of my disserta-
tion. “Leave this out. Even tho’ I am sure you mean it, others are
cynics!” and “For your book, not the dissertation”.
I reread the offending paragraph:

The process of knowing involves a “passionate contribution” (Polanyi,

1962) hence my research incorporates altruistic values. I have not
emerged from my fieldwork the same person. Everything about me
has been challenged. I have come to agree with Peter Berger (1974)
that, “it is necessary to act quietly and disbelievingly out of that com-
passion which is the only credible motive for any actions to change
the world” (p. 231).

Author’s Note: The authors wish to thank Arthur P. Bochner and Kelly
Clark/Keefe for helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper.

◆ 127

Why can I, Karen Scott-Hoy, an the heavy glass doors, I make my way to
Australian mum, scholar, and health worker, the sociology section. To continue writing
write about passion in a book but not in my up this research, I have to find something
dissertation? Having collected data using helpful and soon. A bright blue book
action research, in-depth interviews, and catches my eye. Reaching up, I push my
participant observation, I need to come to fingers deep into its spine and remove it
grips with my experience as an involved and from the crammed bookshelf. Composing
situated researcher who is an integral part of Ethnography: Alternative Forms of Qualita-
the research and writing process. I don’t feel tive Writing, Carolyn Ellis and Arthur P.
neutral or authoritative about my project; Bochner, editors, 1996. I flick open the
I feel part of it, vulnerable and aware of pages, and in the dim, quiet space between
the things I still don’t know or understand. the oppressively high shelves, my heart
Surely experience and subjectivity are leaps. I am drawn to the words of the intro-
important parts of understanding what hap- duction: “Let readers know . . . that they’ve
pened and why? come to the right place, that we’ve got
I’ve heard about the “crisis of represen- something useful and different for them to
tation” opening up new styles of research read” (p. 16).
and writing. Could I be part of this move These words are part of a script of a con-
away from realist research, which privi- versation between the two editors, Carolyn
leges theory generation, typicality, and and Art. As I read, I feel as if I’m in the room
generalization to a wider world, over with them, learning about how they want to
evocative storytelling, detailing concrete “reach people who are looking for alterna-
experience, and multiple perspectives that tives, who want to write differently, and who
include participants’ voices and interpreta- see an opportunity to expand the bound-
tion (Bochner, 1994)? aries of ethnographic research” (p. 16).
A number of authors (Denzin, 1997; That’s me, I think, as a tear rolls down my
Ellis, 1995b; Punch, 1994) have pointed out cheek. That’s me.
that during the writing stage, it’s easy to feel
a sense that you are betraying your subjects Before class, I pick up trash strewn on
and “selling somebody out”(Didion, 1968, the floor and move extra chairs to a corner
in Denzin, 1997, p. 287). That’s how I of my classroom. After the usual house-
feel—as if I’m betraying the people of the keeping chores, I say, “Let’s contextualize
small Pacific nation of Vanuatu, where I autoethnography within ethnography.”
designed and conducted a preventative eye In answer to a student who asks,
care project (Scott-Hoy, 1997). “Professor Ellis, what is ethnography and
I want to show in my dissertation the rela- what led you to it?” I reply, “Ethnography
tionships that grew through the research is a perspective and framework for thinking
process, to include the contributions of the about the world. This perspective reflects a
participants in their own voices, not tell way of viewing the world—holistically and
about them. I want to share what it feels like naturalistically—and a way of being in the
to do health care research in a cross-cultural world as an involved participant. Buddy
setting. I want to record my research in a way Goodall (2000) observes that you don’t
readers can know and feel the complexities really choose ethnography; it chooses you.”
of the concrete moments of lived experience I’ve always been an ethnographer, from
in their bodies (Ellis, 2004). the time I was a kid trying to figure out my
In an emotional quandary, I set off to parents’ relationship and the hidden—or
browse the library shelves. Pushing through not so hidden—dramas in my small town.
Wording Pictures–––◆–––129

I watched and listened carefully, often—or (1992, 1996), and Tillmann-Healy 1996),
maybe especially—when I was not supposed I love the way she practices ethnographic
to. “What’s going on here?” I often asked of writing as a form of creative nonfiction,
contradictory situations. Being nosy and a taking expressive liberties associated with
good listener are two primary prerequisites the arts, and feels the ethical pull of con-
of a good ethnographer. verting data into experiences readers can
The same student then asks how I got use. She opens ethnography to a wider
involved in autoethnographic story writing. audience, not just academics but all
“It started when I tried to write about los- people who can benefit from thinking
ing my partner, Gene, who died in 1984,” about their own lives in terms of other
I respond. “At first, I planned to do a tradi- people’s experiences.
tional study on grief and storytelling. But I want to record my research like that, but
then I decided to write from the stack of can I write well enough? Can I cope with
field notes I had kept on his illness, hospi- what colleagues and other readers may say
tals, caregiving, our relationship, our con- and assume about me? I’m still struggling
versations, my thoughts and feelings. What with the dilemma of how to position myself
came out was an evocative, scenic, and within my research project to show aspects
unfolding story of what happened. I became of my own tacit world, challenge my
committed to personal storytelling as a way assumptions, locate myself through the eyes
of doing social science research. of the Other, and observe myself observing.
“Stories are the way humans make sense If I write an autoethnography, I’ll have to
of their worlds and are essential to human struggle to position myself within academia,
understanding. Given their importance, sto- as well as in the research.
ries should be both a subject and a method I note the submission dates for abstracts,
of social science research. Now I feel a and resolve to go to this conference
greater calling to narrative ethnography whether the paper I submit is accepted or
and autoethnography than I did to tradi- not. I fill in the form and fax it off. The
tional ethnography. I love to tell and write workshop will be very expensive, but I feel
stories (see Ellis, 2004).” a connection to this woman, and I desper-
ately need a sense of community to vali-
date my feelings and work. Will I find it on
♦ Autoethnography the other side of the world?
Meets Art
I enter the small conference room attached
to the aptly named Fantasyland Hotel in
My hand trembles as I look at the pro- Edmonton, Canada, and write “Auto-
gram advertising The First International ethnography Workshop, Carolyn Ellis,
Conference on Advances in Qualitative Professor” on the whiteboard in front of
Methods to be held in 1999 in Edmonton, the participants seated at the grey lami-
Canada. Carolyn Ellis is the keynote nated desks. Pushing to one side the pages
speaker and is conducting a workshop of my forthcoming lecture, Heartful Auto-
(Ellis, 2001). My heart races as I recognize ethnography (Ellis, 1999a, 1999b), I arrange
her name. my introductory notes on the lectern.
Having read her stories (Ellis, 1993, As the last of the participants hurriedly
1996; Ellis & Bochner, 1992) and those of find seats, I take a deep breath and begin.
her colleagues and students, such as “Welcome to this workshop on doing
Richardson (1992, 1996), Rambo Ronai autoethnography. I want to divide our time

today into two parts: First, I’ll define and looking wide-eyed and interested, others
outline some methodological issues in looking a bit lost or tired, perhaps fighting
autoethnographic writing, and second, jetlag. Since I want to spend the afternoon
we’ll discuss any personal stories and allowing students to work in small groups
ethnographic narratives you may have on their own, I feel the need to press on.
brought with you.” I sit on top of the large I always seem to be fighting this battle
table at the front, my purple, blue, and red between emotional sensitivity to students
titanium earrings jingling noisily. I clear my and the need to cover as much of the mater-
throat, noting the slight quiver that always ial as possible.
occurs in a new teaching situation. No mat- Later, when I interact with small groups,
ter how long I teach and do workshops, I’ll I find myself drawn to a woman from
still feel the anxiety and exhilaration of Australia. Writing an ethnography of a
beginning a new relationship with people in health project in Vanuatu, she has come to
the audience. this workshop to seek direction. She shows
“Ethnography is part art and part me a photo of her participants and a poem
science, but it is also something all its she has written.
own,” I say. “Viewing autoethnography,
a form of ethnography, like this, gets us
out of either/or thinking. Autoethnography ♦ Art as Autoethnography/
overlaps art and science, but is also part
Autoethnography as Art
auto or self and part ethno or culture. Yet
it is something different from both of them,
or greater than its parts,” I say. “That’s The cobalt blue oozes from the tube as
what we’re going to look at here, what that my fingers push into its soft metal casing.
something is.” Its smell awakens my consciousness. The
A student from the back asks for a defi- knife guides the thick oil paint around on
nition. “Autoethnography,” I begin, “refers the canvas, giving images color, shape,
to the process as well as the product of writ- and texture, in the process of interpretive
ing about the personal and its relationship creation. How can I give similar texture
to culture. It is an autobiographical genre of and multiple layers to the interpretive cre-
writing and research that displays multiple ation of my research?
layers of consciousness. Usually written in “Go home and paint,” he had said.
the first-person voice, autoethnographic What sort of advice is that? I had hoped for
texts appear in a variety of forms—short something more concrete from an acade-
stories, poetry, fiction, novels, photographic mic mentor. Returning from the confer-
essays, scripts, personal essays, journals, ence in Edmonton, with renewed
fragmented and layered writing, and social confidence and hope, and armed with my
science prose. Autoethnographers showcase new knowledge of autoethnography, I con-
concrete action, dialogue, emotion, embodi- tacted the Research Degrees’ coordinator
ment, spirituality, and self-consciousness. and aired my frustration and fears. He sug-
These features appear as relational and insti- gested meeting another academic, Peter
tutional stories affected by histories and Willis (Willis, Smith, & Collins, 2000),
social structures that are dialectically who might be interested in supervising an
revealed through actions, feelings, thoughts, autoethnographic dissertation. Now here I
and language.” am with a palette knife in my hand.
I take a breath and look at the mix of “You are all written out,” he said. “Go
workshop participants, some taking notes, home and paint.”
Wording Pictures–––◆–––131

Paint what? As I mix the paint, a flash of observe the impact different personal and
reflected sunlight from the blade of the cultural lenses have on what we see.
palette knife catches my eye and is mixed The knife moves across the canvas, back
with flashes of inspiration and insight and to the palette and to the canvas again, cre-
the picture portraying my methodology ating images, composing a picture, mixing
takes shape. elements using contemplation and intuition
“Back and forth autoethnographers transposing the experience of being a health
gaze: first they look through an ethno- worker in Vanuatu onto a canvas. The work
graphic wide angle lens, focusing outward is emotional and cognitive, deep and spiri-
on social and cultural aspects of their per- tual. Can this be called ethnography?
sonal experience,” I hear Carolyn’s distinc- My painting, like others’ writing,
tive voice lecturing in my head. reveals my personality, historical roots, and
spiritual, moral, and ethical beliefs. My
Then they look inward, exposing a vul- physical body and senses are present, as
nerable self that is moved by and may are integral parts of my interaction with and
move through, refract, and resist cultural interpretation of the world. I sit opposite the
interpretations. As they zoom backward creation on the canvas, like a director
and forward, inward and outward, dis- watching actors in a performance, and catch
tinctions between the personal and cul- my breath. The act of painting has taken me
tural become blurred, sometimes beyond back into experiences buried under my con-
distinct recognition. (Ellis & Bochner, scious reasoning, and teaches me things
2000, p. 739) about the experience and culture I have
begun to absorb, the people I have come to
Carolyn’s words resonate in my heart as know, and myself.
well as my head. I stand back to look at the Carefully I align the painting, which I
images on the canvas; then I move in again have called Autoethnography, in the lens
to add a detail. In this moment it occurs to of my camera and click.
me how similar research and painting are. (See Figure 11.1 at the front of this book
If you look at one little aspect, you don’t for a color reproduction.)
see the bigger picture. Looking at the big- I print photo and place it in a manila
ger picture, it is easy to miss the smaller envelope with the abstract for the
details. Back and forth I move in the cre- 2000 Couch-Stone Symposium, titled
ation of the painting, as back and forth I “Ethnography for the Twenty-first Century:
had moved in focus and thought during Alternatives and Opportunities,” that
the creation of knowledge in the field. Carolyn Ellis and her partner, Art Bochner,
“If the visual arts teach one lesson,” are convening.
Eisner (1991) writes, “it’s that seeing is cen- The envelope sits on my dressing table
tral to making. Seeing, rather than mere for two weeks though the deadline is draw-
looking, requires an enlightened eye: this is ing near. I pick up a pen to write an
as true and as important in understanding accompanying note then hesitate. Should I
and improving education as in creating a say “Dear Professor Ellis” or “Dear
painting” (p. 1). Carolyn”? I am sending her a painting that
I become sensitive to the social tones, the exposes myself, my inner thoughts, and my
moods and feelings that colored daily life, the ways of relating to the world. I feel I know
worldview and cosmos that shaped action her well from reading her work. But she
and interaction. I begin to look at myself, to doesn’t know me, except for a brief inter-
try and take off my “colored” glasses and action at the workshop.

As I wander into the mailroom in the the belly of the woman in the picture, and
middle of a busy and stressful day, I dread I embrace my response as an integral part
opening all the manila envelopes stuffed in of autoethnography.
my mailbox, knowing most will add to my Inside my office I open the accompany-
workload. One package catches my eye, ing letter.
and I open it first. I remove the layers of
wrapping, bypassing the neatly typed pages “Dear Professor Ellis, Thank you for your
of the submission to our conference, and go workshop.
directly to the small, white package inside.
Here is a gift for you. I’ve called it
I open it, ignoring the attached letter. My
heart pounds as I view the photograph
inside. I am surprised at the depth of my I hope you like it,” Karen Scott-Hoy
feeling—my bodily reaction. I can hardly
breathe. She hopes I like it? What an understate-
I am drawn into the rich pink and ment. I feel elated, hyperventilating almost
turquoise colors on the partially clothed and chills passing through my body. At
woman in the center of the painting. Her that moment, I realize how defensive I have
reflection in a mirrored image of her back, been about autoethnography and how
a reflection I can see that she herself cannot, that posture has stood in the way of my
the other parts of her hidden from my view. experience. No more. I place the picture in a
She is connected through flowing lines to prominent place on my desk. Then I notice
a darker, partially formed and partially Karen’s submission to the SSSI Couch-Stone
dressed figure. I do not ask myself what any Conference we are organizing.
part of this means; instead, I am caught up in
the swirls of paint connecting the two women
and my overwhelming emotions connecting ♦ Learning to See/
me to them.
Transcending Vision
As I look at the painting, my body feels
autoethnography. The feeling shares ele-
ments with the emotionality I experience As I look out the window, the white sand
when I read and identify with an evocative and waves rolling in from the Gulf of
autoethnographic piece, but the feeling is Mexico seem unreal. Growing up in South
more physiological and involves more sen- Australia, I gained much of my knowledge
sory and less cognitive knowing than I am of the world through TV, and American
used to acknowledging. This painting rep- police shows on Australian television had
resents what I’ve been trying to put into made me scared of traveling alone to
words, though I do not have the words to Florida. Now here I am half a world away
describe what I see and feel. Just now I from the quiet country town where I live.
doubt words will ever be sufficient. Our total population would fit into a few of
Walking back to my office, clutching the high rises crowded along the beach.
the photograph to my chest, I can’t stop My attention is drawn back to the five
looking or feeling. I don’t want to talk or original oil paintings I have brought to
show the photograph to anyone, except St. Petersburg, Florida, for my presentation,
my partner Art, and he isn’t around. My “The Visitor” (Scott-Hoy, 2002a), at the
heart feels so open and vulnerable, like 2000 SSSI Couch-Stone Symposium. Using
Wording Pictures–––◆–––133

a consciousness that did not rely on words, against the bed. Karen seems pleased
I studied my experience and produced I am here, but moves and talks somewhat
these “visual texts” free from constraints of anxiously. I sit in a chair opposite the bed
language and culture-specific words, while she sits on the edge of the bed next
important because my research involved to the painting. Gradually Karen and I are
English and non-English speaking and illit- drawn into conversation with each other
erate people. Until now I’d been appre- and it seems with the painting, which adds
hensive about returning to the written its silent voice to ours.
word, afraid I would lose some of the I am glad that Karen is willing to talk
spontaneity and fluidity of the images, the about the painting, since I want to hear her
aesthetic essence present in the paintings, interpretations and hesitantly voice mine.
but at this symposium I’ve seen and heard Mesmerized by the painting, I am conscious
how performance, visual arts, and embod- that I don’t have an eye that immediately
ied narration can give ethnography more takes in deeper meanings in art.
evocative power and encourage empathy “You learn to see,” Karen assures. “It’s
and engagement on the part of its audi- like the reading process. I often read your sto-
ences, as people purposefully merge the ries over and over, unpacking the layers and
arts, social sciences, and literature.1 Now, finding new challenges with each reading.” I
I feel ready to write stories from and about nod, gaining confidence that I too can “see.”
the paintings. I no longer feel the need to I understand, as Irigaray (1985) says, that this
“explain” the paintings, but rather I want to kind of knowing “transcends pure vision and
write stories that help the audience to find specularity” (p. 103) and “plunges the reader
meaning in what they see. into the interior, feeling, hearing, tasting,
I have just one more scheduled discus- smelling, and touching worlds of subjective
sion before flying home and that is with human perception” (Denzin, 1997, p. 46; see
Carolyn Ellis. Seeing “Autoethnography” also Ong, 1977, p. 137).
propped against the bed makes me think Karen and I talk about perspective and
about a new painting “Form Carries how the painting reveals and conceals: The
Experience” (Scott-Hoy, 2003), which con- researcher sees parts of herself that we, the
tinues to explore the relationships depicted viewers, cannot; yet we see parts of her that
in “Autoethnography” but portrays them as she cannot, and the darker-skinned woman
more fluid, building one upon another. I has yet another view. We look over the
realize then that in developing this work, I woman’s shoulder into the mirror, which
have moved to a greater understanding of reflects back to her and to us yet another view.
autoethnography as a process, not just a Karen points out how the mirror in the paint-
product, and I have taken my first few sure- ing allows viewers to be positioned in the
footed steps along the road to becoming an story wherever they want to be. I ask Karen
autoethnographer. about the black object in the woman’s hand,
wondering what it is that each of us hangs
A sharp knock on the door echoes onto or carries with us into our research. We
down the hall outside and sets my heart talk about blending different worlds in ethno-
racing. graphic research and about reaching across
boundaries to make connections. “Our worlds
As I enter Karen’s room, my eyes are drawn can never be that of the Other,” Karen says.
as if by a magnet to the painting leaning “Nor theirs ours,” I respond.

Overwhelmed by the connection I feel to mother am I? Did I put my work ahead of

Karen and the painting, a wave of vulnera- my son’s welfare (Scott-Hoy, 2002b)?
bility sweeps over me. The feeling is enliven- Returning from my walk, I pass my art
ing; yet I hold back tears. Hesitantly I express room. The paintings beckon me inside.
my desire to buy the painting. When Karen The images are emotive and challenging
agrees, I carry the painting out to my van to me. I continue to imagine, reflect, grieve,
and retrieve and sign copies of Final Nego- and rejoice, expressing the energies that the
tiations (Ellis, 1995b) and Investigating act of painting releases, behaving—not ratio-
Subjectivity (Ellis & Flaherty, 1992). When nally, yet very “sens”-ibly; employing, expe-
I see Karen walking by in the foyer, I hurry riencing, and embracing all senses in the
over to give her the books. Karen smiles search for a better, more honest, engaged,
appreciatively, runs her hand gently over lifelike, and transforming ethnographic form.
the covers, and quickly reads the inscrip- As I return to my computer, the words
tions in each book. We embrace. flow more easily and soon the whirr of the
Reluctantly, Art and I depart. As we drive printer signals the end of my writing. I send
home, we feel the spirit of “Autoethnography” an e-mail to Carolyn confirming my arrival
watching over us, beckoning us to look dates for the workshop and exhibition she
deeper into our lives and the lives of those has planned at her university.
around us, enticing us to extend ourselves The sound of metal lids clunking against
more caringly to those in the painting and the saucepans in the kitchen tells me my
those looking at the painting, to turn and children are searching for food and hoping
look directly into the mirror, and to handle that tea is ready on time tonight.
the black box with care.

Climbing off my stool, I rush outside to ♦ Arts-Based Research:

the sound of the kookaburras and the smell Unmasking the
of eucalyptus leaves crushing beneath my
feet. My restlessness comes not from the
hours of typing, but the emotional strain of
recording experiences so close. I am fear- “After the break in class tonight, we’ll
ful of inadvertently hurting my participants be attending a presentation by Karen
by what I write about them. I know that Scott-Hoy on art and autoethnography,”
they, like I, will change over the time their I announce. “To get ready for Karen’s talk,
story is told (Ellis, 1995a; Flemons & I’d like to briefly review literature on arts-
Green, 2002). Will I be, as Rod Stewart based autoethnography.
sings, “just another writer trapped within “Arts-based inquiry experiments with
my truth” (Stewart, 1996)? alternative ways to transform what is in our
Writing the story of the Vanuatu forces consciousness into a public form that others
me to again face things that confront me can take in and understand (Eisner, 1997),”
and generate fear and self-doubt. Have the I say without taking a breath. “Many arts-
experiences my children had in Vanuatu based researchers are now examining the
hurt them or helped them? My youngest intersections of art, education, qualitative,
son doesn’t want to return. He recalls the and/or autoethnographic research (e.g.,
people pinching his cheeks and stroking Clark/Keefe, 2002; Finley & Mullen, 2003;
his straight blonde hair. I never realized Saarnivaara, 2000, 2003; Saarnivaara &
how much this scared him. What kind of Bochner, 2003).
Wording Pictures–––◆–––135

“Educational researchers, such as combine evocative pictures and words.

Tierney and Lincoln (1997), have argued For example, Inkeri Saava and Kari
that these multiple approaches ‘may repre- Nuutinen (2003) start with words, then
sent both the complexity of the lives we finish with words mediated by pictures,
study, and the lives we lead as academics positioning themselves in the spaces between
and private persons’ (p. xi). Though arts- texts and drawings. Karen Scott-Hoy’s
based research includes multiple venues (2000a, 2000b) work is also an example
such as dance (Ylonen, 2003), film (Barone, of arts-based autoethnography that uses
2003), poetry (Pelias, 2004; Richardson, evocative stories to intersect with the evoca-
1994), performance (Gray, 2003; Pelias, tive images she paints of her research
2002), and others, tonight we’ll focus on process (see also Clark/Keefe, 2002; Scott-
painting and art installations, and their rela- Hoy 2002a, 2003).
tionship to autoethnography. “Speaking of Karen,” I say, looking at
“Slattery (2001) makes a case for what my watch, “we better go to the perfor-
he calls arts-based autoethnography, mance lab for her presentation.” Without
which uses material generated from one’s much talk, we grab our books and hurry
unconscious. In collaboration with Craig down the hall.
Richard Johanns, an independent artist,
he presented an installation that used con- As the students from Carolyn’s qualitative
scious and unconscious experiences about methods class move into the performance
his elementary classrooms in Catholic lab, I hand out programs that give them clues
school in the 1960s to deconstruct ideas as to what each painting placed around the
about the body and regulation of sexual room seeks to portray. Music plays in the
practices in schools. For example, he background and a large, blank easel is set up
included artifacts from scrapbooks, year- in front of the room with lights directed
books, and family closets, as well as pho- towards it. Pieces of brightly colored paper
tographs of bodies from Playboy, their are lying on the adjoining table.
erotic body parts covered with commu- Tonight I’ll use performance to recreate
nion wafers. for my audience the experience of paint-
“In line with autoethnography, arts- ing. I hope to take them vicariously inside
based researchers include the artist’s subjec- the process and allow them to see the
tivity and present their work as embodied decisions I made and why. Carolyn indi-
inquiry: sensuous, emotional, complex, inti- cates it’s time to start. I raise the lights, she
mate. They expect their projects to evoke introduces me, and I begin.
response, inspire imagination, give pause I reach out and pick up the cut-out of
for new possibilities and new meanings, the first image. Using Velcro, I place it on
and open new questions and avenues of the blank “canvas” on the easel, telling as
inquiry (Bochner & Ellis, 2003). I do, why I decided to incorporate the image.
“Many arts-based researchers combine I recall what moved me to autoethnogra-
their art with story. The art part of the phy as I begin with the storyteller behind
project, which creates moods and images, the mask: me. “I feel it is important that the
combines with writing, which is better at audience see me; that I not hide behind
directing emotion. In many cases, pub- the mask of storyteller, distant and pro-
lished words are used more to explain the tected from my audience,” my voice is soft
art, rather than enhance the emotional mood and relaxed as I become the storyteller on
(e.g., Barone, 2003; Slattery, 2001). Others and off the canvas.

As the painting takes shape before course, I start with the painting, and now
them, I feel the eyes of the students on me. I do.
Some of the students recognize the paint- I am amazed by the power of the combi-
ing from their text book cover.2 I invite the nation of art and personal story, words and
students to ask themselves what each pictures—what happens when we let go of
piece means to them. I slow the pace of our categories and open up possibilities. I see
the performance, allowing their sighs, mut- it all the time in my classes and in my life. I’m
terings, and silence to become part of the delighted to be able to connect my life and
whole being created here. I am conscious work, to connect our stories and our pictures
that we have now all become part of this and, hopefully, inspire others coming after
story. Placing the final piece on the board, us to cross boundaries and try new things.
a hush fills the room. I’m starting to feel a role change now
(See Figure 11.2 at the front of this book from one hoping to lead the way with a
for a color reproduction.) new perspective to one who wants to expend
I nod to Carolyn and she turns the lights more energy on supporting younger folks
down and starts the music softly. I want to who carry the autoethnographic torch. Guess
allow my audience time to feel, before that’s what happens with age. The prospect
they try to articulate thoughts and reac- of occupying the role of Crone or elder is
tions, and I need some space too. strangely exhilarating, and I am pleased
with all the new forms of autoethnography—
from fiction to artwork—that others are
♦ Framing and Reframing producing.
Autoethnography: Don’t get me wrong; I still have a lot
of work in me and new ideas to explore.
Life and Work
But more and more, I’m reframing my life.
Family, our dogs, our North Carolina moun-
Dear Karen, tain cabin, and the relationships we’ve devel-
Have I told you recently how much I oped there attract my time and attention. I
love my painting? I still stop to look at also want to travel and hopefully get back
it almost every day. Other times, I feel to Australia one more time.
its presence and just know it’s there. Also Well, it’s time to turn my attention to the
I am so happy with the cover of The three dissertations on my desk. I miss you.
Ethnographic I (Ellis, 2004). Now I not Hope all is well. Love Carolyn
only get to see “Autoethnography” framed
on my living room wall, I get to see it every Hi Carolyn,
time I review my book for a class. Students Thanks for your e-mail. I am excited and
always ask me to bring the original encouraged to think that our interview
“Autoethnography” into school when we chapter and my painting helped your
talk about the art chapter, and I happily students understand more about autoethnog-
oblige. raphy, but I must confess I also felt some
In a recent undergraduate class, the sadness in response to your students’ feed-
students said the painting and the inter- back. If something as simple as a painting
view we co-constructed about it helped and a conversation between two friends
them to understand the autoethnographic can help clarify a methodology, epistemol-
perspective (Ellis & Scott-Hoy, 2004). ogy, and ontology, why are these elements
They suggested that next time I teach the not used more frequently in our teaching?
Wording Pictures–––◆–––137

Why do academics have to make research Discovering autoethnography and

so complex with all our “ . . . ologies”? Is it applying ethnographic methods to my life
that social scientists are scared of being and tasks (see Dietz, Prus, & Shaffir, 1994)
honest about the messy, complicated, and helped me feel more comfortable with
uncertain phenomena that we study who I am. I study life, I paint life, and I
(Bochner, 2000)? write about life. I can be a researcher and
I am not ungrateful for or bitter about a mum, because mums are researchers and
my experience in the academy. I feel priv- storytellers. Mums tell stories written by
ileged to have had the opportunity to others as well as our own. We tell stories to
explore the wonderful literature available calm our children when they are sick, to
and to share others’ theories and ideas and help prepare them for situations they
those ideas have enriched my thought haven’t faced before, and to reassure them
processes. But I feel sad that some people of their importance and value in the world.
may have been put off by the jargon and I hope I pass onto my kids and others
complexity. What have we as feeling and my passion for people and justice.
thinking members of communities missed Sometimes I worry that I won’t get down
out on, because we have alienated others everything I want to. There doesn’t seem to
who wanted to contribute? be enough hours in the day. As I’ve hit 46,
Recently (see Byron, 2005) there has I can no longer see without glasses and
been a lot of debate here about social am concerned that will affect how I see
science producing boring “grey” manu- colors, and my ability to paint and inter-
scripts nobody will read, versus subordinat- pret the world. Maybe I’ll have to move to
ing scholarly rigor to ensure “colorful,” more tactile means of expression if that
“ready to wear” books for the general mar- happens! Perhaps that’s where I should
ket. It seems the dilemma they are debating end, with autoethnographic expression
is something I faced nearly 10 years ago, evolving and being reframed and inter-
while searching for a methodology that was preted according to people’s needs and
accessible to those outside of academia responses, because it’s time for this mum
and yet would still provide a vehicle for my to go prepare tea and change over a load
research and dissertation. of washing.
The appeal of autoethnography for me is Hope all is well, Karen.
the way the method values the stories of P. S. I’ve sent you a photograph of a
“ordinary” people, which reminds me of a painting, Reframing Autoethnography,
presentation I heard several years ago, stimulated by our current discussions.
Searching for Autoethnographic Credibility: (See Figure 11.3 at the front of this book
Reflections From a Mom With a Notepad for a color reproduction).
(Jenks, 2002). My work in our optometry
practice involves taking patient histories.
When asked their occupation, many women
reply almost apologetically, “Oh, I’m just a
♦ Notes
mum.” I also am “just a mum.” I have no
academic position, partly because I live in a 1. See Bochner and Ellis (2002), for a reflex-
rural area, but also because I work in the ive volume of these conference pieces.
family business and I have stayed home with 2. Ethnographically speaking: Autoethnog-
my four sons. This has caused me angst at raphy, literature, and aesthetics (Bochner &
times as I felt I was losing my identity. Ellis, 2002).

♦ Appendix Dietz, M. L., Prus, R., & Shaffir, W. (Eds.).

(1994). Doing everyday life: Ethnography
as human lived experience. Toronto, Ontario,
Also see Scott-Hoy’s paintings online (www Canada: Copp, Clark Longman Ltd. to accom- Eisner, E. (1991). The enlightened eye: Quali-
pany this chapter: tative inquiry and the enhancement of educa-
tional practice. New York: Macmillan.
Eisner, E. (1997). The educational imagination:
1. Autoethnography
On the design and evaluation of school pro-
2. The Storyteller grams (3rd ed.). New York: Macmillan.
Ellis, C. (1993). “There are survivors”: Telling a
3. Reframing Autoethnography story of sudden death. Sociological Quar-
terly, 34, 711–730.
Ellis, C. (1995a). Emotional and ethical quag-
♦ References mires in returning to the field. Journal of
Contemporary Ethnography, 24, 68–98.
Ellis, C. (1995b). Final negotiations: A story of
Barone, T. (2003). Challenging the educational love, loss, and chronic illness. Philadelphia,
imaginary: Issues of form, substance, and PA: Temple University Press.
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Berger, P. (1974). Pyramids of sacrifice. New raphy (pp. 240–243). Walnut Creek, CA:
York: Basic Books. AltaMira Press.
Bochner, A. P. (1994). Perspectives on inquiry II: Ellis, C. (1999a). Heartful autoethnography.
Theories and stories. In M. Knapp & G. R. Keynote address, First Annual Advances in
Miller (Eds.), Handbook of interpersonal Qualitative Methods Conference, Edmonton,
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Qualitative Inquiry, 6(2), 266–272. Ellis, C. (2001). My mother/my baby: Reading
Bochner, A. P., & Ellis, C. (2002). Ethnogra- and writing an autoethnography of aging
phically speaking: Autoethnography, litera- and caregiving. Plenary talk, University of
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AltaMira Press. Ellis, C. (2004). The ethnographic I: A method-
Bochner, A. P., & Ellis, C. (2003). An introduc- ological novel about autoethnography.
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Byron, J. (2005, February 9). Hawking our performing personal stories: The con-
wares. Higher Education Supplement, The straints of choice in abortion. In C. Ellis &
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art and fieldwork in the study of self- (pp. 79–101). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
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Denzin, N. (1997). Interpretive ethnography: AltaMira Press.
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Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. ethnography, personal narrative, reflexivity:
Didion, J. (1968). Slouching towards Bethlehem. Researcher as subject. In N. Denzin &
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Wording Pictures–––◆–––139

research (2nd ed., pp. 733–768). Thousand (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research
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12 Literary Forms

A Research Praxis

 Cynthia Chambers and Erika

Hasebe-Ludt with Dwayne Donald,
Wanda Hurren, Carl Leggo,
and Antoinette Oberg

T his chapter is organized into three parts, emulating the strands of

a traditional braid. The introduction traces the roots and routes of
métissage as a linguistic artifact, a theoretical construct, a literary strat-
egy, and a research praxis. This introduction answers the questions:
What is métissage? What does it contribute to social science research?
The braid interweaves the texts and images of individual authors into
the three strands of the braid. This braid addresses the question: What
does métissage look like?
Métissage comes from the Latin word mixtus meaning “mixed,” pri-
marily referring to cloth of two different fibers. Its Greek homonym is
metis, a figure of skill and craft, as well as wisdom and intelligence
(Harper, 2001). Metis, the wife of Zeus, was gifted with powers of trans-
formation. Thus, métissage carries the ability to transform and, through
its properties of mixing, opposes transparency and has the power to
undo logic and the clarity of concepts. In various colonial contexts, such

◆ 141

as Canada, métis became a racial category have used métissage, in this way, in their
translated as “mixed-blood” or “half-breed” individual work (Chambers, 2005; Donald,
with the negative connotations of animals 2003; Hasebe-Ludt, 2004). However, they
(and humans) breeding across species. have also worked collectively to juxtapose
Métissage is not only a theory but also their texts in such a way that highlights dif-
a praxis (Haug et al., 1987; Lionnet, 1989; ference (racial, cultural, historical, sociopo-
Zuss, 1997). It is a thoughtful political litical, linguistic) without essentializing or
praxis that resists “heterophobia” (Memmi erasing it, while simultaneously locating
cited in Lionnet, 1989) or the fear of mix- points of affinity (Haraway, 1985/1990) or
ing, and the desire for a pure untainted rhizomean connections (Deleuze & Guattari,
space, language, or form of research. 1980/1987) among the texts.
Métissage is also a reading praxis that In keeping with the commitment to cre-
engages the world as dialogic and het- ativity that is inherent in métissage, the
eroglossic (Bakhtin, 1981) and invites read- authors have collaborated to mix their
ers to attend to the interreferentiality of individual writings into a script for live per-
texts. Also, métissage is a writing praxis that formance and publication. In these collabo-
enables researchers and their audiences to rative pieces, individual authors assume
imagine and create plural selves and com- responsibility for writing a longer piece, seg-
munities that thrive on ambiguity and mul- menting it into three to five sections, and
tiplicity. Métissage affirms, rather than sometimes selecting accompanying images
polarizes, difference (Lionnet, 1989). As a and sound. This writing takes the form of
conscious textual act, métissage “resists such literary genres as poetry, narrative,
fixed categories and ideological closure of memoir, and postcard essay, as well as the
racial, ethnic, and gender identities and their blurring of these genres. One or two authors
performance within a culture” (Zuss, 1997, assume responsibility for purposefully mix-
p. 168). As a research praxis, métissage seeks ing the segments, using points of affinity, to
cross-cultural, egalitarian relations of know- create individual strands much like acts in a
ing and being. It respects the historical inter- dramatic play.
relatedness of traditions, collective contexts, The lead authors then braid the strands in
and individual circumstances while resisting such a way that retains the integrity and dis-
19th-century scholarly conventions of dis- tinctiveness of the individual texts/voices and
crete disciplines with corresponding rhetorics at the same time creates a new text, one that
for conducting and representing research. It illuminates the braided, polysemic, and rela-
is committed to interdisciplinarity and the tional character of our lives, experiences, and
blurring of genres, texts, and identities. memories, as well as the interconnections
What does métissage look like in prac- among the personal and the public realm.
tice? Single authors/researchers use métissage Thus, collective métissage both attends to
as a theoretical construct and textual prac- difference and generates something new
tice (Lionnet, 1989; Zuss, 1997). They (Deleuze & Parnet, 1977/1987) in the same
weave the repressed languages and traditions movement—one that addresses the past while
of local cultures and vernaculars (particu- imagining new relations and solidarities.
larly incorporating autobiographical mater- Editing of the final script is a collective
ial and local oral traditions and stories) with responsibility; drafts are circulated either
the dominant (often colonial) languages and face-to-face or electronically for comments
traditions of literacy. Authors of this chapter and revisions. In performance (live or

electronic), we have mixed audio and video become alienated from their stories and has
clips with still images and oral renditions disrupted the links connecting one generation
of text (Chambers, Donald, & Hasebe-Ludt, to the next (McLeod, 1998, p. 52). How-
2001; Chambers, Fidyk, Hasebe-Ludt, ever, some stories have been revitalized and
Hurren, Leggo, & Rahn, 2003; Chambers, told again.
Hasebe-Ludt, Hurren, Leggo, & Oberg,
2004). Below is a short exemplar of this
A Theory of Research,
Antoinette Oberg
Research: (L. re again + OF. cerchier
♦ The Braid from L. circare to go around) to go around
looking for something, a topic, to begin
with. Students are generally advised to read
FIRST STRAND OF THE BRAID the literature and find something not yet
studied. The implication is that not having
Where Are You From? Dwayne been studied makes a topic worthy.
It is more reasonable that a research
“Where are you from?”1 the question is topic would emerge from the place (Topic:
asked with a tone of familiarity and cama- Gk. topos 1. place) where we are positioned
raderie that distracts me and leaves me not in life, from the propositions with which we
wanting to answer. “I’m from Edmonton,” I prop up our lives and compose the narra-
reluctantly reply, and then I wait for the tives that tell how we live.
looks of confusion, wonderment, the slow, Out of the narrative depths a topic
half-hearted nodding of the head. These emerges (L. e out of + mergere to plunge)
work together to give one message: “I and thereby comes into the view afforded
thought this guy was an Indian, but I guess by our position. This view is a theory (Gk.
he’s not . . .” theorein to look at). A theory is a way of
When Aboriginal people meet each other looking at the world rather than a form
for the first time, “Where are you from?” is of knowledge of how the world is (Bohm,
the most common question. The question 1983). Thus, every topic statement, being
seeks identity through location of your roots, from a point of view, implies (L. implicare
your family, your ancestors, your relations, to enfold a theory) a way of seeing (Topic:
your home, your place, your tribe, your Gk. topos 2. Commonplace way of seeing).
Reserve. I don’t come from a reserve, nor Once aware that looking is always from
do any of my immediate relatives. I don’t a place, a position, a point of view, the pos-
have a place in the Aboriginal sense of tra- sibility arises that we could look differently
ditional territory or sacred land. and hence see differently, thereby changing
I descend from a cabin on Hastings our prospects.
Lake, Alberta. My family didn’t choose
that place; rather, it was chosen for them
Wiseman’s Cottage,
through the various events of colonialism
York Harbor, Carl Leggo
that could be called acts of displacement.
The “spatial and ideological diaspora” that While on sabbatical leave, my wife
characterizes the displacement of many Lana and I lived in the town of York
Aboriginal families has caused them to Harbor, Newfoundland. In 1767, Captain

James Cook sailed into the Bay of Islands, connections with the earth’s landscape,
and with the self-possessed enthusiasm seascape, mountainscape, and skyscape.
of 18th-century European explorers, he And I finally learned that I have lived far
charted, mapped, and named this ancient, too long in my head alone, compelled by a
wild, tangled space before sailing off to scholar’s crazed presumption.
inscribe other locations. Probably running
out of seemingly suitable words, Cook Battle River, Wanda Hurren
apparently named York Harbor after one
I will begin with a photograph. I am standing
of his ships.
in the Battle River Pioneer Museum, holding a
local history book. The large book is opened to a
page revealing a photograph of a woman standing
in front of birch trees. The woman is Christina
Robertson, my great grandmother. She is 56
years old in the photograph. I am 47 as I stand
looking at her image for the first time.
(Wanda Hurren. b. Torquay (CAN), 1957.
Battle River. 2004. Chlorobromide print)

When I opened the history book, ran-

domly choosing a spot to enter, I swear
to God, I opened the book to the very
page of my great grandmother’s pho-
Figure 12.1 tograph. Underneath the photo, a local
writer noted that Christina Robertson was
in the Wiseman’s cottage “referred to by many as ‘the mother of the
rented at the end of Main Street North.’”
in York Harbour faraway She was also the mother of six children.
on the edge of the Atlantic Only five are mentioned in this history
I learned in slow ways
book. Missing from the account is her first-
how to live sabbatically,
born child. Mary was born in Scotland,
drawing silence like
the sun calls the sea
before Christina married George Robertson
and came to Canada. Mary was my
In this place of solitude and stillness,
I learned to hear the heart’s rhythms. A
Walnuts, Erika Hasebe-Ludt
couple of centuries after Captain James
Cook, I sought the heart’s cartography, are geographic
sought to live with attention to poetry, rifts compost
embodiment, sensual experience, imagina- in family trees?
tion, wellness, and connection to the earth. —Roy Miki, 2001, p. 56
During bike rides through the forest, runs
around the arc of York Harbor, snowshoe- The walnut tree stood in my mother’s
ing across the bog to Wild Cove Pond, and garden in Saarbrücken for over two hun-
hikes along narrow mountain trails dred years. Every autumn, my family
through tuckamore carved by caribou and labored to gather the nuts, dry them on
moose, I sought embodied and emotional racks, compost the leaves. Each year, the

tree shot higher, until it was taller than the to sit anyways. Then I sat down, too, and
house next door. Every spring my father waited for her to speak.
pruned the tree. After his death, my broth-
ers took up the saws and ladders. When one
brother became ill with cancer and the
other’s visits hard to arrange, an arborist
was hired. But the tree kept producing its How Topics Emerge Where
copious crop. After I moved to Canada, Researchers Are. . . . Antoinette
there were bundles of walnuts stuffed in my Oberg
mother’s annual Christmas parcel.
Last year, my family instructed the
arborist to saw down the branches and cut
back the strong furrowed trunk to a bare
pole. On my last visit home, I gazed into
the space where once a rich canopy of
leaves and branches had reigned. I mourned
its loss, just as I mourned the fading of my
mother’s memory. And then, suddenly, I
was startled by the new space that opened
around the tree trunk.
“The tree will grow again in time,” my
mother told me. “We will not lose its
But this Christmas there will be no par-
cel from my mother, no bundle of walnuts
under the tree.

Native Speaker, Cynthia Chambers

Figure 12.2
There was this woman, Margaret SOURCE: Photo by Antoinette M. Alexander.
Lamouche. She spoke Cree, but she was Reprinted with permission.
really Métis—that meant no Indian status,
one of those complicated situations where Beginning in the place where they are,
history mixed up languages and families, student researchers write autobiographically
land and stories, too. Margaret and my about what interests them (L. inter esse to be
daughter, they were friends. And they took a in the midst of). They construct then decon-
Cree language class together—helped each struct the narratives of their lives. Abstracting
other out and the professor, too. More than (L. abstrahere to draw away) allows them to
once, Margaret said to me, “I love that see the ways of seeing (i.e., the theories) that
daughter of yours.” give their narratives the illusion of truth.
And then one spring, Margaret Lamouche These theories pattern not only the
took a course from me: “Issues in Native researcher’s life, but also the lives of others
Education.” She never came to my office, in the culture at large. At different levels of
except that once, 5 minutes before class. I abstraction, different patterns emerge.
feared her visit would make me late, and it Articulating these patterns eventually
wouldn’t be the first time. But I invited her produces a statement of topic cum theory;

for example, self-judgment as a technology My great grandmother married George

of self, ecoharmonious living as an ecology some time after her first child, Mary, was
of mutual adaptation, women’s compliance born. The name given for Mary’s father (my
and resistance as an effect of discourse. great grandfather) on her birth certificate is
Articulating topic and theory keeps James Horn. My aunt Maudie thinks James
research moving. Being a process of seeing, was a migrant worker, who travelled to
theory—or should we say, theorizing— Scotland with a shipment of horses. He
continuously changes what is seen as well worked in the stables with Christina’s father.
as the seer. They met when Christina was very young.
(See Figure 12.2 in color at the front of
this book) Cabin at Hastings Lake,
Seeing how the self judges itself, Dwayne Donald
Rasmussen2 became more confident in
talking back to the inner critic. Seeing the
tensions in a high school classroom, Drew
became more congruent by changing his
site of teaching from the classroom to the
roundpen. Seeing how compliance could
include resistance, Kimpson came to be
able to resist the designation “unemploy-
able” imposed by the language of disabil-
ity income assistance forms.

Family Re(as)semblances,
Wanda Hurren
Back to the photograph. Christina is wearing
a dress, belted at her waist. Her hair is dark and
combed back from her face. Her chin is my
grandmother Mary’s chin, my aunt Maudie’s
chin, my cousin Mary’s chin. I wonder if I look
like Christina. I smile.
(Wanda Hurren. b. Torquay (CAN), 1957. Family
Re(as)semblances. 2004. Sepia print) Figure 12.3
SOURCE: Photo by Allen Donald. Reprinted with
In the local history book, there is only permission.
one photograph of my great grandmother
with her husband, George. It is actually From the time he was an infant, my dad
two separate photographs, one of Christina lived with his grandma in a cabin beside
and one of George, pasted together so that Hastings Lake, Alberta. He was 18 years
it looks like they are both in the same pho- old when she died, and he made the deci-
tograph. They are each smiling, but not at sion to move to the nearby city of
the same camera. Edmonton. This meant leaving the cabin
They are buried in separate graveyards. and the community behind.
George is buried in Fort Smith, North West A few years ago, my dad led our family on
Territories. Christina is buried along with a visit back to his childhood home. I saw the
five of her children, in the Vale of Peace land had been turned into a private camp-
Cemetery, in Notikewin, Alberta. ground. Trees, bushes, and grass had grown

up around the old cabin, creating an artifact. moved down south so Margaret could be a
My brother and I approached the cabin teacher. She was an artist, too. Once she drew
and began poking around the inside of it. a picture of a warrior with her broadsword
Campers from nearby sites, curious them- raised against a housefly, because “la mouche”
selves, were drawn to us. Then, a woman means housefly and “Margaret” means
arrived who explained that the cabin had dragon slayer.
been the home of an old Cree woman and her But no matter all that: Margaret had to
grandson. In that moment, my dad became repeat that student teaching.
an artifact of his own history on the very land Margaret, she was a published poet but
that bears his memories and stories. What we her talk—well—that was a real métissage.
did not realize at the time was that the uncov- Her poems were in English, but the Cree was
ering of these family stories and memories, never silent, more like the music for the song.
while helping us make sense of where we are And when she told stories—like the one
from, would also eventually lead us back to about her mother who walked out into a bliz-
the place we now know as Edmonton. zard and never came back—Cree was always
the story behind the words. Now, Margaret,
Dragon Slayer, Cynthia Chambers she never raised her voice, even with those
students. She didn’t make those kids look
her in the eye when she talked to them. Or
glare and give the “evil eye” so those kids would
listen. No sir. And Margaret, she didn’t smile—
not unless she really meant it.
And because of all that, Margaret had to
repeat that student teaching.

Space Into Place, Blow-Me-Down

Mountain, Carl Leggo

Figure 12.4
SOURCE: Copyright © Margaret Lamouche.

And when that Métis woman finally Figure 12.5

spoke she said, “I got evaluated today.”
SOURCE: Photo by Antoinette M. Alexander.
Now, Margaret had eight kids and she’d Reprinted with permission.
volunteered in all their classrooms. And that’s
when she wasn’t cooking, sewing, raising
kids, and going to school, first that adult on snowshoes I tramped a trail
upgrading, then college. Then her family up Blow-Me-Down Mountain,

twisted amidst ancient dead trees, snow more snow

gray scrawny lost corpses will come and erase
like sea-washed driftwood, the line we wrote
still held in the earth, rooted yesterday, we’ll clear
in stories long ago forgotten more paths like drafts
of writing, impermanent
Scott Walden (2003) points out an intrigu- transitory traces, both
ing difference between place and space: visible and invisible.

The world of place is the world of subjec-

Rhododendrons, Erika Hasebe-Ludt
tive human experience and significance.
The world of space is the objective world In Berlin in 1989, there was a no-man’s
of points in space–time that are meaning- land separating East and West, a danger
less to humans, abstractions that can be zone of deserted fields and armed border
represented in mathematics or physical guards behind the Berlin Wall. Standing in
geography. Space ordinarily comes first, my friend Ina’s backyard you could see the
developing aspects of place with the onset barbed wire atop the Wall. When you left
of human habitation. A rock takes on sig- the gate you entered a narrow trail that par-
nificance by becoming the rock that took alleled the Wall. When I lived in Berlin, Ina
the bottom out of Gus’s boat. A tree takes and I often walked this path but we could
on meaning by becoming the one in only travel west, north and south, never
which the children play. (p. 18) east. Yet as I walked within arm’s length of
the Mauer, I did not know the horrible truth
In York Harbor I learned to translate about the deaths of those trying to escape
space into place. I engaged creatively with from behind the eastern side of the Wall.
the expansive earth that filled my senses After the Wall fell, Ina’s family was able
and imagination; I was constantly left both to purchase a parcel of the old border zone.
breathless and speechless. In my poems I She built a garden with a new border, a liv-
seek to hold light glimpses of the world ing wall of rhododendron trees. Their dense
that can only be charted and mapped in foliage and magenta blossoms protect Ina
words. But I know that the world always and her family from the reality of the old
exhausts words, drives language to the lim- and the new Berlin where there is the free-
its of distraction. dom to travel in all directions.
An extension of the Autobahn covers the
ground where the Wall once stood and offers
easy access from East to West, and West to
East, but not so easy questions about what
this opening signifies to people on both sides.


The Question of
Methodology. . . . Antoinette Oberg
Graduate student researchers are gener-
Figure 12.6 ally advised to find a research topic and
SOURCE: Photo by Carl Leggo. Reprinted with then to find a methodology to match. I tell
permission. them that methodology is a way of seeing

knowledge, knowers, and knowing, and The current leaders of the reestablished
that this theory is already there, implicit in Papaschase Band have filed court docu-
their writings-toward-topic: in narratives ments seeking compensation for the
about their interests, researchers construct wrongful removal of Treaty and land
and display their theories. rights. My family could receive some form
Now deconstructing my own theory of of “official” recognition as Indians with
methodology, I adjust my ways of seeing. membership in the Papaschase Band.
I begin to focus on relating, responding, and Finally, I could offer an unequivocal reply
resonating rather than knowledge, knowers, to the question that has been plaguing me
and knowing. I theorize a researcher is a for so many years:
node in a nested network of relations among “Where are you from?”
social and intellectual processes of produc- “Papaschase.”
tion (Capra, 1996, p. 168). The researcher’s “Where’s that?”
responses, like the responses of any living “Edmonton.”
organism to its environment, change both
the researcher and the environment in cycles Notikewin, Wanda Hurren
sometimes novel, sometimes repetitive,
sometimes dissonant, sometimes resonant.
This autopoietic (Gk. auto self + poiesis
making) process of researching is the topic
that emerges from my autobiographical writ-
ing about what interests me in my position as
instructor of research methodologies.

“Where is That?” Dwayne Donald

My ancestors, led by Chief Papasschayo,
agreed to the terms of Treaty Six at Fort
Edmonton in 1877. Papasschayo selected an
area for their Reserve across the river from Figure 12.7
the growing settlement of Edmonton. SOURCE: With compliments of Wanda Hurren.
Trouble started soon after. Settlers in the
Edmonton area argued that the Reserve maybe
would impede the development of the town because of the way an evening breeze
by denying the settlers access to valuable played with a lock of hair just so
resources and fertile land. A newspaper of she could see his eyes smiling his chin tilted
just so she decided he would be the one then
the time advocated that the Papaschase
and now I am standing here on the banks of
Band “be sent back to the country they orig-
the Notikewin River
inally came from” (Maurice, 2001, p. 4). maybe
In the end, the settlers got their wish. because of the way an evening breeze
The members of the Papaschase Band were played with a lock of hair just so
denied their Treaty rights and left destitute (Wanda Hurren. b. Torquay (CAN), 1957.
and hungry for several years after the nego- Notenaygewn Cepe. 2004. Gelatin silver print)
tiation of Treaty Six and the disappearance
of the buffalo. Eventually, they lost their In my search through photographs and
rights to the Reserve land. My relations words, I want to find out about Christina
moved to Hastings Lake. traveling to northern Canada to meet up

with James. Maybe he returned to his home “Yah. . . .” she said. This time I waited.
in northern Canada, to wait for Christina to I knew Margaret had to talk for herself from
join him. Instead, I found out there were five now on and I had to listen, bite my lip maybe.
more children, all born after her marriage Margaret went on. “I can change all
to George. Why did Christina settle in those other things. I can plan better lessons;
Notikewin? What happened to James? I can manage the classroom better. But
Where did he come from? Where did he go? what, what am I gonna to do about the way
My first son was born with a bruise on I talk? I can’t change that.”
his lower back that would not fade away. I “And that low mark, I feel it.” She pressed
believed the bruise was a result of his dif- the heel of her hand into her heart like she
ficult birth. “Oh, no,” the doctor informed could stop it from bleeding. “Right here,” she
me, “that is a Mongolian spot—very com- said. “Because I can’t change it; the Cree lan-
mon for babies of northern indigenous her- guage that’s who I am, and it’s my language,
itage to be born with that spot.” my people, we’re all getting a low mark.”
I said nothing but I thought about my
Notenaygewn Cepe
class and the students waiting. Margaret
Battle River
Land of the Mighty Peace
stood up and I followed.
Robertson’s Crossing “So today, I’m prayin’ in Cree,” she said
George Robertson and his dog Caesar and then laughed. “Usually I mix Cree and
Jim Robertson on Midge English when I pray; but today—I’m just
John on Lady prayin’ in Cree.”
she came to live on the banks I walked to class with Margaret. And
of the Notikewin River although I didn’t ask, I wanted her to pray
the weather was so severe for me. And forgive me, too.
she whispered to me
with a chuckle Japanese Maples, Erika Hasebe-Ludt
the past is being erased
(Wanda Hurren. b. Torquay (CAN), 1957. Found
in Notikewin, 2004, Gelatin silver print)

Low Grade, Cynthia Chambers

“Yeah, I got evaluated,” that Métis
woman said and then added, as if to con-
sole me, “but it’s okay.”
I waited.
“The evaluation of my teaching . . .” she
explained, “it was okay; but that first part
on the form. . . .”
“Communication skills?” I’d supervised
student teachers with that form for 15
years, so I filled in the blank. Now that’s a
bad habit—filling in the blanks—hard to
stop so I didn’t often try.
“Yah, they marked me so low on that and I
know. . . .” Another pause. “Its because of. . . .”
Margaret’s eyes welled up so I jumped
in again. “Your Cree accent?” Figure 12.8

Two Japanese maples stand on either side this place. Lana and I have lived the circle of
of the path in my garden in Vancouver. My seasons, turning and turning, knowing we
husband, Ken, planted these trees almost will not return to this place, but also know-
twenty years ago. One he left untouched, ing we will carry the tangled rhythms of this
the other, he shaped, into a different tree. hallowed place with us wherever we go.
Using wires and tape, he sculpted this maple
with a sensibility nurtured by Japanese genes
soaked in Hiroshima soil and Canadian
upbringing weathered by the Pacific Ocean.
For many years, I could not see what he
imagined for the trees. But he told me to be
patient, that you cannot hurry a tree. I had
to trust a Japanese Canadian gardener.
Recently, to my surprise, I noticed that
each maple, in its own way, harmonizes
with the surrounding cedar, pine, fire
thorn, and rhododendron. Ken nurtured
them so the maple on the East grew verti-
cally, and the maple on the West horizon-
tally. Now with the ocean breeze, the leaves
move up and down, back and forth, in an
aesthetic wave of yin yang.
Soon the autumn storms will scatter the
rust-colored abundance of maple leaves.
Then, only the braveness of the bare branches
will remain, waiting, patiently, for snow and
the return of spring, eventually. I learned to Figure 12.9
trust a Japanese Canadian gardener. SOURCE: Photo by Carl Leggo. Reprinted with

“You’re Not From Around

Here,” Carl Leggo as the sun rises in the harbor
I make poems, and find sustaining
York Harbor is a mysterious, enchanted
places of stillness and stability,
place inhabited by only a few hundred
but like the countless beachstones,
people and countless gulls, crows, moose, I can’t tell you all the stories I have
caribou, lobsters, cod, and a tangled lived and will live in this place.
menagerie of wild life, earth life, ocean life,
and sky life beyond all counting and telling.
While biking, I met a man on the trail. He KNOTTING THE BRAID
was gathering peat moss for his gardens. He
said, “You’re not from around here.” I just In this chapter, we have both (1) illus-
nodded, but I knew I too am a part of this trated métissage as a research praxis and
landscape, this space, this place that can’t be (2) illuminated issues and challenges métis-
named or tamed. I will carry the memories, sage offers social science research. We
emotions, and poetry with me forever. I am mixed binaries such as colonized with colo-
changed. Like the ancient trees and drift- nizer, local with global, East with West,
wood and beachstones, I too have dwelled in North with South, particular with universal,

feminine with masculine, vernacular with Chambers, C. (2005, April). “Where do I belong?”
literate, and theory with practice. We Canadian curriculum as passport home.
braided strands of place and space, memory Keynote address to Annual Conference of the
and history, ancestry and (mixed) race, lan- American Association for the Advancement
of Curriculum Studies, Montreal, Quebec,
guage and literacy, familiar and strange with
strands of tradition, ambiguity, becoming,
Chambers, C., Donald, D., & Hasebe-Ludt, E.
(re)creation, and renewal into a métissage.
(2001). Creating a curriculum of métissage.
By way of knotting the braid, we Educational Insights, 7(2). Retrieved
respond to a possible critique that this December 2, 2004, from http://www.ccfi.
approach is simply an aesthetic literary
practice. We assert that our collective toc2.html
praxis of métissage is a way of speaking and Chambers, C., Fidyk, A., Hasebe-Ludt, E., Hurren,
acting that is both political and redemptive. W., Leggo, C., & Rahn, J. (2003). Dis(e)rupt-
Our métissage offers a rapprochement ing syntax: Curriculum as (dis)compo-
between alternative and mainstream social sure. Educational Insights, 8(2). Retrieved
science discourses and seeks a genuine December 2, 2004, from http://www.ccfi.educ
exchange among the writers, and between
the writers and their various audiences. Our
Chambers, C., Hasebe-Ludt, E., Hurren,
aim is to go out into the world, to embrace
W., Leggo, C., & Oberg, A. (2004). The
it and love it fiercely (Arendt, 1958; credible and the incredible in autobiograph-
Galeano, 1991), always returning home ical research: A Canadian curriculum métis-
with the gifts of new knowledge, new hope sage. Performed at the American Educational
that it is possible to live well in this partic- Research Association Annual Conference,
ular place, at this time, with ourselves and San Diego, CA.
with all our relations (King, 1990). Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand
plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia
(B. Masumi, Trans.). Minneapolis: University
♦ Notes of Minnesota Press. (Original work pub-
lished 1980)
Deleuze, G., & Parnet, C. (1987). Dialogues
1. An earlier version of Donald’s text was pub- (H. Tomlinson & B. Habberjam, Trans.).
lished in Goyette and Jakeway (2005, pp. 382–385). New York: Columbia University Press.
2. Rasmussen, Drew, and Kimpson recount (Original work published 1977)
their experiences in Oberg, Drew, Montgomery, Donald, D. (2003). Elder, student, teacher: A
Rasmussen, and Kimpson (2002). Kainai curriculum métissage. Unpublished
Master’s thesis, University of Lethbridge,
Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.
♦ References Galeano, E. (1991). A book of embraces
(C. Belfrage with M. Schafer, Trans.). New
York: W. W. Norton.
Arendt, H. (1958). The human condition. Goyette, L., & C. Jakeway R. (2005). Edmonton
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. in our words. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada:
Bakhtin, M. M. (1981). The dialogic imagina- University of Alberta Press.
tion: Four essays. Austin: University of Texas Haraway, D. (1990). A manifesto for cyborgs:
Press. Science, technology, and socialist feminism
Bohm, D. (1983). Wholeness and the implicate in the 1980s. In L. J. Nicholson (Ed.),
order. London: Ark Paperbacks. Feminism/Postmodernism (pp. 190–233).
Capra, F. (1996). The web of life. New York: New York: Routledge. (Original work pub-
Anchor Books. lished in 1985)

Harper, D. (2001). Online etymology dictio- Retrieved October 2, 2001, from: http://
nary. Retrieved October 27, 2004, from PDF/papaschase.pdf
Hasebe-Ludt, E. (2004). We talked freely of many McLeod, N. (1998). Coming home through sto-
things: Writing home/away from home. In ries. International Journal of Canadian
A. L. Cole, L. Neilsen, J. G. Knowles, & T. C. Studies, 18, 51–66.
Luciani (Eds.), Provoked by art: Theorizing Miki, R. (2001). Surrender. Toronto, Ontario,
arts-informed research (pp. 203–213). Halifax, Canada: The Mercury Press.
Nova Scotia, Canada: Backalong Books. Oberg, A., Drew, D., Montgomery, P., Rasmussen,
Haug, F., et al. (1987). Female sexualization: A P., & Kimpson, S. (2002). Shape/shifting: The
collective work of memory (E. Carter, Trans.). articulation of topic in the midst of ongoing
London: Verso. Retrieved from http://www autobiographical inquiry. Paper presented at the International Human Science Research
papaschase.pdf Conference, Victoria, British Columbia,
King, T. (Ed.). (1990). All my relations: An anthol- Canada.
ogy of contemporary Native fiction. Toronto, Walden, S. (2003). Places lost: In search of
Ontario, Canada: McClleland & Stewart. Newfoundland’s resettled communities.
Lionnet, F. (1989). Autobiographical voices: Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Lynx Images.
Race, gender, and self-portraiture. Ithaca, Webster’s seventh new collegiate dictionary.
NY: Cornell University. (1963). Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam.
Maurice, R. S. (2001). Statement of claim: Zuss, M. (1997). Strategies of representation:
The Papaschase Indian Band No. 136. Autobiographical métissage and critical prag-
Pimohtewin: A Native Studies E-Journal. matism. Educational Theory, 47(2), 163–180.
13 Literary Forms

In Defense of Fiction

 Stephen Banks

Humanity has but one product, and that is fiction.

—Dillard, 1982, p. 1

T his chapter advocates using literary fiction as a mode of expression

in reporting scholarly research. I will not argue that conventional
social science must be transformed or that standards for research reports
be jettisoned in favor of fiction, nor will I attempt to repudiate any other
aspect of scientific writing, except to challenge its failure to engage writ-
ing as a theoretical activity and to question its practical utility in some
instances. Rather, this chapter sets forth a defense of the position that
writing literary fiction can be a productive, even revelatory, practice for
communicating scholarship, and as such fiction writing should be
taught, used, and appreciated as a form of research reporting. I will make
a distinction between reporting as a conveyance of findings and report-
ing as relating a story of the research experience.
Certainly the zone between the practices of fiction writers and non-
fiction writers is blurry. In an interview with National Public Radio
journalist Steve Inskeep, Seattle author and librarian Nancy Pearl

◆ 155

(2005) said this about spy fiction writer investigations, mainly in ethnographic
Robert Littell’s novel The Company: “If research. In some cases they have made their
you want a fictional history, lightly fiction- points by creating provocative examples of
alized history of the CIA, ‘The Company’ is experimental writing in scholarly research.
the book to read.” Pearl expressed an ambi- Prominent among such scholars, Norman
guity commonly felt about fiction, that is, it Denzin has championed publication of new
is only more or less “fictional.” As Morroe forms of writing in the journals Qualitative
Berger (1977) amply demonstrated, fiction Inquiry, Qualitative Research, and Studies
strives for a social science–like verisimili- in Symbolic Interaction, and more recently
tude as a condition of its being. British nov- in Culture & Communication, as well as in
elist A. S. Byatt (2001) calls this “fiction’s numerous books.
preoccupation with impossible truthful- These innovations in scholarly expression
ness,” and she connects it “with modern have established, either by explicit argument
scholarship’s increasing use of the tech- or indirectly by example, four founda-
niques and attitudes of art” (pp. 98–99). To tional premises upon which this chapter
achieve that verisimilitude, creative writers builds its position. First, writing must itself
conduct rigorous, extensive research. Many be theorized as a generative research prac-
novelists conduct in-depth interviews, his- tice. Laurel Richardson (1990) concludes
torical investigations, legal searches, media that the “crisis of representation” in post-
content analyses, participant observation, foundationalist social science is an uncer-
and similar fieldwork. They often have tainty about what constitutes adequate
“research assistants.” In A Writer’s Reality, depiction of social reality. “How do we
Mario Vargas Llosa (1991) says, “I did a write (explain, describe, index) the social?”
great deal of research. I went to the news- (p. 19) she asks. Similarly, Susan Krieger
papers and magazines of that year. I read (1984) says we need to theorize writing so
everything that had been written and tried as to bring into our purview the “inner
to interview the participants. . . . The inter- world” of experience that is anchored in
views helped me considerably in writing my subjective meanings. To theorize writing
novel” (p. 151). A lack of research invites means not to take writing for granted but to
comment: account reflexively for its foundational prin-
Mark Twain (1918/1994) savagely criti- ciples. If, as communication scholar Steven
cized James Fenimore Cooper for his Corman (1995) has argued, theories basi-
“absence of the observer’s protecting gift” cally are ways people explain things, then
in Deerslayer, saying Cooper’s “eye was those expressive techniques by which social
splendidly inaccurate” (p. 70). Twain took scientists explain motives, rationalize meth-
Cooper to task for poor research concern- ods, and communicate findings are them-
ing the shapes of streams, the size of an ark, selves theories. If the expression reflexively
the behavior of Indians, the visibility of a accounts for itself, then writing is theory.
nail head, even the sounds of conversations. And those accounts are always and only
On the other side, a small clan of social grounded in the genre, form, and content of
researchers has sensed there is something in our expression.
the logic and practice of fiction that invites Building on the imperative for a self-
the construction of a “bridge” (Watson, 2000) reflexive practice of writing, a second premise
between social science and literary writing. says theorizing writing also invites a critique
In the past two decades they have presented of the received practice. Against the growing
diverse arguments for using alternative body of critical and experimental work on
modes of expression for reporting scholarly new forms of scholarly expression there
Writing as Theory–––◆–––157

stands a huge, monolithic and overwhelm- ♦ The Conventional

ingly conventionalized canon of ideas that
govern research writing. That dictatorial
Research Report
canon rests on the foundational assump-
tions of science. It assumes the possibility Open any current textbook on social
and necessity for objectivity; it demands and research and examine the material about
simultaneously assumes writerly authority; how research activity is to be communicated
and it prescribes textual uniformity and to audiences. With rare exception, research
positions scholarly writing as a distinctive, is assumed to culminate in (i.e., to produce)
nonliterary mode of expression. “findings” or “results” (e.g., Keyton, 2001,
Third, in research writing, as in any human p. 343). I place these words in scare quotes
expression, “narrative is unavoidable” to highlight them as terms of art that embody
(Richardson, 1990, p. 20). Mark Freeman assumptions about what research is and what
(1998) points out that narrative is unavoid- it does. To ground this part of my discus-
able because, “the phenomenology of human sion, I examined 10 textbooks in research
temporality requires it as a condition of the methods across the social science disciplines,
very intelligibility of experience” (p. 457). all of which included sections on qualitative
He argues further that the possibilities for research. Only one allowed for any devia-
constructing selves, enacting human agency, tion from traditional ways of presenting the
and sharing social meanings are grounded conclusions of research projects. Struc-
in narratives. Narratives also are used to turally, “findings” inevitably are presented
diagnose medical conditions, to assess cog- as if they occur in the research protocol
nitive and social development, to convict upstream of the creation of the research
criminals as well as to free the innocent, report. The positioning of research as
and other practical applications, reflecting something that “produces” likens it to a
an understanding that narrative “captures” knowledge factory, a device for generating
experience as an immediate and true metric expected, planned, or epiphenomenal out-
(see Lieblich, Tuval-Mashiach, & Zilber, puts. “Findings” entails the idea that some-
1998, pp. 3–5). thing preexists to be found, and the planned
The last premise is that one of the key output is the discovery and revelation of the
modes of narrative—literary fiction—can phenomenon assumed to preexist the search
profitably be used for scholarly writing to find it. Articulation of the “findings” or
tasks. This is not an unprecedented point, “results” is a closing of the episode, an end-
since numerous scholars have begun to ing of the activity, and the use of the term
express themselves in literary productions,1 belies an underlying assumption that the
and critics have for many years turned to goal of a quest has been achieved, a question
literary resources to bolster scholarly argu- definitively answered, or a once elusive rela-
ments, such as Joshua Landy’s (2004) use tionship found.
of Proust to develop a philosophy of mind Like “findings” and “results,” the idea
and aesthetics, and Robert Hopper’s (1998) of data as naturally occurring phenomena
use of fictional materials to examine such is another assumption of the standard
social rituals as flirting and teasing. The rest research report. Yet what are counted as
of this chapter explores the latter three of “data” invariably are selected and named by
these premises in order, as elaborations on the investigator; in most cases the phenom-
theorizing scholarly writing. I conclude with ena under analysis are created by the investi-
a discussion of what can serve as standards gator. Elinor Ochs (1979) has demonstrated
of acceptability for scholarly fiction writing. that even in the most empirical research

involving recorded spontaneous talk, the specifically discourages literary writing, as

data worked on are never the in vivo talk: it “might confuse or disturb readers of sci-
Almost always analysis is performed on entific prose” (American Psychological
transcripts created when researchers repro- Association [APA], p. 32). Agger (2000)
duce those conversations through auditing argues to the contrary that any method is
and transcribing the tape recordings. Ochs argument, a rhetorical positioning of the
argues that transcribing is always theoreti- research act that “polemicizes quietly for a
cal work, since the researcher decides what certain view of the world” (p. 2), so that the
to include and what to exclude. If every- Publication Manual’s striving for “writing
thing were to be transcribed, she says, one that aims for clear and logical communica-
would be transcribing into infinity. But the tion” (APA, p. 31) itself argues for a partic-
conventional view is that data are either ular worldview in scholarship.
evoked by experimenters or produced by For many years authorship has been
nature, and all the researcher does is problematized among qualitative researchers
observe it, harvest it, and analyze it. This and particularly among ethnographers. What
process produces “findings,” which, as is the role and responsibility of the author, if
John Reinard cautions, should be presented reading constructs the meaning of a text? If
“without comment on their substantive there is an implied reader in a text, is the
importance” (Reinard, 2001, p. 136). author a textual prognosticator? A pup-
The canons of style include the require- peteer? A lagniappe? In whose voice does
ment for clear, well-organized expression and should the report speak? From Barthes
(Schutt, 2001), the advisability of writing to Eco, the question of authorial reality,
drafts and revisions (Booth, Colomb, & power, and legitimacy has depended on
Williams, 2003), and in qualitative research whether a text is thought to be able to mir-
reports, the fitting of a conventional narra- ror another, different reality or is a creation
tive form to a standard organizing scheme of a partially or entirely new one. It has
(Baxter & Babbie, 2004). Only in Lindlof become almost a cliché to say that the text as
and Taylor’s (2002) book on qualitative an object is meaningless without a reader yet
communication research methods is found inevitably has an author. Indeed, texts don’t
encouragement to think about and experi- write themselves (films don’t imprint them-
ment with “alternative writing formats” selves; dances don’t choreograph them-
(p. 287). selves): Authors exercise consequential
As encoded in the language used to dis- agency and intentionality in creating texts.
cuss methods, then, research is understood
as an autonomous procedure in quest of a
conclusive discovery about self-presenting ♦ The Narrative Alternative
natural data that is subsequently related in
an omniscient, transparent text. Ben Agger
(2000) points out, however, that “what is Reflecting on the social science research
distinctive about much positivist sociological report, Donald Polkinghorne (1988) says
writing is that it suppresses the fact that it is researchers should change their voices from
writing at all” (p. 2). The text calls no atten- logicians to that of storytellers, so that they
tion to itself, even while it struggles to appear can reveal more profitably the narrativity in
as an automatic and faithful reproduction of the research experience. The format of the
an a priori reality. The Publication Manual research report, Polkinghorne argues, is an
of the American Psychological Association artifact of the social sciences disciplines and
Writing as Theory–––◆–––159

(quoting Calvin O. Schrag) as such it needs she says. Cavarero counterposes the ancient
to take into account the “web of delivered question What am I? as against the prag-
discourses, social practices, professional matic Who am I? The first question is a cat-
requirements, and daily decisions” within egorical inquiry: What class of objects do I
which the research practice takes place belong to? This is the sort of question found
(Polkinghorne, 1997, p. 22; see also Harré, in science writing. To say what a person is is
1990). Polkinghorne points to the practical to place persons into nomothetic categories.
uses of research reports beyond the stated But even philosophical inquiry cannot say
purpose of making knowledge claims, uses Who a person is, in all his or her singularity,
such as establishing the prestige or reputa- according to Cavarero. Fortunately, philo-
tion of scholars and departments, the estab- sophical discourse is only one of many forms
lishment and perpetuation of scholarly of expression we humans are capable of
publications, the promotion and tenuring using, she points out. Narrative gives life its
of writers, and the improvement of lives of figuration and each individual’s life its
participants and their communities. These figure, not only its uniqueness but also its
uses also are parts of the larger narrative of unity, its coherence over time. So scientific
the research act. and philosophical discourses unitize human-
Narrative theorists, like Polkinghorne, ity, while narratives unify an individual
Laurel Richardson, William Tierney and autobiography.
Yvonna Lincoln, and Arthur Bochner and More to the point of research writing is
Carolyn Ellis, theorize all writing as having the theoretical observation that narrative, in
essential narrative qualities. This move goes moving from the what to the who of charac-
beyond the usual perspective of narrative ters, shifts from representing persons as units
analysis, by which texts can be analyzed as in categories to unique existents (Cavarero’s
sorts of conventional stories, with plot, set- term) in a constitutive relationship with
ting, character development, action, and a others, a move from radical individualism to
beginning–middle–denouement–ending a more relational, socially communitarian
structure, for example. Narrative theory view of subjectivity (and the characters can
in the poststructuralist view, says Denzin be any phenomenon, from Melville’s whale
(1997), asserts that all texts encode stories to a soup can in Tom Robbins’s Skinny Legs
with a “narrative logic concerning discur- and All). From this perspective, then, narra-
sive authority, sexual difference, power, and tive is fundamental to human understanding,
knowledge” (p. 232). Such elements are selfhood, and sociality.
embedded but not always obvious in texts. But recall my opening quotation from
The Italian philosopher Adriana Cavarero Annie Dillard’s Living by Fiction: “Life has
(2000) says the very idea of sentience, of but one product, and that is fiction.” What
selfhood and personal identity, is grounded can she possibly mean by that? The prag-
in narrative. The self is not fabricated within maticist philosopher and semiotician Charles
a project of opportunistically matching Saunders Peirce (1958) argued that what is
one’s identity to situational or mass- taken as factual is actually an agreement
mediated circumstances, but is instead an of beliefs. Peirce held that truth is decided
aspect of our unavoidable exhibiting of our- within interpretive communities and that
selves to others. We present ourselves to disagreements over truth represent diverse
others from birth on, and others cumula- interpretations of narratives, which have
tively tell us who we are. Only when others their own logics, evidence, and styles. This
tell our stories do we know our identities, means that truth, as Denzin (1997) has

argued, is a social construct and is judged imagination, they nonetheless have several
not as a correspondence to external events strong utilities for reporting scholarly
but is judged according to its internal cohe- research. If two of the main purposes of
siveness and correspondence to a world we social science research include instructing
recognize in other narratives. others about social life and sharing under-
standings, then part of the teaching and
sharing might (some would argue must)
♦ From Narrative to Fiction include the expressive–emotional dimen-
sions of the researcher’s relationship with
participants. An example of how this
Fiction per se, however, still struggles for
dimension can be conveyed is found in Phil
legitimacy in the academy as scholarly
Smith’s part story, part poem called “Food
writing. In their introduction to Composing
Truck’s Party Hat” (Smith, 1999). He
Ethnography, Carolyn Ellis and Arthur
could have written a report that explored
Bochner (1997) write:
the lives of developmentally disabled, mid-
Gregory Bateson knew there was no way dle-aged men, and layered those lives under
to guarantee objective truth, but he did- various social theories, perhaps corre-
n’t think that meant the end result had to lated their degree of disability with various
be make-believe. . . . That’s the danger aspects of social functioning or dysfunc-
of going too far with the notion of tion, and reported his “findings.” Instead,
ethnographic fiction. We ought to treat Smith was interested in the persons them-
our ethnographies as partial, situated, selves, as defined by the particularities of
and selective productions, but this their lived experience. He chose to privilege
should not be seen as license to exclude the voices and lives of his participants and
details that don’t fit the story we want to “let the story write itself.” He accounted
tell. [It’s not the same as] saying the for himself this way:
impossibility of telling the whole truth
means you can lie. (p. 21) As I sat down a month or so after my
morning with Food Truck in the donut
This view shortchanges the uses and shop, I did not have a clear picture in my
purposes of fiction, as I discuss below. mind of what the resulting text about
Moreover, lying isn’t the point of fiction. him would end up being. I wanted it to
Fiction is the selective ordering of experience be what Neal Stephenson calls a nam-
rendered in a unique story. Paraphrasing shub, a Sumerian word that he says is “a
Denzin (1997), a fiction is a narrative that speech with magical force” . . . capable
deals with real and imagined facts and how of infecting those who hear it with a
they might be experienced, made up stories virus that will affect how they think and
fashioned out of real and imagined happen- act and understand the world. I wanted
ings, and that tells a truth. Indeed, psychia- to write a nam-shub that would begin to
trist and story advocate Robert Coles change how people think and act and
(1989) argued that researchers shouldn’t be understand what they call developmen-
concerned about whether we present our tal disability. (Smith, 1999, p. 248)
subjects as real or fictional characters, but
whether we can capture and well express the This is a positive use of fiction, instruct-
interiority of those persons. ing readers by evoking an awareness of the
Even when fictions are deemed as lying, subjective aspects of participants’ experi-
or are seen as purely works of the writer’s ence. In addition, the uses of fiction might
Writing as Theory–––◆–––161

include attempts to share with audiences short story in lieu of a scientific report or a
the researcher’s own subjective response conventional realist ethnography? More to
to participants’ experiences and other the point, how would editorial reviewers
research materials, as I have advocated in judge the quality of a research report writ-
my fictional renditions of holiday letters ten as fiction?
(S. P. Banks, 2000). A special issue of Qualitative Inquiry
Several of the strongest arguments for (June, 2000) was devoted to this question
using fiction in scholarly writing are offered about criteria for judging in “alternative
by former sex worker and ethnographer representations,” which is about as close
Katherine Frank (2000). She says fiction to a confrontation with fiction as academe
can reach audiences that are broader and moves, and the responses of the contrib-
larger than those within the academic tribe utors were varied and mostly cautious.
of readers. In addition, fiction provides Emphasizing verisimilitude, Richardson
immediacy—an artfully strategic evocation (2000) seeks ethnographies that correspond
of sights, smells, sounds, and other contex- to a lived truth. Focusing on thematic con-
tual factors—far beyond what conventional tent, Denzin (2000) looks for work that
writing conveys. Moreover, fiction writing is advances social movements and offers a
a form of practice that often is pre-theoretical blueprint for cultural criticism. Ellis (2000)
in the sense that the writer can write into would review an experimental text by using
and out of problems of representation with- the same criteria she applies to any scholarly
out the more cumbersome and constraining report. And Clough (2000) seeks theoretical
language of academic discourse. Frank rigor and fidelity in any experimental text.
(2000) also cites a related utility: Fiction, Only Bochner (2000) takes an expansive
she says, helps “work out problems for enough perspective on alternative modes to
which I am unable to find the appropriate be responsive to fiction: He seeks persuasive
theoretical language or framework” details of fact and emotion, structural and
(p. 484). Accordingly, she writes about char- emotional complexity, a plot that shows
acters as a way of interrogating the social transformation of character, ethical self-
scene she is studying and to learn about her consciousness and commitment, and finally,
own relation to it and how to locate her “a story that moves me, my heart and belly
research experience in the existing litera- as well as my head” (p. 271). In my own
ture. Inevitably, fiction allows writers and work, I have held that the standards of qual-
readers the freedom to remain open to new ity for scholarly fiction should be the
interpretations and to avoid closure on any same as any other literary fiction, because it
research project. seeks to evoke the same responses within its
Finally, in any advocacy of fiction writ- audiences: aesthetic pleasure, understand-
ing as scholarly production, the problems, ings derived from narrative coherence and
threats, and inhibiting factors must be verisimilitude, and an enhancement of emo-
confronted. Frank points to the threshold tional resources.
problem of audience expectations. Academic Fiction as research reports, however,
readers, editors, and university review com- needs something more: Because fiction until
mittees overwhelmingly expect research to recently has been rooted entirely in the
be communicated in the traditional mode of spaces of literary art or popular entertain-
reporting and to address standards of valid- ment, it is necessary for scholarly fiction to
ity and reliability. The politics of publica- declare itself to have a specialized purpose
tion are a significant concern to those who for its own creation. Likewise, when fictions
would use fiction: What editor will accept a are created so as to share with readers a

research experience, it is necessary for are, while the latter helps us understand
them to declare their fictional nature. In who people can be.
this limited sense I agree with Tony Watson
(2000), who advocates setting fictional
reporting within a larger text that explicates ♦ Note
the writer’s research methods, including an
explicit identification of the fiction, and
relates the fiction to established theory and 1. A partial list of representative work includes
research literature. Watson’s “ethnographic Anzaldua, 1987; Angrosino, 1998; S. P. Banks,
fiction science” formulation, however, drifts 2000; Diversi, 1998; Ellis, 2004; Lingis, 1994;
Lyotard, 1997; Schaviro, 1997; and Stoller, 1999.
away from the principle earmarks of fiction
as he strives to retain the aims and stan-
dards of science in the fictional report.
Those qualities are the centrality of story, ♦ References
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14 Literary Forms

Knowing in Poetry

 Carl Leggo

I live in the world as a poet. I spend a part of most days in reading and
writing poetry, in the practice of poetry, even in the experience of
poetic living. I am constantly vigilant about seeing the world with a
poet’s senses and heart and imagination. I didn’t write poetry in school.
I didn’t even like poetry very much. I was long out of school when I
began to write poetry, well into my twenties when I discovered the plea-
sures and possibilities of poetic language. For the past two decades I
have been writing poetry as a way to know the world, as a way to be
and become in the world.
Poetry invites us to experiment with language, to create, to know, to
engage creatively and imaginatively with experience. Winterson (1995)
makes a bold claim that “it is the poet who goes further than any human
scientist” (p. 115). As a poet, I am eager, in some ways, to embrace
Winterson’s claim, but I don’t really want to argue that the poet goes
further than the human scientist because I prefer to make the claim that
the poet is a human scientist. I am interested in examining the places
where poetry and human science research intersect, especially regarding
philosophies, perspectives, and practices. Where many human science
researchers focus on research questions and methods, conclusions and

◆ 165

implications, as a poet I am often more I research and teach the composition and
intrigued with how language works to open rhetoric of poetry as creative writing, and
up possibilities for constructing understand- the curriculum and pedagogy of poetry as
ing. Therefore, I work with language in the literature, as well as how to use poetry in
kinds of ways that a sculptor works with social science research.
stone, wood, bone, ice, steel, and bronze. Like Pelias (2004), my research and writ-
This essay is shaped out of citations, ing begin “in the desire to write from the
exposition, narration, poetry, and rumina- heart” and to practice research that does
tion in order to evoke a textual space for not hide “behind the illusion of objectiv-
both invitation and provocation. It is my ity,” but instead seeks to create “an emo-
hope that this essay, by performing an art- tionally vulnerable, linguistically evocative,
ful work of words, will invite readers to and sensuously poetic voice” (p. 1). And
ruminate on their conceptions of experience like Pelias, I “want a scholarship that fos-
and researching experience, especially in the ters connections, opens spaces for dialogue,
tangled complexity of each day’s demands. heals” (p. 2). Therefore, much like Whyte
As a poet and social science researcher, (1994), who seeks “to bring the insights of
the most pressing question I know is the the poetic imagination out of the garret and
epistemological question, “How do I know into the boardrooms and factory floors of
what I know?” Winterson (1995) reminds America” (p. 10), I am part of an extensive
me that language lives, and she warns that network of poets and researchers who are
“a writer must resist the pressure of old for- working to bring the wisdom of poetry and
mulae and work towards new combina- poetic knowing into human science
tions of language” (p. 76). Like all language research (Brady, 2000; Butler-Kisber, 2002;
use, poetry is epistemological and ontologi- Cahnmann, 2003; Cannon Poindexter,
cal. Poetry reminds me that everything is 2002; Dunlop, 2004; Finley, 2000, 2003;
constructed in language; our experiences Glesne, 1997; Hayes-Percer, 2002; Hurren,
are all epistemologically and ontologically 1998; Luce-Kapler, 2003; Moody, 2001;
composed and understood in words, our Neilsen, 2004; Norman, 2001; Öhlen,
words and others’ words. Mills (1997) 2003; Piirto, 2002a, 2002b; Prendergast,
notes that “the only way we have to appre- 2006; L. Richardson, 1992, 1994, 1997;
hend reality is through discourse and dis- M. Richardson, 1998; W. Smith, 2002;
cursive structures” (p. 54). We write the Sullivan, 2000; Thomas, 2004).
world, individually and corporately. Poetry
reminds me to challenge the dominant dis-
courses that are typically propagated and ♦ What Is a Poem?
supported by school and university curric-
ula and pedagogy. Inspired by poetry, I seek
to write in diverse discourses that are alter- Poetry (from the Greek poiein, to make)
native, creative, and unconventional. creates or makes the world in words. Poetry
I am committed to exploring the lively calls attention to itself as text, as rhetorical
intersections between critical discourse and device and stratagem. Poetry does not invite
creative discourse. Too often in the academy, readers to consume the text as if it were a
the creative arts are separated from the husk that contains a pithy truth. Poetry is
social science disciplines. My goal is to open not a window on the world. Poetry invites
up spaces for the creative arts to inform social us to listen. Poetry is a site for dwelling,
science research. As a poet-educator-scholar, for holding up, for stopping. Poetry prevails
Astonishing Silence–––◆–––167

against hermeneutic exhaustion, hermeneutic Steffler (1995) claims that poetry “reor-
consumption, hermeneutic closure, hermeneu- ganizes and deepens our awareness of our
tic certainty. Poetry is not hermetic. A poem past experience and kindles our appetite
is a textual event, an “act of literature,” an for future experience. It sharpens our sense
experience of spelling and spells. Derrida of vitality and mortality” (p. 49). In a sim-
(1992) suggests that “every poem has its ilar way, Griffin (1995) contends that
own language, it is one time alone its own “poetry does not describe. It is the thing.
language, even and especially if several lan- It is an experience, not the secondhand
guages are able to cross there” (p. 409). record of an experience, but the experience
Poetry is about rhythm (from the Greek itself” (p. 191). Steffler (1995) asks:
rhythmos: measure or measured motion).
Rhythm is the relation of part to part and of What, ideally, can poetry offer that
parts to the whole. It is balance, the flowing other types of writing cannot offer, or
of blood, breath, breathing, not breathtaking at least not so directly or purely? It
but breathgiving. Rhythm is the measure of seems to me that at its best—and this
speech, of the heart, of dancing, of the sea- is what we search for in poems all the
sons, knowing the living word, the energy of time—poetry approximates, through
language to inscribe, inspirit hope, even in the powerful use of language, our fun-
the midst of each day’s wild chaos. As Haase damental, original sense of life’s mirac-
and Large (2001) propose, “in the informa- ulousness, its profound and mysterious
tional model of language, the spoken or writ- meaning. (p. 47)
ten word is merely a vehicle for the meaning
that it conveys” (p. 27), but “in literature it The poet always understands that she or
is not only the meaning of words which mat- he is located in a complex space and time.
ters, but their texture, which is to say their The poet’s commitment entails a zeal for
rhythm, color and style, none of which attending, and questioning, and perceiving.
can be reduced to an item of information” Poetic knowing has been too much
(p. 28). For so much of my life I have hur- ignored in human science research. Labouvie-
ried here and there, out of breath. In poetry Vief (1994) presents a useful perspective
I am learning to breathe. As Kingston (2002) on philosophy as constructed in Western
concludes, “I’ve discovered what stanza scholarship:
breaks are for. In the space, breathe. Before
and after the poem, breathe” (p. 80). Instead Western intellectual tradition has brought
of living breathlessly, I am learning to live us a separation of two aspects of mind
breath-fully. and self. On the one hand, there is the
Poetry creates textual spaces that invite realm of logos—the realm of logic and
and create ways of knowing and becom- objectivity, of all that can be stated in
ing in the world. Poetry invites interactive terms of rational truths, of our hope that
responses—intellectual, emotional, spiri- life can be reduced to laws that are mechan-
tual, and aesthetic responses. Poetry invites ical and precise. On the other hand, there
a way of uniting the heart, mind, imagina- is the realm of mythos—the realm of all
tion, body, and spirit. As a poet I grow that is felt and organic, of all that appeals
more and more enamored with the echoes to the inner world of emotions, of our
of wonder, mystery, and silence that I hear tendency to leap out of the constraints
when I attend to the words and world all of analytical precision and to seize the
around me. novel. (p. 1)

Woolf (1976) echoes this perspective: freedom and will and energy for inventing
ourselves and our places in the world.
I feel that strong emotion must leave As Lee (1995) confesses, “if you knew
its trace; and it is only a question of what a given poem was, you could just
discovering how we can get ourselves write it down. But you’re responding to
again attached to it, so that we shall be something you feel claimed by, but can’t yet
able to live our lives through from the articulate, or maybe even identify” (p. 31).
start. (p. 67) Poetry is a way of knowing, being, and
becoming in the world. Poetry begins with
Poetry involves seeking ways to attach attentiveness, imagination, mystery, enchant-
ourselves to strong emotion. As a poet, ment. Poetry invites researchers to experi-
I know that I live consciously and con- ment with language, to create, to know, to
stantly in my emotions. I am seeking to engage creatively and imaginatively with
live poetically, and that means living emo- experience. The poet-researcher seeks to
tionally with my feelings in motion and live attentively in the moment, to know the
commotion. momentousness of each moment, to seek
My poems are part of an ongoing to enter lived experiences with a creative
engagement with living in the world. As openness to people and experiences and
Mills (1997) notes, “discourses structure understandings.
both our sense of reality and our notion of In poetry I am not trying to close any-
our own identity” (p. 15). Our understand- thing down; I am not trying to understand
ing, interpretations, responses, thoughts, everything; I am not seeking control. Instead,
and actions are all constructed and con- I am open to the world, open to process and
strained by the discursive patterns and mystery, open to fragmentariness, open to
frames that society permits and authorizes, understanding as an archipelago of frag-
on the one hand, and excludes and pro- ments. This does not mean I am not trying
hibits, on the other. Our life work, our liv- to make connections in understanding, but
ing work is to challenge these discursive I am no longer pretending that I understand
patterns in well-crafted and courageous writ- what I do not know. I am fundamentally
ing, to recognize “how singularly words, agnostic, knowing above all that there is
speech, language, and phrase shape conscious- much I do not know and will never likely
ness and define reality” (Brueggemann, know.
2001, p. 64). We need imagination to break
out of the stereotypes and to create other
possibilities. Freire (1997) echoes my con- ♦ How Does Poetry Inform
victions regarding the creative potential of
Social Science Research?
all people to compose their lives with imag-
ination. Freire reminds us that “a total
denouncement of fatalism is necessary. We The only way I can answer a question like
are transformative beings and not beings for “How does poetry inform social science
accommodation” (p. 36). Effectively we are research?” is to invite readers to attend to
presented with images of who we are and exemplars of the many ways that poetry
who we can become, but we are not con- has been used in social science research. Of
strained to imitate those images in a slavish course, in the creative and imaginative ways
way like we are painting a portrait with a of poets, there will be many more uses of
paint-by-numbers kit. We have far more poetry in future research as well. I am
Astonishing Silence–––◆–––169

currently collaborating with M. Prendergast, relatively recent but rapidly evolving

who is conducting a postdoctoral research research enterprise.
project (funded by the Social Sciences and In my collaboration with Prendergast,
Humanities Research Council of Canada, I am again and again reminded that poetry
May 2006 to April 2008) into poetic inquiry is a discursive practice, a learned craft that
practices in qualitative research in the social uses language. As a discursive practice, poetry
sciences. often seems alien to many researchers
One goal of Prendergast’s research is to because most of us have had few oppor-
compose a critical anthology of poetic tunities to write poetry. Simply, most
forms of inquiry (an explanation of this researchers have learned the craft of the
timely and comprehensive research project five-paragraph expository essay built firmly
is available at http://www.ccfi.educ.ubc. on a logical and linear structure, but they
ca/people/M_Prendergast.html). Prendergast have not learned how to write poetry. Like
reports that she plans to complete the pro- any discursive practice, poetry is constructed
ject by the spring of 2008, but already (in and constrained by conventions, rules,
2006) she has compiled an annotated expectations, devices, and tropes. A useful
bibliography of almost 200 citations of starting place for understanding poetry is
research publications that include poetry that everything in a poem can have signifi-
in a wide range of disciplines including cance. Where prose often seems transparent
education, anthropology, sociology, psy- and is taken for granted, poetry invites the
chology, cultural studies, geography, social writer and the reader to pay attention to the
work, nursing, health, administration, and semiotics of figurative language, sound
urban planning. effects, texture, voice, rhythm, shape on the
Prendergast notes that researchers page, line breaks, and stanzaic structure. In
engaging in poetic forms use a diverse a poem, everything signifies.
number of terms to describe their methods: As a poet and language educator, I am
research poetry (Cannon Poindexter, often asked, “Is this a good poem?” as if I
2002); data poetry (Commeyras & Montsi, carry some kind of standard measuring
2000); poetic representation (L. Richardson, device for assessing the value of poems. But
1994, 1997); poetic transcription and perhaps the important question is not “Is
poetic narrative (Glesne, 1997); anthro- this a good poem?” but instead “What is a
pological poetry (Brady, 2000); narrative poem good for?” Kingsolver (2002) claims
poetry (Tedlock, 1983); aesthetic social that “poems are everywhere, but easy to
science (M. Richardson, 1998); poetic, fic- miss” (p. 229). We bear the rhythms of
tional narrative (P. Smith, 1999); ethno- poetry in our blood, constantly in motion
poem (W. Smith, 2002); transcript poems with the heart’s beating. Poems tell stories,
(Santoro & Kamler, 2001); map-poems reflect on lived experiences, express politi-
(Hurren, 1998); poetic condensation of oral cal manifestos, recount versions of history,
narratives (Öhlen, 2003); and fieldnote and tease the imagination to distraction.
poems (Cahnmann, 2003). With keen insight Griffin (1995) asks,
Not only is Prendergast documenting “What is it that makes poetry different than
the surprising robustness of poetry in prose” (p. 189)? She writes:
social science research, but she is also
contributing significantly to understand- It is said that poetry has rhyme, and
ing the critical questions and challenges rhythm, and line breaks, that it uses
that poet-researchers are addressing in this metaphor. But these distinctions have

never seemed sufficient to me. They seem lively discussion, but it is not possible to
instead only to be symptomatic of a address adequately all these issues in this
deeper-lying purpose. It is said that prose brief essay. Certainly there are no simple
is rational and poetry is not. And yet, on answers. Instead, social science researchers
one level, poetry is quite rational. (p. 189) who use poetry in their research will con-
tinue to define and transform their theoriz-
Researchers who want to learn the craft ing, crafting, and researching with each
of writing poetry need to make the same new project. Piirto (2002a, 2002b) argues
kind of commitment to reading and writing insightfully that researchers who are going
and studying poetry that they have typically to use poetry need to learn the craft and art
made to learning the craft of writing prose. of poetry. I absolutely agree, and I also
And above all, they need to be ready to play claim with Piirto that we can learn the art
with the possibilities of language. Poetry and craft of poetry if we devote ourselves to
is always transcending rhetorical patterns, it. In this regard, perhaps learning to write
forms, and designs. poetry is not so different from learning to
With regard to the use of poetry in use statistical procedures in research. Each
research, there are many questions and approach assumes that the researcher will
issues to be addressed, and these issues learn the tools, strategies, and language to
are being addressed by many researchers, conduct valuable and defensible research.
especially those connected with arts-based If researchers want to include poetry in
research (Barone, 2001; Barone & Eisner, their writing, then they should. And they
1997; Bochner, 2000; Butler-Kisber, 2002; should work hard at crafting the poems in
Cahnmann, 2003; Cole & Knowles, 2001; the same way they work hard at crafting a
Cole & McIntyre, 2004; Dunlop, 2004; strong prose sentence. All researchers need
Eisner, 1997, 2004; Finley, 2000, 2003; to be more attentive to their writing as craft
Hayes-Percer, 2002; Irwin & de Cosson, and art. I often recommend to graduate
2004; Leggo, 1999, 2003, 2004; Luce- students who want to use poetry in their
Kapler, 2003; Neilsen, 2004; Norman, research to enroll in courses in a creative
2001; Piirto, 2002a, 2002b; Prendergast, writing program. And I always encourage
2006). The kinds of questions addressed by all researchers to read lots of poetry. But at
these social science researchers include: the same time, I am concerned that some
(1) What does poetry as research look like? researchers put poetry on a pedestal as an
(2) What does research informed by poetry object for awe-inspiring reverence. I like to
look like? (3) What kinds of questions does stress that poetry is earthy, rooted in every-
poetry as research help to ask, perhaps even day experiences, connected integrally to the
answer? (4) How does poetry as research flow of blood in our bodies, expressed con-
complement or contradict other sorts of stantly in the rhythms of our speech and
social science research? (5) What are some embodied movement. So, I claim that we are
of the main issues and challenges associated all poets, but sadly many of us have lost our
with poetry as a research genre? (6) Is any confidence as poets. We have lost our cre-
poetry also necessarily research? (7) How ative energy for living poetically. Of course,
can poetry speak to social science inquiry in we all need more guidance—all the time.
ways that will have integrity and credibility Scholarly research depends on an exten-
to others in the field? sive network of support and peer review
These are significant and complex ques- and collaboration. When I submit my
tions, and they will continue to generate essays and poems for publication, they are
Astonishing Silence–––◆–––171

frequently returned with advice for revi- sense of place in the world. Like Kingsolver
sion. I look forward to advice from peers. (2002), “my way of finding a place in this
I will never learn all there is to learn about world is to write one” (p. 233). Writing is
the craft of poetry—not in this short then “about finding a way to be alive”
lifetime! Learning the craft is a life-long (Kingsolver, 2002, p. 233). Writing does
apprenticeship that involves lots of writing not enable the writer to hammer down
and reading and living. If we think about secure truth; writing enables the writer to
the prefix “re” in researcher, we under- explore possibilities for meaningful living in
stand that our questing/questioning is the world.
always a returning, a turning again. This is As a part of this chapter on poetic know-
a ruminative process. In my experience, the ing in research, I include (and conclude
poetic process is an experience of lingering with) an autobiographical poem about
with memory and emotion and heart and the vocation of the teacher. “Left Turns”
story, a process of leaning on language in was written as part of my response to
order to seek understanding and wisdom, a a researcher’s question regarding my expe-
process of attending sensually and sensi- rience of vocation. I end with the poem
tively to life. The poetic process is a verb, a because the poem represents, even per-
journey, a flow. Like life; like living. Poetry forms, my researching process. I don’t want
fosters curiosity, quest(ion)ing, imagina- to explicate the poem. I trust that the poem
tion. Too many researchers are looking for will invite readers to consider their experi-
answers, and often researchers shape their ences of vocation, to examine with keener
research goals in ways that can be answered insight the complex convolutions that fre-
with a sense of resounding conclusion. I quently comprise the surprising twists and
prefer to live in/conclusively. Perhaps the turns of lived experience. Poetry is a prac-
questions frequently asked aren’t really tice of language and literacy that can foster
worth answering! hope and wisdom for living more effectively
Poetry is a way of knowing and living, a and productively in the world. Simply, my
way of examining lived experiences by claim is that attention to words can open up
attending to issues of identity, relationship, possibilities for attending to the world and
and community. Poetry acknowledges how becoming in the world. As an educator and
the heart and imagination are always inte- researcher, I am convinced that all of us
gral parts of human knowing. Poetry need to attend to multiple ways of knowing
seeks the truth about human experience. and becoming. We need to acknowledge
The evaluation of the knowledge generated how we are all interconnected in creating
in poetic research will include: a critical the world by exploring and composing pos-
investigation of the craft and aesthetics of sibilities for living. Poetry offers significant
poetry, a creative examination of the ways ways for learning and practicing our living
that poetry evokes responses and connec- in the world. This is my research; this is
tions, a careful inquiry into the methods my poetry.
that poetry uses to unsettle ossified thinking
and provoke imagination, and a conscien- Left Turns
tious consideration of the resonances that Corner Brook 1970, 1989
sing out from word to world. My high school principal said,
I am caught up in language, in word You ought to be a teacher.
making, in meaning making, constantly I said, No way. Almost two
striving to create the world, or at least a decades faded away. I

circled back to my old school, Vancouver 1990–present

the principal was retired, long Still teaching, I have turned
gone. I was a teacher, surprised. a circle, round and round,
to know I am a teacher,
St. John’s 1970–1976 a farrier even, who shoes students
I never wanted to be a teacher. in order to shoo them away
I wanted to be an astronomer with warnings to look both ways
and watch the heavens, or before making left turns.
even a poet and write the heavens.
I took a vocational interests inventory.
I learned I ought to be a farrier,
even though I am scared of horses. ♦ References

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15 Performance



 Donald Blumenfeld-Jones

I n this chapter, I explore the potential of the art of dance for practic-
ing social science research. Given that mentioning dance automati-
cally brings to mind the body, it is important to note that the body
is already present in social science research in a strong line of social
science research dealing with and through the body as a social object
and a locus of experience. Although this research does not deal with the
body as a dance person might, it has brought the body, as a subject wor-
thy of study, into inquiry focus such that there is no need to argue for
the place of the body in the social sciences.
Dance as an art form for performing social science research is dis-
tinctive from more standard forms of social science research. A dance
person focuses on the body not only as an object of inquiry and gaze,
but also as the mode of inquiry itself, working from “inside” the body.
That is, the dance person doesn’t merely analyze bodily action, but puts
that analysis into action with her or his own body and studies the
actions as a personal affair of motion. Through this “personal affair of
motion” the dance person may gain new insights into the meanings
in the social scene under investigation, insights available as a direct
outcome of having thought through motion. This “thinking through” can

◆ 175

be subsequently choreographed and per- affect mobility, how some people are
formed for others. These three arenas of always moving rather than sitting, and so
dance life (studying human motion through forth.
motion, organizing motion into choreogra- The movement/bodily material with which
phy, and performing the choreography for they are working is ultimately experienced
others) comprise the world of being a dance as both an inside state of awareness and an
artist. The notions forwarded in this chap- outside view of what dancers are doing
ter are based on this arena. with their body. Because it is their body, the
For the dance person, being both an material is simultaneously personal, and
analytic instrument and an analyst and they do not claim the people in the setting
being concerned with art are of greatest are experiencing in this way. They develop
importance. Although other social scien- understanding about states of mind and
tists, such as the ethnographer, may also be body as the movement unfolds in them. The
understood in this way, the dance person scene is recreated not to represent experi-
also manipulates motion in the pursuit of ence but to find aesthetic insight about the
art. In this regard, there is a lessening of the experience that is different from other sorts
usual distance between the researcher and of insights. If, during the making and per-
what is researched. And even in cases such formance of the work, they reflect upon
as Frigga Haug and her colleagues’ mem- their own culture and how this is affecting
ory work (1987) investigating their own the dance that is being made and performed,
bodily experiences in learning to become then they have, once again, stepped outside
women, which makes their work highly the movement to understand it.
personal and similarly begins in the per- This inside-experiencing/outside-observing
sonal, they are not concerned with art. vibration is the interaction between bodily
So, the dance person is unique in focusing experience and objective art making, pri-
upon aesthetics and the personal as well as marily body based, that brings forth the
social understanding. dance. Both poles of experience are needed.
What does “inside the body” mean? In It is this complexity that makes using dance
dance terms, the person functions from an for social science inquiry distinctive. As a
interior working of bodily material for the demurral to an insistence upon art, it is
purpose of understanding both the move- possible to cultivate a dance sensibility as a
ment being performed and the meaning of supplement to standard forms of research.
the movement within the context of the This will be discussed later in this chapter.
“topic” of the dance. Perhaps the dance
researchers are interested in understanding
what it is like to navigate the terrain of an ♦ The Terrain of Dance
office space. They would study how vari-
ous people move in that space and would
take the movement back to the studio and In this section, the practice of dance is
begin to dance that material as dance mate- considered in more detail. In particular,
rial. They would objectify their stance analogies are made between the practice of
toward the material in order to be able choreography and the practice of research.
to work with it, understanding how body In this way, the potential for dance and
weight is used, how long sitting might choreography is examined.
Dance, Choreography, and Social Science Research–––◆–––177

CHOREOGRAPHY AS A office, experimenting with forms of exag-

VENUE OF RESEARCH geration: changing a normal walk covering
normal space to small steps and covering no
Although I have written of “dance,” the space, moving everything very quickly to
potential of dance for research lies not in staying frozen in a chair for what seems an
dancing but in the act of choreography. The interminable amount of time. Through such
fact is that dancers represent a choreogra- space, time, motion manipulations the
pher’s ideas to the choreographer, but it choreographer seeks motions that will feel
is the choreographer who composes, either right to her or him within the context of
creating movement to be performed or the dance being conceptualized. In brief,
shaping movement that is elicited from the choreographer analyzes the observed
the dancers. The line between dancer and world, has a motional response, and inter-
choreographer is, to be sure, blurred. As prets and rearranges the world through
dancers move, they bring new ideas to motion. Finally, the choreographer teaches
the choreographer and, in making real the the movements to the dancers.
choreographer’s movements that were pre- The research process continues. The
viously in the mind or were worked out choreographer watches the dancers’ move-
on the choreographer’s body, the choreo- ments and makes alterations until the dance
grapher sees what is actually possible as meets the choreographer’s interpretation of
opposed to what is only, originally, concep- the phenomenon in which she or he is inter-
tually possible. Only through this actual- ested. The choreographer may ask the dancers
ization does knowledge emerge; form and to compose some movements, but in the end
knowledge are inseparable. In this account, the choreographer determines what to use,
therefore, the relationship is: The dancers’ what to discard, and how to shape what is
dancing is crucial, and it is the choreogra- used. As an example, Phyllis Lamhut, in
pher who decides what is in and what is composing one of her dances, asked us to
out, how to perform something and how improvise a “pile of grief.” We didn’t know
not to perform it and so on. what that meant, and Lamhut had only a
The choreographer researches a theme at vague idea. We made motions together that,
hand, either by performing standard back- we hoped, would carry some essence of a
ground research (literature review, exami- “pile of grief.” After we had done some
nation of primary documents including work, she asked us to repeat motions
photographs, film, etc.) or by spending time together that she thought were particularly
within an environment and responding what she sought. She watched, we danced,
motionally to it, or both. Having done this she saw, she and we remembered, we re-
preparatory work of paying attention in danced, and so, we built up together a “pile
other than a dance setting, the choreogra- of grief.” It was her conception (“a pile of
pher develops the motional, spatial, and grief”) that began the work; it was she who
temporal themes of the dance either alone or saw what worked in reference to that con-
with dancers, and then begins to compose ception; they were her instructions that
the movements for the dance. How might guided us to shape the material until we had
this be used in social science research? achieved what she sought, a “pile of grief.”
Returning to the office experience, the Certainly we were crucial to the process,
choreographer stylizes motions found in the the practice was rewarding, and we felt

quite central to her work. Nevertheless, she about specialized movement: Dancing is
made the work, and we provided material about paying attention to movement in a
for her to shape. We provided the data, she thorough manner within these four areas:
performed the analysis, and she made the space, time, shape, and motion (Blumenfeld-
final conclusion: Ah yes, that’s it, a “pile of Jones, 2004a).
grief.” She needed to understand how to Dancers and choreographers develop
dance, and dancing is certainly pertinent to refined understandings of these basic ele-
our discussion, but the actions we associate ments. As dancers walk forward in space,
with research (data gathering, data analy- covering space in a specific manner, they
sis, data patterning, and so forth) lie in the must be conscious of this fact and show
hands of the choreographer, not the dancers. that consciousness as opposed to simply
It is to the choreographer that we should be moving forward. As dancers walk forward,
turning our attention, with the understand- they do so through time. Time is nothing
ing that the choreographer is also a dancer more than duration: how long it takes to
who understands movement in time, space, perform a certain action. Dancers pay atten-
and shape. tion to such duration, whether in a music
environment or in silence. Time can be
rhythmically experienced. It can also be
MOVEMENT AS THE CENTRAL experienced as slow or fast motion in which
MODE OF DANCING all of the ratios of speed of movements, one
to the other, are correct in time, but the
Although it may seem obvious to state people observing the movements are living
that movement is what makes dance a at a different overall speed and observe,
unique art form, it is worth explaining this therefore, perceiving the dancer as if under-
idea in more detail. water or in a Keystone Cops chase scene.
All dance is based in everyday movement. Time can be fast time and slow time: Both
Whether it is a balletic pas de chat, Martha the viewer and the dancer are living in the
Graham’s contraction series, or Luigi’s jazz same time frame, but time feels as if it has
style, all these highly complex and difficult slowed down. From everyday life we have
movements are based on the natural capaci- the adage “time flies when you’re having
ties of the human body to bend in certain fun.” Conversely, we experience boredom,
ways and not in others. A dancer’s extra- and time, suddenly, slows down and inches
ordinary movements are achieved either along microscopically.
because of natural capacities beyond the Shape and motion are linked ideas.
reach of many people or because she or he Shape, in dance terms, is arrested motion. In
has cultivated the normal capacities through holding a shape, dancers must always have
strenuous work. In both cases, the dancer the feeling that they could move at any
is only exaggerating what is already poten- moment; a vibratory tension keeps the
tially possible. Further, the battement of shape alive and ready and is experienced by
ballet, Graham’s twisted fourth position of the viewer as such. In terms of social science
Graham technique, and the Balinese styliza- research, this can be a valuable idea since, as
tion of arms are no different from a casual we observe people in a setting who are not
stroll down the street, if while strolling, the moving, we can discern the kind of energy
walker is paying attention to motion in time with which they are occupying their bodies
and space and the shape of the body and the and which can, in turn, help us understand
energy being used. That is, dancing is not something about what is occurring. If people
Dance, Choreography, and Social Science Research–––◆–––179

have a “dead” look about them while not presented dance. However, it would be
moving, we can distinguish this from an wrong to think that the heart of dance mak-
engaged look about them as they are not ing is the promotion of a viewpoint per se.
moving. This references Rudolph von Laban’s At the heart of dance making is the kines-
(1975) idea of energy. thetic response the choreographer has to
Motion focuses not on movements but the social scene and what Barone (2006)
rather on the “itinerary of movement” felicitously terms “enhancing ambiguity.”
(Alwin Nikolais in Siegel, 1971). Movement That is, the best dances help us think about
is moving from point A to point B, but a phenomenon without telling us what to
motion is paying attention to the many ways think about the phenomenon.
to get from point A to point B. Applying The kinesthetic response is also impor-
this to social science research, it matters tant for the audience. Viewing dance is not
very much how the subject of a study moves an intellectual experience (even though the
from the table in a restaurant to the bar intellect may be engaged at some points by
area, which affects the possible implications the choreography) but an immediate, sen-
of that motional itinerary for the experience sory experience of and through movement
of the social scene. It matters very much encounter. What knowledge eventuates
how legislators move through their legisla- from experiencing the dance is nondiscur-
tive buildings and deliberation spaces, and sive, even if the dance may be discussed
who arrays themselves where and the kind postperformance. What is “at work” in the
of “body language” they employ as they dance is the motion and how it feels as one
pursue their negotiations. creates it, performs it, and watches it.
The kinesthetic response is at the heart of
how we must think about the uses of dance
DANCE AS A for social science research. Without consid-
FORM OF RESEARCH ering the centrality of the kinesthetic experi-
ence, dance has no unique place in social
Social science researchers and choreog- science research. What could be garnered
raphers are both interested in extending through dance could be more effectively
our understanding of some aspect of our garnered without it through other means.
social experience (politics, social groupings, What dance has to contribute to social science
culture, and more). Choreographers do so, research is an understanding of the meaning
however, against the taken-for-granted of human movement as a phenomenological
notion that the inquirers should, as much as experience and as a way of making sense of
possible, remove themselves from the object what the researchers encounter in the field
of their inquiry in order to prevent their prej- that cannot be made sense of in other ways.
udices from interfering with understanding That is, what can be discovered by the
(Cancienne & Snowber, 2003). In recogniz- researcher as dancer can only be discovered
ing that the dances they make are very through the agency of dancing and organiz-
much their view of the social scene, they are ing dancing (choreographing).
under no constraints to be either “true” to There are immediate implications in
the scholarship around the scene or fairly the above for using dance to perform
represent various viewpoints. Their task is social science research. At the very least,
to compose choreography that, to the best researchers must develop their kinesthetic
of their abilities, offers the viewer an under- capacities in order to “see” the kinesthesia
standing of the viewpoint informing the of the situation. To use dance beyond this,

they must develop the skill of dancing and that forms of dance art that rely on already
choreography in order to find meaning existing motion vocabularies (ballet,
in the situation and to communicate their Graham, Humphrey-Weidman, jazz) are
understanding through the choreography, not useful for social science research
just as persons who would perform socio- (although they might make great art). Since
logical or anthropological research must the data for dance social science research
develop themselves as sociologists or anthro- are the movements of people in the social
pologists. Dance is no less a rigorous prac- scene under investigation, it follows that
tice of inquiry into the world than are you must begin with that material. Every-
the more standard forms of social science thing that follows in this chapter is based in
research. Rigor requires study and the that premise.
development of good judgment based on
experience and education (either formal
or informal or a combination of the two). DANCE AS SUPPLEMENTAL
Dance, no less than other forms of research, KNOWLEDGE
should be pursued as a practice, vigorously.
The use of movement as raw data for
understanding human beings is not a new
♦ Social Science Research idea. Ray Birdwhistell (1970) studied human
movement cross-culturally, treating such
and Dance movement as equally “cultural” with cloth-
ing, language, food, shelter, and so on. Hugh
In this section two directions are offered for Mehan (1992) videotaped children in read-
the use of dance in social science research. ing groups and then analyzed their move-
First, dance may be used as supplemental ments to better understand how they
knowledge for social scientists as they negotiated the learning that was occurring.
explore events in a social scene by sensitiz- The basic datum was motion, key to cul-
ing them to the movement and the ways in tural life (Birdwhistell, 1970) or states of
which space, time, and dynamics are played mind (Mehan, 1992). A social scientist can
out in the scene. Second, social scientists use dance understanding to become sensi-
may actually use dance activity to explore tized to motion as part of a meaning mak-
meanings from the social scene and to re- ing apparatus utilized to negotiate the
present the research in formal, public dis- terrain of social life.
plays. In both cases, the focus is on what In order to accomplish such awareness
can be termed “pedestrian movement,” mean- of the possible meanings of various body
ing the “everyday” movement we use to live states, social scientists might study dance,
our lives. as a practice and experience, to become
The supplementalist explores the every- aware of the possible kinds of bodily states
day movement for understanding and the associated with various emotional states of
choreographer transforms it into dance. affair. From within their own cultural
Choreographically, the movement may be frame they can learn experientially about
changed into more stylized forms or not the physical dynamics of bodily experience:
changed at all but only closely attended and the weight of the body, how the body moves
performed; both are dance. As already (fluidly, haltingly, aggressively, timidly,
stated, this is at the heart of the dance art: lightly, breathily, etc.), how bodies interact
paying attention to our motion. This suggests with each other, how time is experienced
Dance, Choreography, and Social Science Research–––◆–––181

(as described earlier), how stillness versus through this looking. Similarly, using dance
moving is experienced, and more. Through as a means of exploring meanings in a
this learning, social scientists are sensitized social scene begins in such looking. These
to include such “information” in their observed movements become the basis for
“data set.” This is both a psychological enacting, in one’s own body, the movement
matter and allows cultural knowledge to of another. There is no pretence that the
surface that might ordinarily escape notice. dancer is actually replicating the experience
If, as Bourdieu (1971) asserts, culture of the other. Rather, the dance artist is
permeates our very bodies, then understand- making sense of what she or he experiences,
ing bodies becomes an important compo- and if that sense-making begins to deliver
nent of the repertoire of knowledge that a insights into the other person who is the
social scientist possesses. At the same time, a original maker of the motion (albeit an
focus upon the limitations of one’s own cul- unwitting maker in that, for the most part,
tural understanding in making sense of people do not think about how they are
another is crucial. Birdwhistell (1970) noted moving and what their bodily movements
that there are no universal human move- might mean), then something new is dis-
ments that mean the same thing no matter covered about that original movement that
what the culture. Great care must be taken was not previously available.
lest facile psychological conclusions are The work of the choreographer was dis-
developed. Dance, as with any other form of cussed in an earlier section. In this section,
social science research, cannot stand alone a more intimate look at choreography is
in developing understanding. Inquiries of necessary. In the German expressionist
interlocuters must be made. However, even tradition of modern dance (developed by
these inquiries cannot assure that the con- Mary Wigman, Hanya Holm, Rudolph
clusions made will be “correct.” Boddy Laban, and Kurt Joos) the choreographer’s
(1990), in studying pharonic circumcision in task is to find the essence of a human expe-
the Sudan, showed that what the Sudanese rience in its motional life. Rather than mak-
professed to be the meaning of the practice ing a dance about “young love” by having
did not reveal the deeper ways in which the dancers mime the relationship, the choreog-
practice functioned as a summative symbol rapher begins with recalling her or his
of their lives. It remained central to their young love, speaking with others about
lives despite international pressure to desist. their young love and then placing her- or
In like fashion, although there might be no himself in that inner state of young love.
final conclusions about the meaning of Composing motion begins out of that inner
movement, dance can contribute a sensitiza- state. Bodily decisions are made (rather than
tion to the ways in which movement means. intellectual decisions), building phrases of
dancing and linking those phrases together
for longer action. Having developed a
DANCE TO EXPLORE motional vocabulary appropriate to the sit-
SOCIAL MEANINGS uation, the choreographer begins actually
making motions that the dancer or dancers
In the supplemental approach, the social will learn and reproduce, organizing the
scientist, through personal practice and moving dancers in space, either aligning the
other sorts of study, becomes conversant dance with sound accompaniment or work-
with how to look at a social scene from a ing through silence and bringing in sound
movement perspective. New data emerge later (or not).

Attending to the emerging ideas about upon retrieving their sneakers, they began
“young love,” the choreographer focuses a dance of a strong herd of animals, carry-
equal amounts of attention on the motion ing their sneakers in their hands, moving
as motion, on spatial placement as spatial on a diagonal in the space, using thrusting
placement, on how time is used (rhythmic actions, then circling back to the top of the
time, other sorts of duration). The dance diagonal and doing it again.
does not merely reproduce the actions of In another section, two of the dancers
young lovers but reorganizes actions and performed a duel with their sneakers in hand
motions within aesthetic choices having to while the others sat at the edge of the per-
do with the elements of dance itself. “I am forming space, encouraging them with ani-
making a dance having to do with ‘young mal sounds and strong gestures. In the last
love.’ Whatever I do, as long as I keep that section, I constructed a very large wooden
in mind, my choices are bound to speak to sneaker upon which one dancer stood,
‘young love’ even if they are not obvious or rooted in her feet to the sneaker while the
conventional choices.” other dancers performed a ritual of homage,
Writing of choreography in this way fear, and finally, exhaustion, collapsing in a
returns us to consider how dance might be circle on the edges of the wooden sneaker,
used to make sense of a social phenome- with the dancer on the sneaker collapsing
non. At this point, my own experience as a forward in a sprawl as if dead.
choreographer may be pertinent for the dis- This dance dealt with the ritualization
cussion. Allow me, therefore, to describe of clothing as social marker, the guarding
two of my dances. of identity situated in the sneakers, and
The first dance was entitled Sneakers. I the ferocity of contemporary social life. In
had observed the importance of sneakers to the beginning I didn’t know that the dance
the generation of students I was teaching would deal with those ideas; they emerged
and decided to create a dance about sneakers. through the process of choreography. The
I began with that insight and the knowl- ferocity manifested itself on a very personal
edge that young people were stealing other level and came to me during the composing
young people’s shoes, extorting the shoes, of the dance. Although I was aware of the
or even killing someone for their shoes. As news stories about people being killed for
I began to choreograph, I developed the their sneakers, the understanding of what
image of people jealously guarding their this meant on a more personal level only
sneakers by having the dancers in the became available through the practice of
wings make a quiet roar that rose in loud- choreography. The movement vocabulary
ness until the sound exploded and the was mostly “pedestrian” movement, but
dancers threw their sneakers out of the then organized through space/time/shape/
wings, so that they landed in a scattered energy considerations.
pile. The dancers stalked out (I invited The dance was done in silence except for
them to invent their own version of “stalk- dancers vocalizing and the sound of their
ing out”), glared at each other and looked bodies and the sneakers falling and the like.
for their own sneakers by circling and I had the dancers carry the sneakers and not
moving around the pile. Once found, they wear them in order to give greater focus
all stood rigidly, still glaring at each other, on the sneakers by displacing them from
and then returned quickly back to the their normal use. In so doing, I was afforded
wings. This event was repeated, and then greater inventiveness about what I could do
Dance, Choreography, and Social