04 SES 11 C, Researchers and Risk: Exploring Vulnerability, Subjectivity, and Identity in Ethnographic Research through Collage Making
We are scholars who work with vulnerable populations and topics, including young children and gender (Cervoni 2011, 2014), music and dis/ability (Bernard, 2016; 2019), and immigrant youth and educational care (McKamey 2011, 2013). We believe that ethnographic research is an endeavor that poses considerable risks to the researcher, as well as to the participants. In the words of Ruth Behar (1996), the ethnographer is a “vulnerable observer” whose deeply personal relationships with the research topic, the informants, the ethnographic process, and the field come into play in ways that she can never anticipate, but that always require extensive reflection, examination, and discussion. At the same time, participants in ethnographic research place themselves at risk as they uncover and reveal their experiences and meaning making over the course of the project, and as they trust the researcher to portray them to others.
In our work, we have found the arts-based method of collage making to be a particularly effective tool for exposing, reflecting on, understanding, and working through the risks that we and our participants take. As we engage with, identify, juxtapose, and manipulate images to create a visual representation, we can turn our vulnerabilities into objects that we can share with others in a safe environment. This process also enables us to communicate the risks that we take in our work through the medium of collage, in order to investigate and make meaning of our vulnerability and our participant’s vulnerabilities so that we can work through these tensions.
We have also found that engaging our informants in collage-making activities has yielded profound insights into their meaning making and has enabled them to acknowledge and express the risks and tensions they experience. The opportunity to create a collage empowers our participants to express themselves through an artform with virtually no barrier to entry. No advanced artistic techniques or skills are required in order to create a collage.The images and materials are provided; all the collage maker must do is cut them out, juxtapose them, and adhere them to a piece of paper. Because the process of collage making is easy to engage in, more attention can be given to creating a collage whose content communicates the desired message.
The prompts for collage making vary, and can include:
- aspects of our research questions (e.g., create a collage about your dreams for the future)
- single words (e.g., create a collage that shows what the word Care means to you)
- self portrayals (e.g., create a collage that shows you as a researcher)
In this workshop, we will begin by sharing the research tradition of employing collage as an arts based research methodology. Next, we will engage in collage making together with the participants, on the topic of the multiple risks involved in working with vulnerable populations as research participants. Using materials that we will provide, every person at the session will create a collage about what “risk in ethnographic research” means to them. We will then work with participants to examine and analyze their collages, and will discuss the implications of this analysis for their work as ethnographic researchers across geographic regions and content areas.
The field of arts-based research is a rapidly growing area in educational research methodology (Barone and Eisner, 2012; Cahmann-Taylor and Siegesmund, 2018; Leavy, 2018). One arts-based research methodology that has been employed effectively in qualitative research is that of collage making, where researchers engage their informants in creating collages and discussing them (Butler-Kisber and Poldma, 2010; Luttrell 2003, Vaughan, 2005). Collage making provides a safe and accessible venue for creating visual representations of concepts, questions, and meaning making, and for taking risks by revealing and exploring vulnerable topics. It also provides a medium to which participants can project and discuss multiple conscious and unconscious beliefs and assumptions. This “plurality of vision” opens up a space that can hold multiple perspectives, beliefs, and understandings about a topic, including dissonant and conflicting discourses (Garoian & Gaudelius 2008) . While collage making has been employed with informants in ethnographic studies, we have also used it as a means for exploring complex and vulnerable issues of subjectivity and identity as they relate to our ethnographic research. Many scholars have written about the importance of researcher subjectivity (Behar 1996; Rosaldo 1993; Josselson; 2011). Understanding their identities helps researchers recognize the tensions created by the “gaps between authority of experience (the participant’s understanding of his or her life) and the authority of expertise (the researcher’s interpretive analysis of that life)” (Josselson 2011:33). Minding that gap requires researchers to interrogate who they are and what they bring to the research data as well as listening intently to their participants. This reflexive process can be difficult, and sometimes the researcher’s key identities and filters are known to the researcher, and sometimes, as McKamey (2011) argues, sometimes can be tacit and unconscious. For McKamey, her identity filter as a White woman from the United States distorted the stories and perspectives of her participants who were immigrant high school students from Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. In our twenty years of working together as a writing and research group (Bernard et al 2010), we have often found that artistic process help us better recognize the subjective tensions that we bring to our research. In this workshop, we will invite participants collage to explore individual and collective themes and contradictions related to the topic of risk in ethnographic research through making, analyzing, and discussing their personal collages.
This processural and experiential workshop has at least two aims. One, this arts based workshop and discussion will provide a space for participants from diverse geographic locations and perspectives to explore the concept of subjectivity and risk in working with vulnerable populations. Our visual and verbal conversations will ultimately address this question posed in the ECER theme: “Can regional experiences and insights [about subjectivity and risk] be ‘internationalised’, or must we work from context to context?” Two, it is our hope that, by experiencing these approaches for themselves, attendees will leave our session with the tools to employ collage making -- as a tool for data collection with research informants -- as a means to interrogate their own issues of subjectivity and reflexivity, and as a teaching tool in their work with students of ethnographic research. As Ruth Behar (1996) reminds us, “The woman who forgets the girl she harbors inside herself runs the risk of meeting her again -- as I did -- in the lonely space of a house that is her own in name only” (134). Creating collages provides us with a way to explore and confront the risks that we take as ethnographic researchers. We hope that it might do the same for those who attend our workshop.
Behar, R. (1996). The vulnerable observer: Anthropology that breaks your heart. Boston: Beacon Press. Bernard, R. (2016). “Disciplinary discord: The implications of teacher training for K-12 music education.” in J. H. Davis (Ed.), Discourse and disjuncture between the arts and higher education. (53-74). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Bernard, R. (2019). “Shattering barriers: Exposing and understanding the narratives of musicians with disabilities.” in A. Dequadros, and K. T. Vu, (Eds.), My body was left on the street: Music education and displacement. Boston: Brill Publishers. Bernard, R., Cervoni, C., Desir, C., and McKamey, C. (2010). “‘Joining in’ and ‘knowing the I’: On becoming reflexive scholars.” pp. 485-490. in W. Luttrell, (Ed). Qualitative educational research: Readings in reflexive methodology and transformative practice. New York: Routledge. Bozalek, V., & Zembylas, M. (2016). Critical posthumanism, new materialisms and the affective turn for socially just pedagogies in higher education: part 2. South African Journal of Higher Education, 30(3), 193-200. Braidotti, R. (2013). The Posthuman. London. Polity, 157. Cervoni, C. (2014). Identity, materials and pedagogy: Girls in primary science classrooms in Wales. In L. Swiniarski (Ed.), Moving Forward in a Global Age: World Class Initiatives in Early Education, New York: Springer. Cervoni, C. & G. Ivinson. (2011). Girls in primary school science classrooms: Theorizing beyond dominant discourses of gender, Gender and Education, First published on 15 February 2011. Garoian, C. & Gaudelius, Y. (2008). Spectacle Pedagogy: Art, Politics, and Visual Culture. NY: SUNY Press. Gerstenblatt, P. (2013). Collage portraits as a method of analysis in qualitative research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 12(1), 294-309. Josselson, R. (2011). “Bet you think this song is about you”: Whose narrative is it in narrative research? Narrative Works 1(1), 33-51. McKamey, C. (2013). Ensuring success in school is about more than getting A’s: Layered stories. In Education, 19(1). McKamey, C. (2011). Uncovering and managing unconscious ways of “looking”: A case study of researching educational care. Psychodynamic Practice 17(4), 403-417. Renold, E. (2018). ‘Feel what I feel’: making da (r) ta with teen girls for creative activisms on how sexual violence matters. Journal of Gender Studies, 27(1), 37-55. Ringrose, J.,&Warfield, K., Zarabadi, S., (2019) eds. Feminist Posthumanisms, New Materialisms and Education. Routledge. Vaughan, K. (2005). “Pieced Together: Collage as an Artist’s Method for Interdisciplinary Research.” International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 4(1), 27-52.
- Search for keywords and phrases in "Text Search"
- Restrict in which part of the abstracts to search in "Where to search"
- Search for authors and in the respective field.
- For planning your conference attendance you may want to use the conference app, which will be issued some weeks before the conference
- If you are a session chair, best look up your chairing duties in the conference system (Conftool) or the app.