Creative visual methods. Emperor’s new paradigm?

Professor David Gauntlett has devised new creative research approaches building on traditional methods to, as he sees it, address more deep-seated themes. These include the use of Lego bricks to create models, drawing and video. Professor David Buckingham suggests that Gauntlett is making assumptions and failing to acknowledge limitations in applying these methods, interestingly nothing is said by Gauntlett or Buckingham about the advantage that kinaesthetic and visual methods may have for individual participants with a range of information processing preferences.

This model-making is said to afford ‘incubation space’ for participants to develop a ‘holistic responses’ that would not be generated directly. Gauntlett claims that Buckingham suggests these approaches ‘allow researchers ‘to “dig” more deeply…’ (Buckingham in Gauntlett, p.644, 2009), ‘partly as a result of the visual dimension’ but in this he is perhaps simplistically misrepresenting Gauntlett, who would argue that it is the participants themselves and their selection of bricks and their subsequent combination who would find ‘meanings would soon emerge when the building began’. He goes on to suggest that ‘metaphors would often appear by ‘accident’ in this way’, but Buckingham would also argue that much of the participants own analysis is often descriptive rather than providing insights. Buckingham also fails to adequately critique the suggestion that ‘reflective time’ is a fundamental and catalysing part of the research design, which Gauntlett claims ‘can lead to more nuanced and authentic research data’. By making parallels with focus groups and drawing in video-making, Buckingham broadens the discussion rather than assembling an alternative line of reasoning. He does make an important point about neutrality, however, in that Gauntlett fails to evaluate the extent to which the construction of models helps participants construct more or less authentic or ‘neutral’ meanings, more ‘directly and honestly’ than other methods. Preferring instead, as he sees it, to assume an idealistic stance of innate individual creativity and ‘externalised manifestation of selfhood’ without addressing the social in the construction of identity (Buckingham, p.645, 2009).  Perhaps it could also be said that the social contexts within which visual constructs are made, include the expert (researcher) and lay (participant) ‘insights and meanings’ (Prosser, 2008).

This debate is useful in testing the rigour of my approaches to developing visual methods for my own research. Particularly to adequately consider the effects social contexts may have as well as the visual artefacts to be used, as Collier and Collier suggest, to elicit participants’ responses. Buckingham’s critique also suggests that any approach that presumes to identify intangible concepts such as habitus or other intrinsic and ‘true’ responses, indirectly through the use of visual images or other artefacts, should also consider the social context, both of the participant/practice/field and the participant/researcher.

Buckingham, D. (2009) ‘Creative’ visual methods in visual research: possibilities, problems and proposals, Culture, Media and Society, 31(633): pp.644-647.

Collier, J. & Collier, M. (1986). Visual anthropology: Photography as a research method (Rev. and expanded ed.). Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Gauntlett, D. (2007) Creative Explorations: new approaches to identities and audiences. London, Routledge. pp.182-187.

Prosser, J. (1998). Image-based research: a sourcebook for qualitative researchers. London; Bristol, PA: Falmer Press.

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