Category Archives: Methodology Posts

Methodology Page

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.

Making the most of the cards you are dealt

Commonly found in the school yard for decades, the Panini sticker album has been a perennial World Cup favourite. Apparently nine participants can work together to fill the album most efficiently with minimal duplicates (the same number of cards are produced for each player – though in every album there seem to be valuable and rare stickers). To while away the years between tournaments you could always rely on an ever-expanding range of Top Trumps cards. Custom cars were a favourite of mine and my heart sank when dealt the souped-up mini that just didn’t cut the mustard compared to an American muscle car.

Many years later a colleague of mine, Kacy Mackreth an early career researcher, suggested a Top Trumps style of card to facilitate some research looking into children’s health. This was the first time I had worked on a research project and I was able to devise some simple cards which were piloted, refined and then used with a board to create a sort of game (a selection are shown below). Within a year or so I moved on to work on a major project evaluating programmes run by Premier League football clubs intended to engage hard to reach men.

My current research is looking at interdisciplinary working which combines STE(A)M, creative and digital skills/teams. Looking back at collaborating with colleagues in a range of unfamiliar disciplines and epistemological stances, reminds me how dynamic and productive the environment at the Carnegie Research Institute was, brought together by Professor Jim McKenna who provided a supportive, inclusive framework for those new to research and those like me who were finding their way by trading useful skills.


Mackreth, K. and Berry, R. (2011) The childhood activity market: A consumer orientation approach to understanding physical activity behaviours. Carnegie Seed Grant. Leeds, Leeds Metropolitan University.

Relating Bourdieu’s concepts to key concepts in educational research

I’m trying to keep an open mind on methodological approaches as I work towards the next assignment but as I explore more deeply and with broader perspectives and interpretations I am hoping that there will be room for a range of ‘inductive, interpretive, positional and historical modes’ (Pouliot, 2012), particularly as I am increasingly (and thanks to Julien for pointing me in the right direction) aware of the distinctive positional and dispositional logics of habitus and field which I had rather naively coalesced.

A critique of Bourdieu’s concepts with reference to Pring’s key concepts of educational research:


“If habitus brings into focus the subjective end of the equation, field focuses on the objective” (Bourdieu, 1998 pp.15)

“Bourdieu’s social science attempts to capture such subtleties, by working across and between ‘subjectivist’ and ‘objectivist’ accounts” James (2011)

Theory (as a challenge to common sense):

“The language of atoms and particles needs to be related to the language of tables and chairs’ Pring (2010, pp.88)

Perhaps Bourdieu is criticising scientific approaches when describing social agents and capital:

“Social agents are not ‘particles’ that are mechanically pushed and pulled by external forces. They are rather bearers of capitals, and depending on their trajectory and on the position they occupy in the field by virtue of their endowment (volume and structure) in capital, they have a propensity to orient themselves actively either toward the preservation of the distribution of capital or toward the subversion of this distribution.” (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992 pp.108-109).

Truth (described through language):

Pring suggests that language used in description may be flawed because of the many different ways in which we might describe or conceptualise what we see which may mean what is true for one person may not be true to another (2010, pp.72), or ‘picture theory of meaning’ (2010, pp.74) but that the shared recognition of the description as truth relies on there being a shared reality. Bourdieu recognises a similar concept in his critique of his own research method:

“… language is both common to the different classes and capable of receiving different, even opposite, meanings in the particular, and sometimes antagonistic, uses that are made of it.” Bourdieu (1984, pp.192)


“And there might well be a causal explanation for the acquisition of particular dispositions.” Pring (2010, pp.69)

Pring argues that social reality is constructed through the interaction of: unconscious social forces and structures, conscious inherited social understandings and transformations of these understandings as part of wider cultural change (Pring, 2010, pp.60) and by the use of ‘tightly defined theoretical language’ as a ‘substitute for ‘we ordinarily explain why people act as the do’ (2010, pp.82-83). This might be related to the Bourdieu’s concept of dispositions:

“a system of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is, as principles which generate and organize practices and representations that can be objectively adapted to their outcomes without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends or an express mastery of the operations necessary in order to attain them” (Bourdieu,1990, pp.53).


The concept of habitus has been criticised for being deterministic, what Pring might call ‘false belief in causality’ (Pring, 2010, pp.64)

[Bourdieu] “should open up his system, avoid deterministic descriptions of stable reproduction, and give voluntarism its due” Vandenberghe (1999, pp.62).

Bourdieu, P. (1998) Acts of resistance: Against the tyranny of the market. New York, New Press.

Bourdieu, P., and Wacquant, L. (1992) An invitation to reflexive sociology. Cambridge, Polity Press.

Bourdieu, P.(1990) The logic of practice. Stanford, Stanford University Press.

James, D. (2011) Beginning with Bourdieu in educational research, British Educational Research Association on-line resource. Available on-line at: <;
Pring, R. (2010) Philosophy of Education Research 2nd Ed. Continuum.

Pouliot, V. (2012) Methodology: Putting practice theory into practice. In: Adler-Nissen, R. ed. Bourdieu in International Relations: Rethinking Key Concepts in IR. Abingdon, Routledge, pp.45.

Vandenberghe, F. (1999) The Real is Relational: An Epistemological Analysis of Pierre Bourdieu’s Generative Structuralism. Sociological Theory, 17(1), pp.32–67.

Facilitating applied research

Part of my role is to oversee ethics approvals for a wide range of applied research proposals for a faculty which focuses on the creative industries. There are an endless stream of innovative projects which show a great deal of creativity and innovation that challenge more traditional academic research. It struck me that the language and resources used in relation to these projects sometimes fails to take into account the breadth of what might be considered research and often relates to established paradigms that have no real meaning for the student. It would be important not to stifle these imaginaitive approaches, but equally there are also some very important ethical considerations that need to be fully considered by the student and taken into account in the research design (and to recognise important research-skills learning outcomes). As a result I have begun to develop a website that provides advice, guidance and exemplars (in time case studies too) taking into account the range of projects and forms of participation, while providing flexible templates and interpretations that will be more readily applied by the student.