Arts-based research (ABR) involves researchers in any discipline adapting the tenets of the creative arts in order to address research questions. An arts practice may be used during data collection, data analysis, and/or to represent research findings. There are numerous advantages of ABR which include the ability to produce new insights and learning, description, exploration, discovery, problem solving, forging macro-micro connections, evocation and provocation, raising critical consciousness or awareness, cultivating empathy, unsettling stereotypes, challenging dominant ideologies, producing multiple meanings, conducting applied research, and contributing to public scholarship. In 2008 I released an authored book Method Meets Art: Arts-Based Research Practice which was intended as a methodological guidebook to ABR. The second edition came out in 2015, and when I was working on the new edition I was finally able to stop and take in how much the field has grown in the last decade. It felt like the right time to compile a comprehensive, interdisciplinary, retrospective and prospective overview of the field. I was fortunate that leading arts-based practitioners across the disciplines graciously agreed to write chapters. I’m especially excited about the international contributions. For example, practitioners in Europe are pushing the field forward and I was glad to include some of that cutting-edge work.
That ABR is a legitimate, rigorous, and robust paradigm that opens up new research possibilities. Historically we’ve been taught there are three major approaches to research: quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods. In my view, there are five major approaches to research in the social and behavioral sciences. Unfortunately the textbooks used in the field typically focus on those three traditional approaches which is why I recently wrote Research Design: Quantitative, Qualitative, Mixed Methods, Arts-Based, and Community-Based Participatory Research Approaches. Each of the five approaches to research are valuable. Each approach has unique strengths and is well-suited to particular kinds of research questions and objectives. The more methodological tools we have, the more questions we can ask and the greater impact our work can have. ABR offers additional options for how we might conceive of and carry out research, and how and with whom we might share our findings. It can also be used in conjunction with quantitative, qualitative, or community-based methods, and frequently is.
Public scholarship has been on the rise for quite a while, with many institutions considering issues of “impact” in tenure, promotion, and funding decisions. A primary strength of ABR is the ability to produce public scholarship, meaning, scholarship that reaches nonacademic stakeholders. Researchers across the disciplines could benefit from this aspect of ABR. Even in projects that rely on qualitative, quantitative, or, community-based methods, there may be an ABR component. For instance, a study can be represented through a traditional academic article and also via an art form in order to communicate different aspects of the findings and reach different audiences. There are limitless possibilities.
I think some scholars fear that ABR isn’t as rigorous as other approaches to research or that arts-based practitioners are pushing ABR on everyone. Neither is true. First, ABR is as rigorous as other approaches to research, and like survey research or any other method, it can be employed effectively or less so. We can’t evaluate ABR based on positivist standards created in relation to the quantitative paradigm. ABR has to be understood based on its own terms, which I hope the handbook will help with. Second, I’m a big believer that different research approaches are suited to different questions and objectives. The more methods we have, the more we can do. For example, quantitative experimental research is important for certain kinds of projects, in-depth qualitative interview for others, and ethnodrama (an ABR method) for others.
I’m currently working on a novel in a new genre for me, sort of an adventure story. A couple of years ago I was one of fifty people invited to participate in the Salzburg Global Seminar in Austria. The nearly week-long seminar focused on the neuroscience of creativity. It was an extraordinary experience, that occurred in the real “Sound of Music” house and it inspired me to write a novel I had been thinking about for years. After the seminar I spent some time in Vienna. I wrote the outline to the novel in my hotel room and then put it aside until the right time, which is now. Even though it’s a novel anyone can read, I’m writing it with academics in mind. I envision it being used in methodology courses.
The turn to fiction as a social research practice is a natural extension of what many researchers and writers have long been doing. Patricia Leavy, a widely published qualitative researcher and a novelist, explores the overlaps and intersections between these two ways of understanding and…
Paperback – 2013-04-15
Developing Qualitative Inquiry
Patricia Leavy, PhD, is an independent sociologist and former Chair of Sociology and Criminology and Founding Director of Gender Studies at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. Dr. Leavy has received numerous awards for her work in the field of research methods, including the New England Sociologist of the Year Award from the New England Sociological Association, the Special Achievement Award from the American Creativity Association, the Egon Guba Memorial Keynote Lecture Award from the American Educational Research Association Qualitative Special Interest Group, and the Special Career Award from the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry. In 2016, Mogul, a global women’s empowerment platform, named her an “Influencer.” Dr. Leavy delivers invited lectures and keynote addresses at universities and conferences. Her website is www.patricialeavy.com.