Arts Based Educational Research: what is it?

The foundations for arguing that arts practice contributes in new and valuable ways to research methodologies can be traced to Elliot Eisner amongst many significant others. His presence at the first ABER conference in Queens University Belfast in 2005 marked perhaps a ‘Spring Awakening’ moment for me and many other young researchers who had started to  explore this area of research.

Lesley Saunders summarises the arguments for the field in 2009 thus:

ethics:  the researcher gives up claims to objectivity and the particular kind of expropriation of others’ identity and experiences to which that leads  and lays claim instead to imaginative sensuousness or to passion as more plausible forms of authenticity;

life-likeness: narrative, images, evocations, recollected memories, dance, group drama and so forth are much more like the lives people lead than are purely rational prose accounts or numerical data;

epistemology: we need representations of knowledge which themselves enact and make manifest – through ‘bricoleurship’ – the provisionality and ‘fuzziness’ of knowledge in the social sciences;  and we also need to recognise that the arts create a different kind of knowledge – ‘not the goal of curiosity but the fruit of experience’ perhaps – with which we can enrich social, particularly educational, research;

expression: the language of academic research should divest itself of the ‘managerialist’ and ‘performative’ discourse which has infected it, and be more like poetry in its sensuousness and felt emotion;

the unconscious: the gifts of the non-rational mind – memories, dreams, reflections – should be welcomed as part of the cognitive project of inquiry for understanding

education: these modes of engaging in inquiry are in themselves educative, artistically and socially

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