Saturday, March 31, 2012

Arts-Based Methods and their Value to Community Psychology

 Hello again! As you may remember from our last posting we (Katherine and Kyrah) are doing a posting series on arts-based research (ABR) approaches to community-based participatory research (CBPR). In this post we highlight some arts-based approaches to CBPR, as well as, the potential for these methods.

        ABR approaches incorporate music, dance, photography, visual art, and theatre into the research process through data collection, analysis, or dissemination (Leavy, 2009). Incorporating such methods into a CBPR framework creates a unique research agenda. Such an agenda reflects feminist values (using art to understand a person’s perspective or viewpoint), promotes a non-hierarchical structure to the research process (co-creating art to be used as data that will directly influence social structures or policies), challenges the status quo of conventional research paradigms, and allows for a unique approach to understanding community context through culturally relevant channels of communication (Haraway, 2001; Harding, 1987; Leavy, 2009; Rappaport, 2005; Wallerstein & Duran, 2003). As is the case with a great deal of community psychology work, there is also an explicit focus on social justice (Rappaport, 2005).

       Photovoice is one arts-based participatory research method. This approach was introduced by Wang and Burris (1994) to understand women’s health issues in rural China. Photovoice projects are almost entirely participant driven from developing the research questions, analyzing data, to disseminating what was learned. Data collection for Photovoice projects begins by presenting participants with simple, concise questions, called framing questions (these reflect the project theme). Participants then go through multiple rounds of taking photographs and writing  narratives for each framing question. These are discussed during in-person meetings. Participants also help to qualitatively analyze the data prior to putting together a public outreach tool (Wang, 1999). These tend to take the shape of photography exhibits or digital stories. Either option presents the photos, narratives, and themes that emerged throughout the project. This culmination is particularly emancipatory as the audience (which is decided on by the participants) tends to be community leaders who can learn from the participants’ voices and implement policies and regulations according to the perspectives of those whose viewpoints are often unheard.

       Ethnodrama, ethnotheater, and performance ethnography are other approaches to arts-based participatory research (Leavy, 2009). These approaches are sometimes viewed as distinct, but in general refer to the process of analyzing, translating, and disseminating research through dramatic performance (Leavy, 2009). Research may be previously collected through interviews, focus groups, field notes, or other conventional methods and writing a script based on research findings may also allow the research to make composite sketches about specific themes found throughout the data (Leavy, 2009). Performance ethnography also creates a unique opportunity for the researcher to recognize/assert their role. As suggested by many feminist scholars, deciding the researchers’ role in the performance and how their role interacts with the script or other performers establishes reflexivity as an integral part of the research process (Leavy, 2009).
        Overall, arts-based scholars have explored methods related to narrative analysis, poetry, music, performance, dance/movement, and visual arts (Leavy, 2009). These approaches may be bridged together (for example using music and performance as one), or supplemented by conventional research methods.

       We believe that there is a special place for ABR in community psychology.  We want to note that arts-based research is not new; and that it is a set of practices that have been used for years to capture the experience of individuals and communities.  It has been gaining popularity as a form of qualitative research among psychologists. Because arts-based methods are action oriented and participatory in nature, many psychologists have found it useful for engaging individuals and groups in the process of addressing the needs and strengths of the community. It creates an opportunity for researchers and practitioners to use diverse, creative strategies for conducting and evaluating research. It is no doubt that community psychologists understand the importance of social context, and arts-based practices can be a powerful tool used to identify and analyze the contexts in which people live.  It is a tool that can be crafted by community and used as a sustainable catalyst for change.

         While there are challenges to using arts-based approaches (e.g., community buy-in; time-consuming), the benefits of such work can be far-reaching. It is common for researchers to use arts-based methods (e.g., photovoice) to supplement the overarching research agenda. Consider a project that involves addressing gang violence among adolescents. There are important methods (i.e., surveys, neighborhood data) used to assess the context and the needs of a community. However, imagine that teens are actively involved in photographing and writing narratives about their community. Imagine the youth presenting their findings to key stakeholders and suggesting what to do about gang violence. The point is that arts-based methods can be a viable tool for citizen participation, using and building on community strengths, empowerment, and sustainable change.  In essence, community psychology research and practice can benefit from arts-based approaches.

**This post was written by Katherine Cloutier from Michigan State University, and Kyrah Brown from Wichita State University.

Haraway, D. (2001). Situated knowledges: The science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective. In M. Lederman & I. Bartsch (Eds.), The gender and science reader (pp. 169-188). London: Routledge.
Harding, S. (1987). Introduction: Is there a feminist method? In S. Harding (Ed.), Feminism and methodology: Social science issues (pp. 1-14). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Leavy, P. (2009). Method meets art: Arts-based research practice. New York: The Guilford Press.
Rappaport, J. (2005). Community psychology is (thank God) more than science. American Journal of Community Psychology, 35(3/4), 231-238. doi: 10.1007/s10464-005-3402-6
Wallerstein, N., & Duran, B. (2003). The conceptual, historical, and practice roots of community based participatory research and related participatory traditions. In M. Minkler & N. Wallerstein (Eds.), Community-based participatory research for health (pp. 27-52). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Wang, C. C. (1999). Photovoice: A participatory action research strategy applied to women's health. Journal of Women's Health, 8(2), 185-192.
Wang, C., & Burris, M. A. (1994). Empowerment through photo novella: Portraits of participation. Health Education & Behavior, 21(2), 171-186. doi: 10.1177/109019819402100204

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