A/r/tography as methodology

In their essay titled ‘A/r/tography as Practice-Based Research’ (in the book Being with A/r/tography),  Rita Irwin (University of British Columbia) and Stephanie Springgay (University of Toronto) explain the ideals and the notions of a/r/tography as a methodology associated with  living inquiry.  The book presents a collection of essays that display the potential of a/r/tographic research and Irwin and Springgay’s essay is the introductory chapter.

A/r/tography is explored under the umbrella of practice-based research as a methodology that has multiple ways of being explored and discovered.  The multiplicity of this methodology is part of what makes a/r/tography unique.  This type of work has developed from a “fluid and constantly evolving community” that is willing to work outside of the conventional methodological boundaries in order to present research that is able to extend our ideas of education.

A/r/tography as a term is developed purposefully to include the ‘/’.  The ‘/’ is used to present an equality and coexistence between the three identities that create the term – artist / researcher / teacher.  Along side this the notion of ‘graphy’ makes associations with text and thus, presents a connection between the art and text, aligning the arts alongside the narrative as a joint initiative.  “A/r/tography is a coming together of art and graphy, or image and word.” (Springgay, Irwin & Wilson Kind, p.900).

One aspect of a/r/tography that has perked my interest is its associations with Deleuze and Guattari.  Deleuze and Guattari are fundamental in my research project since their constructs such as ‘images of thought’ and the ‘rhizome’ are integral to my thinking and methods and personal beliefs on the structure and development of our identity.  Irwin and Springgay explain how,

“A/r/tography is a research methodology that entangles and performs what Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1987) refer to as a rhizome.  A rhizome is an assemblage that moves and flows in dynamic momentum.  The rhizome operates by variation, perverse mutation, and flows of intensities that penetrate meaning, […] It is an interstitial space, open and vulnerable where meanings and understandings are interrogated and ruptured.  Building on the concept of the rhizome, a/r/tography radically transforms the idea of theory as an abstract system” (p.xx)

All this too-ing and fro-ing and lack of concreteness  is what is so attractive about a/r/tography and its philosophical associations.  The notion that we are all individuals, that we take different paths, that we  continue to develop in ways that mimic rhizomatic development are all key characteristics.  So to is the interactions and the paths that are derived from the ‘interruptions’ that are created, these paths are sometimes influences by others and it is these ‘in-between’ moments that open up new spaces and directions.  Irwin and Springgay cite the work of Elizabeth Grosz with reference to the in-between,

“The space of the in-between is the locus for social, cultural and natural transformations: it is not simply a convenient space for movements and realignments but in fact the only place – the place around identities, between identities” (Grosz as cited in Springgay etal., p.xx)

The in-between is exactly where a/r/tography is situated,  “where theory-as-practice-as-process-as-complication intentionally unsettles perception and knowing through living inquiry.” (p.xxi)  Having created my collages in the past this is exactly the process and theoretical notions that I have explored, perhaps unknowingly at times, in order to pursue my own autobiographical understanding of identity.  A/r/tography presents a clear way of moving forward with others for my research and aligns many of the thoughts that I have had around the rhizome, Deleuze & Guattari, as well as the use of arts-based inquiry as a method of collecting data from participants.

Pollitt_Kyra_PoeticDrawing_(image from www.kyrapollitt.com)

But why should we see a/r/tography as a methodology and not a method associated with qualitative research?  Springgay, Irwin and Wilson Kind make a clear case, proclaiming that:

“Our arguments stem from a belief that if forms of arts-based research are to be taken seriously as emerging fields within educational research, then perhaps they need to be understood as methodologies in their own right, not as extensions of qualitative research. […]  interdisciplinarity not as a patchwork of different disciplines and methodologies but as a loss, a shift, or a rupture where in absence, new courses of action unfold.” (Springgay, Irwin & Wilson Kind, p.898)

Practice-based and arts-based research have struggle to achieve their credentials in academic circles.  Yet, very often they are praised for their ingenuity and the ways in which they are able to use visual methods to develop different perspective and access the unconscious mind.  Therefore, I think that Springgay, Irwin and Wilson Kind have an excellent point.  If arts-based inquiry and narrative inquiry are the methods that help to explore aspects of a/r/tography.  It is a/r/tography that presents the philosophical grounding and the methodology upon which to work.

Springgay, S., Irwin, R. L., Leggo, C., & Gouzouasis, P. (Eds.). (2008). Being with A/r/tography. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
Springgay, S.; Irwin, R. & Wilson Kind, S. (2005) ‘A/r/tography as Living Inquiry Through Art and Text,’ Qualitative Inquiry. Vol. 11, No. 6. p. 897-912.

A/r/tography – http://m1.cust.educ.ubc.ca/Artography/

*image from www.kyrapollitt.com a/r/tography  for more information about this piece check out the blog entry at http://nanafroufrou.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/a-tale-told-and-retold/

Check the new special issue of the e-journal Multi-Disciplinary Journal in the Arts on
A/r/tography and the Arts @

Collaborative Seeing Studio

Prof. Wendy Luttrell is one of the faculty members associated with the Collaborative Seeing Studio.


Luttrell was mentioned to me this week by one of my supervisors and her work associated with visual sociology has a definite link with the work that I am developing for my research, mainly through the importance of image in the research process.  Of particular interest to me on the Collaborative Seeing Studio website was their diagram related to the notion of ‘larger social forces’.  I have included it below:


This circular diagram provides a direct link with aspects of social theory and aligns our practice with our environment.  Luttrell’s diagram links the image in the center with the peripheral influences of ‘social forces’ by mapping out the in-between stages including: conditions for participation and social policies (like immigration).  Definitely a diagram that will keep the brain thinking …

Does Language Limit Us?

I recently read an article titled ‘Limitations of Language: developing arts-based creative narrative in stories of teachers’ identities’ by author Ruth Leitch (2006).  There are a series of points that have made this article stand out from others that I have read in the development of my thesis literature.  Leitch introduces a concept called ‘creative narrative’ that functions as a multi-layered approach that has helped her to capture her research based on the relevance of ‘storied lives’ of clarifying our understanding of teachers’ identities.  Leitch defines ‘creative narrative’ as “an emergent methodological approach” that combines arts-based methods and narrative inquiry.  Leitch believes that this approach requires that “narrative inquiry should strive to extend theoretical boundaries and incorporate non-verbal arts-based methods in order to go beyond the limits of language and capture the meaning of lived experience in more holistic ways” (Leitch, 2006, p.549).  “Writing and traditional forms of inquiry do not completely convey the sense of felt embodied knowledge in the same way that an image, a poem, a sculpture or a play does”  (p.552) recalls Leitch in her article.  This statement promotes the notion that we need to develop alternatives to written and verbal language as means of expression and supports the need for arts-based inquiry as a viable alternative as well as a facilitator of unconscious awareness.  It is this type of inquiry that “encourages the expression of multiple truths and the interaction of these truths to make new, individual and collective meanings” (p.553).

Leitch draws on various other authors with whom I am familiar.  Sachs (2001) is used to make connections between personal narrative and professional agendas; while, Maclure (1993) is cited to help clarify the notion of unstable or changing identities as they are constructed by our social environment.  Gergen & Gergen (1988) are also cited to highlight the “importance of professional self narratives”.  The development of professional self narratives is an important element of both Leitch’s and my own research.  Leitch focused on developing the professional self narratives of 6 primary and post-primary teachers (originally a participant group of 10).  Similarly, I am aiming to work with a group of 8-10 teachers, however, they will be secondary art teachers who are ideally in mid-career positions.  My interest in mid-career teachers is not only aligned with my own position but also of interest because of the lack of studies on mid-career professionals with regards to identity.  While there is a wealth of research on the formation of identities in trainee teachers or NQTs, there is little research on the changes that occur in the professional identities of teachers as they move through their careers.  If we are to support Maclure’s concept that identity is a dynamic, unstable (and I would suggest complex) construct that is influenced by our professional lives and social development (as noted above) then it is essential that we continue to document, research and assess the value of identity as we grow as professionals.  Mitchell and Weber (1999) are also cited for having “pushed the boundaries of teacher research by exploring pervasive imagery in education, including how childhood memories and social stereotypes colour emerging teacher identities” (p.553).

One of the gaps in research highlighted by Leitch is the “little acknowledgment, and therefore study, of the potential role and impact of unconscious elements, individual and/or collective, within the personal/professional dimensions of teachers’ lives and identities” (p.551).  Leitch attributes this to the focus of other aspects of professional identity such as: individual agency (Butt et al., 1992, socio-political factors (Sachs, 2001), and links with social constructs (Maclure, 1993).

Another aspect of Leith’s research references the importance of our unconscious as having a “role […] in the development of our professional lives” (p. 551) links this research to my interest in professional identities.  She sees aspects of artistic intellect as a key method of interacting with our unconscious.  The use of arts-based inquiry (non-verbal data) is a strategic method of accessing the unconscious and allowing our conscious to then reflect on our subconscious values and beliefs.  The use of unconscious can often manifest itself in visual imagery, as opposed to conventional text-based research, because it is reliant on a different part of the brain that draws upon our visual world.

The research structure of Leith’s project is a third element that has helped me to clarify my own research design and development.  The number of participants, the types of tasks and the use of narrative conversations to help  clarify the other aspects of that I will need to include in my own research will be content analysis and for this I will need to draw on the advise of Gillian Rose and her book titled Visual Methodologies (2011).

Overall, this article is likely to play a key part in the development of my methodology, very helpful and insightful.

iJADE/NSEAD Conference

The 3rd iJADE/NSEAD Conference takes place on the 19th and 20th of October in Liverpool in conjunction with Liverpool John Moores and the University of Chester.

It promises a range of interesting papers and discussions on ‘creativity and democracy’.

On Saturday I will be presenting a paper titled ‘Creative Differences: How art education encourages difference and supports democratic education through collaborative teaching & learning’.

Hope to see you there.

ART – the fourth ‘r’

Interesting article in TES (Times Education Supplement) this week in support of the need for art as a fundamental part of our curriculum.

This is timely since art and design are under some threat of being diminished with Michael Gove’s talk of the ‘EBacc’ and now the ‘ABacc’. And a revision of the curriculum to focus on skills that are more pertinent to ‘work’ and more suited to achieving a place at a Russell Group University.

There is something really funny about the government in the UK thinking that the creative industries are not a key part of the British economy.  As mentioned in the article “creative industries now employ more than 2 million people in the UK and this is forecast to grow”. Not to mention, the value that creative thinking for the future.  It is no secret that we are teaching students to develop an understanding of a curriculum that is likely to have little relevance to their future employment because we don’t actually know what these future jobs will be.

Directing the curriculum toward the needs of industry are likely to promote a sense of dismay in young people .  This dismay is also linked to their sense of unknown and their dismay at the lack of employment related to their own areas of expertise.  This has provided devastating consequences in the classroom with student motivation lowering as they realise that there aren’t many options and that they are bystanders in a  government agenda that is interested in promoting an education that facilitates big business and current industry.  What about their dreams and desires as they might relate to the development of their own world and their own ideas.

Maxine Greene presented this idea clearly many years ago in her  essay titled ‘Art and Imagination’ stating,

“Young people find themselves described as ‘human resources’ rather than as persons who are centers of choice and evaluation.  It is suggested that young people are to be moulded in the service of technology and the market, no matter who they are.  Yet, as many are now realizing, great numbers of our young people will find themselves unable to locate satisfactory jobs, and the very notion of “all the children” and even of human resources carries with its deceptions of all kinds.  Perhaps it is no wonder that the dominant mood in many classrooms is one of passive reception.” (p.379)

What we do need to teach them are the thinking skills to enable them to cope with the situations that they will encounter (or that they desire for their own success) and do so with creative ingenuity, thus, not only preparing them for a future of employment but life.  Amongst many subjects Art & Design already have an understanding of these critical skills and are ready and waiting to be teach them — if only the government will give us the opportunity to do so!


Have a read for yourself and see what you think.


I couldn’t agree more that art should be the fourth ‘r’ – an essential component of the education curriculum.

Greene, Maxine. 1995. ‘Art and Imagination: Reclaiming the Sense of Possibility,’ The Phi Delta Kappan. Vol. 76, No.5, pp.378-382.

Presenting at ProPEL

So, finally it was time to present a paper!  Spurred on by my supervisor and having actually had a paper accepted to a conference I was set to travel to Scotland and present my paper titled ‘Acting In-between: the Professional Identity of an Art Educator’ as part of the ProPEL International Conference from the 9-11 May at the University of Stirling (http://www.propel.stir.ac.uk/conference2012/).

Having been a lecturer and presented to a variety of groups previously I hadn’t thought that this would be an onerous task; however, I think that I might have been slightly ambitious since a discussion with others mentioned starting with the graduate student conferences because they were ‘nice’ venues to present papers that would help build our confidence.  Well, I headed straight for the main venue and the potential for heavy questions and direct criticism.

Arriving in Stirling was great, since it was the middle of exams at school and Scotland was a nice reprieve from all my stressed out students.  In addition, there was a great line up of speakers, staff and doctoral students in attendance that made the event really great.

I was paired with another art-based paper by Maureen Michael (University of Stirling).  Her work is not only philosophically insightful but also visually stunning.  The drawings that support her approach to evaluating the studio environments of artists are perfectly aligned with her methodology.   Following her with my collages made for a session that was aesthetically stimulating.  Our ideas were challenged by the resident philosopher at Stirling but all in all we faired well.  The experience of answering questions has definitely helped to clarify key directions for my research and reminded me of the initial objectives of my research.

I am already looking forward to another conference opportunity … despite the butterflies.

Information and abstracts for the conference can be found on the propel website (as above).

Developing Teachers

Last Friday Michael Gove, Education Secretary, announced the changes to education that would allow head teachers to ‘sack’ a teacher in a minimum time of one term.  In speaking on BBC Breakfast it was evident that this was another means of reinforcing how accountable teachers are for the success of their students.  Charlie Stayt and Susanna Reid put him through his paces on the topic and he did seem slightly rattled and vague about his facts.


BBC Breakfast – Michael Gove on axing crap school teachers (13Jan12)


What it did make me wonder was how the Department of Education would be offering support to below average teachers both before and after they were deemed to be ‘poor’ teachers; and how they would be supporting their professional development in order to increase their teaching abilities and retain teachers who had devoted their lives to teaching – before sending them off to recreate themselves in a new career.


Part of my development and interest in the work for my doctorate studies is based on this premise.  How is it that we track our development as teachers whether it be through appraisal systems or self interest?

My recent paper based on the my own reflective practice has highlighted the need for a critical awareness of our own teaching.  The process, although looking at the role of art educators, has been significantly helpful in allowing me to understand my own development as an educator due to both philosophical and environmental factors.  What worries me is that, as a mid-career teacher, this more thorough reflection has not been instigated by my institution but rather by self interest and personal motivation to improve my teaching.  What if I was content with the way I taught? … but then found out this was below average!  How would an institution show that it has helped me to be the best teacher that I could be before recommending another career?  Continued Professional Development (CPD) has always been a track record of your career progress; however, due to the economy, this training is reliant on teachers being proactive as well as institutions having the funds to support this development.  This is a hot topic that will become more important if Gove is to implement his policy on ‘crap’ teachers.  I hope that there will be a clear structure (not just observations) for how this is implemented and one that will give teachers a clear opportunity to reflect on their practice, to attend relevant re-training, and to make changes before being ‘sacked’ for simply being ‘stuck’.

The Way Teachers Look

In the book that I have been reading titled That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Like a Teacher (1995) by Weber and Mitchell there is a discussion about our perceptions of teachers and the way they are portrayed both in reality and in popular culture.  The book asks us to question: does popular culture dictate how teachers are perceived or is it teachers who inspire the roles played out in popular culture?

Weber and Mitchell draw on a variety of examples from media, film and television for their practical examples of teachers within popular culture and support their discussion with a variety of highly theoretical writers such as John Fiske, Luce Irigaray and Angela McRobbie.  Interestingly, it was refreshing to see these names appear in relation to teaching since I am used to encountering them in relation to visual culture.  Although the reason for this is the heavy influence from cultural and communication studies as well as the premise of their study being centred around drawings of teachers and how they look.

I have a few interests in discussing this book, one is personal and another is about using more current examples  of popular culture to discuss the ideas explained by the authors.  Firstly, it is not uncommon in my current role as an Art Teacher to either be told, ‘you are looking like an Art Teacher today Miss’ or ‘I would have never thought that you were an Art Teacher, you look more like a Biology teacher’.  To which my response is often – what does an Art/Biology teacher look like?  Having experienced this personally, made my interest in reading Weber and Mitchell’s account of teachers appearances much more interesting.  Weber and Mitchell start by inviting children to “Draw a teacher (any teacher)” (p.17).  Due to criticism from other researchers this question was later changed to a series of questions that included: Please draw your teacher teaching somebody, Please draw your favourite teacher, Please draw your class at work, Please draw an ideal teacher.  This was to be reassured that children were not just drawing stereotypical images of ‘a teacher’ when asked to respond to the task.  In addition, Weber and Mitchell collected drawing from pre-service teachers by also asking them to draw a teacher.  Surprisingly, regardless of the questions, the outcomes were all quite similar.  Most were female and most stood in front of a blackboard.

Out of curiosity I Google image searched the terms ‘art teacher’, ‘biology teacher’ and ‘teacher’.  These are among some of the examples of drawn images that I found.  Like Webber and Mitchell’s study there was also a dominant portrayal of women and a dominant use of the ‘blackboard’ in the background.

Google search for ‘art teacher’ – I was surprised by how an art teacher is still portrayed with a blackboard/whiteboard behind her.  Yes, I have a whiteboard in my classroom but it doesn’t define me as an art teacher.


Also found on Google images – titled ‘a boring teacher’ ; although she is performing her experiment with a smile!?


Overall, this whole discussion makes me query the ‘look’ and stereotypes associated with the word ‘teacher’.  It has also been interesting to see how some types of teachers have a more dominant presence in our visual vocabulary and that this is has not waned for a decade if not a century!



… further commentary from 23 July 2011

Glee – extension of  ‘High School Musical’
Bad Teacher – Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake

Waiting for Superman – animated interview with director at: http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi2368706841/

The Studio Community

In his book titled The School and Society (first published in 1899) John Dewey speaks of the spirit of social co-operation and community life when he describes the ‘workshop’.

 “[…] in any busy workshop; there is not silence; persons are not engaged in maintaining certain fixed physical postures; their arms are not folded; they are not holding their books thus and so.  They are doing a variety of things, and there is the confusion, the bustle, that results from activity.  But out of the occupation, out of doing things that are to produce results, and out of doing these in a social and co-operative way, there is born a discipline of its own kind and type.  Our whole conception of school discipline changes when we get this point of view.  In critical moments we all realize that the only discipline that stands by us, the only training that becomes institution, is that got through life itself.” (Dewey, 1956: 17)

What is particularly relevant to my practice is the relevance that this passage has in relation the printmaking studio and the possible contrast between the contemporary print studio where community is still important versus the painting studio where artists are encouraged, more and more, to work in isolation.

One of the reasons that I have always enjoyed teaching printmaking was because of the technical processes as well as the introduction of students to a ‘new’ artistic process.  ‘New’ in the sense that many students do not experience a high level of printmaking before entering university because of the facilities and resources needed.  However, in reading Dewey I realise that it is also because of the community that is fostered in my classroom.  By teaching students the printmaking processes it is also the case that they (as students and individuals) are being asked to participate in a ‘workshop’ where they are required not only to learn the skills but also to negotiate the hustle and bustle of the studio with many students trying to use the same equipment.  This requires, as Dewey points out, them to negotiate their social situation and gain an understanding of how to work alongside each other. Therefore, aside from developing new skill sets these students are also building a community that sees them help each other, congratulate each other on their successes and push through their less successful moments.  This links their lives to the “ordinary conditions and motives of life” (Dewey, 1956: 17).

There are times when, as the teacher, I wonder whether or not students should be working more individually or whether I should be the only source of information and insight.  However, I have always enjoyed seeing students help each other.  In my eyes, it demonstrates that they not only are learning the processes but that they are concerned enough with the well being of their peers to help them execute their ideas.  My role as the teacher is not as the fountain of all knowledge, but as the one who helps to guide them through a series of ideas in order to produce their outcomes.  In the visual arts, and perhaps other Arts, this is particularly pertinent because the students must contribute their knowledge to the experience.  It is not the teacher who dictates the subject-matter but rather the student who selects their journey and the teacher who guides them along their route.

The Dog Ate Dewey!

I am not sure what it is that attracted my dog to Dewey’s little book on education.  Maybe it was the musty smell of an old book, maybe it was the fact that I was spending too much time reading and not enough time playing with him but he was adamant that he was going to taste test the spine.  Thank goodness I caught him in time but it did make me wonder what the particular attraction to Dewey was since we have so many book to choose from around the house.

I have just returned from a weekend away for my doctorate and it has been enlightening and inspiring.  One of the readings on my current research list is Dewey’s The Child and the Curriculum (originally published 1902).  This is the book that my dog fancies a taste of, perhaps he is aligning himself with the child?  Dewey argues for more attention to the child and their needs.  In a closing statement when querying ‘the child vs. the curriculum,’ he writes:

“The case is of Child.  It is his present powers which are to assert themselves; his present capacities which are to be exercised; his present attitudes which are to be realized.  […]  ,the teacher knows neither what the present power, capacity, or attitude is, nor yet how it is to be asserted, exercised, and realized.” (p.31)

Essentially Dewey is arguing for a more naturalistic approach, and less of a positivist approach that might be more concerned with the curriculum as an area/object that can be controlled without attention to emotion; and without attention those aspects of an individual’s personality that are not common to all.  The positivist (or normative) approach is also more easily aligned with the concepts that are of interest to the society, that will appeal to the majority and that will be supported by the statistical analysis of progress.  Ultimately a much more quantitative approach, rather than the qualitative strategies that might be more dominantly used in the interpretive paradigm.  Although there is a need for a student-centred (child-centred) approach being outlined by Dewey he also eludes to an interesting concept that I have recently discussed with my YR10 Art class.  The notion that the students and their teacher do not know what the future will bring, what they are being prepared for or where power will be “asserted, exercised, and realized” in the coming years.  As a class we watched the ‘Did You Know 4.0‘ clip from 2009 that, through statistics and interesting facts, outlines how rapidly the world is changing and, as such, how we don’t know what our jobs, lives, etc. will be like in ten years when they(the students) are vying for employment.  How do we prepare students when we do not know what we are preparing them for?

The discussion that ensued was not one of panic or worry but rather of curiosity.  I was pleasantly surprised at how open they were to this concept of uncertainty.  It was perhaps a bit more thrilling to consider options that didn’t yet exist.  However, when I asked them how I was to teach them not knowing what they would need to learn that weren’t sure how to answer?  I tried to direct them toward ideas about skills, motivation and independent learning but they were much more interested in pursuing the ideas of Nano-technology and mobile devices.  At which point we returned to Art and Design.  How will these things look and how can we design for an increasingly mobile world when we don’t yet know what that world will be? And we don’t yet know who those children will be?   If we focus on the present, as Dewey suggests,  will our children be prepared for the future?

… further commentary from 17 May 2011
To add to this discussion it might also be useful to think about Anthony Sneldon’s recent push for Wellington College to get rid of its books and replace the library with a ‘Centre for Research and Innovation’.  In a BBC news article they have outlined how 20,000 books will be replaced with laptops, iPads and Kindles (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-berkshire-13426491).  They are recognising a “radical shift” in the habits of their students and responding to the movement of their needs with speed, with the new centre to be functioning by January 2012.  This is the kind of forward thinking that is inspiring, although I am also thankful that there will still be a core of 10,000 books for the students to use.  Although our future moves forward it is nice to think that we won’t completely forget the past.

With the disappearance of books and the electronic development of eBooks; one thing is for sure, I will have to keep an eye on the ‘Kindle’ because if my dog fancies that as a treat it may not be as durable as the musty old book!