Category Archives: Theory

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

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 –

*image from a/r/tography  for more information about this piece check out the blog entry at

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.

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 (  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!

Finding Voice

“The problem with the other community, however, is that it cannot be brought into existence in any deliberate or technical way.  The other community is not the result of work, it doesn’t come into existence through the application of a technique or technology.  In this respect the other community can never become a new educational tool or a new educational program.  We cannot make or force our students to expose themselves to what is other and different and strange.  The only thing we can do is to make sure that there are at least opportunities within education to meet and encounter what is different, strange, and other, and also that there are opportunities for our students to really respond, to find their own voice, their own way of speaking.  We, as teachers and educators, should be aware that what disrupts the smooth operation of the rational community is not necessarily a disturbance of the educational process, but might well be the very point at which students begin to find their own, responsive and responsible voice.”
– Biesta (2006) Beyond Learning: Democratic Education for a Human Future, p. 69

In reading Gert Biesta’s book I came across this passage that was of particular interest.  My reading notes mark this quote as a ‘critical’ idea for my doctoral studies.  It portrays two integral concepts for teaching aspects of morals, ethics and personal development within educational institutions.   The first is the presence of community as a means to understanding ones own identity.  Previous to this quote Biesta explores the notion of community in Chapter Two titled “Coming into Presence: Education after the death of the subject”.  Biesta’s concept of ‘coming into presence’ is defined as being “about beginning in a world full of other beginners in such a way that the opportunities for others to begin are not obstructed.” (Biesta, 2006, p.49)  Following on from Michel Foucault’s postmodern discussions of the death of the subject and need for a new “approach to the question of human subjectivity” Biesta suggests that we should consider a new question – “Where [does] the subject, as a unique, singular being, come into presence”? (Biesta, 2006, p.41)  By investigating different conceptions of space Biesta proposes that in order to achieve the 4th conception of space, the ‘ethical space’ in line with Emmanuel Levinas’ ideas, one has to be with others in order to achieve an understanding of oneself.

Biesta notes that Levinas’ is “in agreement with Arendt’s contention that our primordial being is a being-with-others — we are with others before we are with ourselves; we are for the other before we are a oneself” but Levinas also “introduces a refinement or, better, a radicalization in stressing that being-with-others that is characterized by a primordial responsibility. In this respect we might say that the space where the subject comes into presence is an ethical space. ” (Biesta, 2006, p.51).  Ultimately there is the suggestion that without a community and a space to be with others one cannot develop an understanding of the self. Biesta goes on to build this idea through Bauman’s discussion of the ‘stranger’.  Bauman argues that interaction with ‘strangers’ and ‘acting in public spaces’ is a way of cultivating and protecting difference that leads toward the “genuine emancipatory chance of postmodernism” (Biesta, 2006, p.61).  Therefore, it seems that emancipation is dependent on an understanding of difference that is created through our interaction with others.  One can not gain an understanding of themselves without acting within a community that fosters difference.

The second concept is that this type of teaching can not be overt or as Biesta notes ‘deliberate or technical’.  This is one aspect that has always been present in my teaching practice and it is refreshing to see a more detailed discussion.  Biesta comes about it through a philosophical approach whereas my original intentions were more practical; however, they both seem to address a common thought.  When teaching I have always presented project briefs that are open-ended.  This has come under criticism from other teachers because of the variety of outcomes that are produced from one project.  The fault, as considered by others, is that it is more difficult to control the outcomes and, as such, predict your students’ overall achievement.  But my aim is not just achievement!  Achievement is only part of the equation.  Another part, and in my eyes more important element, is allowing students to develop their own voice.  I do not deliberately explain this to the students however, by structuring a project brief to allow for independent thought and different outcomes I feel that I am providing each class (group) with the opportunity “to meet and encounter what is different, strange, and other, and also that there are opportunities for our students to really respond, to find their own voice, their own way of speaking.” (Biesta, 2006, p.69)  Yes, it requires me as a teacher to have a wider breadth of subject knowledge because one student may take a completely different path to another.  It also requires me, as the teacher, to release control and provide a space for negotiation between teacher and student.  However, these challenges are far out weighed by the potential for individual development, confidence and respect for others that is displayed in the class.   In the end, the students end up with not only their achievement but also begin to improve their understanding of themselves as unique individuals.

I have found Biesta’s book refreshing and as I continue reading I know that there will be other points for discussion.  Another entry about the difference between ’empathy’ and ‘visiting’ is already bubbling in my mind so stay tuned!