Practice-Based Methodologies And The Researcher As Subject
By Katherine Wimpenny
In this short blog post I would like to discuss the theme of practice-based methodologies and in particular the researcher as subject.
I have enjoyed reading Emma Walters ‘Autoethnographer’s Tale’ and her use of a blog to walk beside her on her doctorate journey, a neutral friend, an ear that never tires. Herself – shared, open, honest, vulnerable, and a research practice that parallels the work presented in our paper ‘Remembering, reflecting, returning: A return to practice journey through poetry and images’ as part of the present Special Issue. In our piece we share our willingness to be open to experiencing the world in and through our methodological and pedagogical practices, to develop a greater awareness of self in the world, to receive, to understand, to create, to write – to be consciously acquainted. Importantly, we are interested in exploring how aspects of knowing and learning about the self can enhance our own and our students/researchers/practitioners learning experiences. As we write stories of practice we not only learn to be critical of our actions, we learn to better inform our practice and those who are engaged in similar life experiences. As Gouzouasis (2008:231) asserts “the more questions we unearth from fertile s/p/laces (de Cosson, 2004) of inquiry and the more we describe and understand the qualities of our work in new, imaginative ways, the less finite, reckless, fleeting and self-absorbed our work may become”.
A broad landscape of scholarly practice has emerged that reinstates the author as subject, and embraces creative and storied means of representation. Through a storied blog or paper or poem we can artfully describe the highly subjective social, emotional, spiritual, and heartful aspects of being a researcher, an academic, a practitioner. Working with artists/researchers/teachers such as Peter Gouzouasis has enlivened my research practice and enabled me to enrich, deepen and expand the ways in which I explore, question and open up conversations with research participants, whilst also leaving space for the viewer to add to the picture, which sits well when considering the complexity of human life and experience. Emma’s writing reminds me of the research practice which Ron Pelias (2004:1) writes about, knowing there is more to making a critical case, more than establishing criteria and authority, more to presenting research findings when we connect from the heart, the body, the spirit.
Emma’s blog also re-connected me to my own research experiences not least in the challenges of conducting authentic PAR. During my doctoral journey I used a similar method of self-reflexive write ups, and whilst not in the form of a blog, they were shared openly with my supervisory team and participants. As a valid form of ‘data,’ these entries were used alongside the practitioners’ narratives, and anlaysed as part of ‘first person action research practice’ as discussed by Heron and Reason (2001), as part of fostering an inquiring approach, acting with awareness, and carefully considering the effects of action. This emphasis on the researcher playing a committed part within the inquiry process, and not taking an outsider researcher role, can only help to portray the layers of complexity involved in research inquiry and to question established theories, to situations as they arise, to acknowledge that people think differently from one another, and importantly that one does not always know what is best.
Whilst also wary of such self-reflexive work not being about unnecessary navel-gazing (Finlay, 2003) the opportunity to reach out and connect with others, to offer a space for dialogue, to evoke incitements to action, are all worthy scholarly purposes for research practices. Emma’s willingness to be open about her own journeying outwardly exemplifies the labour of learning, the joys and anguish felt, yet benefits to be realised from such personal risk taking made transparent.
As the piece ‘Creating future memories: a dialogue on process’, also highlights, the experience of reality is multisensory and embodied and our methods of inquiry need to move beyond the textual, to incorporate the auditory, the visual, the immersive. We need to expand the palettes from which we can represent our work, along with our understanding of how these can be shared with others. Similar then to the questions posed about conducting ‘messy ethnography of digital materialities across a series of cultures’, is the importance of questioning the substantive features of our inquiry and how as artists/researchers/teachers we manage the tensions of research practice which is dynamic, fluid and seeks not to be contained yet generates possibilities for fresh approaches for creating, translating, and exchanging knowledge. Creative practice based methodologies have potential to extend the researcher and participants outside of their comfort zone through both the process of inquiry into human experience, as well as in the questioning of how theoretical perspectives might be fruitfully integrated, and how through grappling with this integration we can continue to extend our use of the power of aesthetic portrayal to study human experience.
 Gouzouasis, P. (2008) Toccata on assessment, validity & interpretation. In S. Springgay, R. L. Irwin, C. Leggo & P. Gouzouasis (Eds.), Being with A/r/tography. Sense Publishers: Rotterdam, pp. 221 – 232.
 de Cosson, A. F. (2004) The hermeneutic dialogue: Finding patterns amid the aporia of the Artist/Reseacher/Teacher. In R. L. Irwin & A. de Cosson (Eds.), A/r/tography: rendering self through arts-based living inquiry. Vancouver, BC: Pacific Educational Press, pp 127 – 152
 Pelias, R. (2004) A methodology of the heart: evoking academic and daily life. Oxford; Altamira Press.
 Heron J., & Reason, P. (2001) ‘The Practice of Co-operative Inquiry: Research ‘with’ rather than ‘on’ people’. In P. Reason, & H. Bradbury (Eds.), Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice. London, SAGE.
 Finlay, L. (2003) Through the looking glass: intersubjectivity and hermeneutic refection. In L. Finaly & B. Gouch (Eds.), (2003) Reflexivity: a practical guide for researchers in health and social science. Oxford, Blackwell Publishing.