ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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'Creative investigation': developing an innovative approach for research addressing settings of locational disadvantage

Deborah Joy Warr

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 9 - Law Building, Room 102
Date: 2012-07-12 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Last modified: 2012-06-15


This paper addresses theoretical and methodological issues informing a study that uses an innovative approach to conduct research involving settings of place-based disadvantage. The study developed out of concerns for the ways in which research contributes and amplifies the problems associated with place-based socio-economic disadvantage. The research uses an arts-based approach for community engagement and to generate research data.

Key theoretical issues suggested the potential value of an arts-based approach for the research. Portrayals of poor suburbs and neighbourhoods in the media and through research findings contribute to the ways in which places and their residents are socially stigmatised. Although this may not be the intention, consistently negative images of poor neighbourhoods that are produced through research and other representations have potent effects in reinforcing stereotypes and prejudices among the wider community. These kinds of responses to representations of disorder and deficits in poor neighbourhoods have been described as ‘reality effects’ of research (Champagne, 1999, Wacquant, 2007). This refers to the potential for research and the media to ‘contribute to the reality [they] claim to describe’ (Champagne, 1999:56). Rather than eliciting an empathetic engagement with the issues among wider communities, consistently negative images of disadvantaged neighbourhoods as places of social disorder and danger can also reinforce negative stereotypes and prompt social distancing strategies that intensify local problems of socio-economic disadvantage and exclusion. These potentially negative ‘reality effects’ of research compromise the value of research of research for vulnerable communities.

This presentation explores alternative ways for conducting research in disadvantaged neighbourhoods using arts-based inquiry approaches. There are three key rationales for doing this. Firstly, it offers opportunities for residents to explore and develop concepts and images that represent and express their experiences from their own standpoints. Secondly, the project will produce material/visual artifacts that can be displayed or exhibited for engaging wider range of audiences in the issues that are explored. Finally, the creative products (artefacts) could be analysed as research data. The process of ‘creative investigation’ that was developed for the project involved an artist working collaboratively and closely with a researcher experienced in ethnographic methods. We discuss the processes, outcomes, possibilities and challenges of this creative investigation approach for social research involving disadvantaged and marginalised populations.