Thank you so much, Grinnell College, for this honor. As I said in my wee acceptance speech, what Grinnell gave me is at the center of all the work I have done and all the work I will ever do. Grinnell taught me to find …
That’s right. It can be done. And it is awesome.
Your friendly neighborhood cartoonist and comics-based researcher (CBR) here to tell you how to use the visual arts in general–and comics specifically–to analyze data. That’s what I’m able to share in my chapter, graciously included in After the Interview: Analyzing and Interpreting Qualitative Research, a new, gorgeous methods book from SAGE, edited by my brilliant colleagues, Charles Vanover, Paul Mihas, and Johnny Saldaña. As is always the case, when you have that one author who wants to submit her chapter as a bunch of drawings, it can be a challenge for an editor, but they were fantastic. And the book is one that I plan on teaching with myself– because so many of my students begin our qualitative data analysis seminar asking, rather sheepishly, “Okay, so what happens now? After the interview?”
My chapter is an illustrated step by step guide for anyone who wants to try out CBR techniques, and the title, “Look For The Headlights” references the murky writing process of following along in good faith, even if you cannot see the complete end of the journey clearly mapped out. It comes from a quote by E.L. Doctorow, who wrote that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights.” And yet, we must follow them as the story wends its way and the discovery part of data analysis takes shape. In CBR analysis this is particularly important as the artist must trust the artistic process and await the pricking up of ears. It is the suspension of disbelief that precedes astonishment and transformation. I promise.
They even interviewed me about the chapter! I like to call these Covid-era professional interviews “Stories From My Attic Crawlspace” because that is seriously where I am sitting to do the interview, in my third floor attick/crawlspace/broom closet, trying to keep it together while one or more of my three children practices her trumpet and/or screams into her Google Meet on the floors below.
My newest research article will be appearing in a beautiful special issue of Ethnography and Education, edited by the brilliant and supportive Debbie Albon and Christina Huf. Debbie and Christina and I met at the Ethnography and Education conference at New College, Oxford, held each …
Dr. Marie Pierre Moreau and I have perpetrated a delicious graphic installation piece of comics-based/arts-based research focusing on the experiences of carers in higher education. This project has been generously supported by an AdvanceHE Good Practice Grant. We hope to bring the exhibit to locations across the UK and the US in 2021, coronavirus allowing. However, you can follow project updates on twitter @mpsmoreau and @ProfessorMommy (that’s me!) and also see the entire project on Dr. Moreau’s website here: https://theresearchwitch.wordpress.com/fostering-a-sense-of-belonging-for-higher-education-staff-and-students-with-caring-responsibilities/
This project was profoundly affecting. My own dissertation and early career research focused on carers and carework, specifically early years teachers and mothers in higher education, and intersectional analyses of race and gender that might illuminate the complex landscape of feminized labour in all its forms. I returned to this strand of my research two years ago with new pieces on race and workplace feminization, however this installation was my first arts-based exploration of the world of carework. It was, by turns, exhilarating, painful and mind boggling, and was a privilege to be able to do this intense work with Dr. Moreau, an internationally recognized arts-based scholar in the world of research on carers.
Some selected panels are in the gallery, below, however I encourage you to visit Dr. Moreau’s website to see the complete work and access the informational booklet that accompanies the installation itself. Be on the lookout for updates about a face to face gallery experience once the world rights itself!
Also, the irony that I have been writing and drawing a project on how carers are marginalized in the academy while a single parent of three children during the pandemic is not lost on me. I encourage all the academics who are also carers to include this information in every piece of work they produce to draw attention to this added dimension of “lockdown”. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/04/21/early-journal-submission-data-suggest-covid-19-tanking-womens-research-productivity
UPDATE: Best of all, people really love this work. We are hearing from people all over the world who resonate with its themes and feel validated.
From a colleague in Finland posting to an Anthropology list:
“I just wanted to respond to this, as a carer in academia, in order to give it a boost, and get others to read it too. This hits such a sore spot, in so many personally, politically and intellectually important ways, and I want to applaud the scholars who put it together. It’s a quick but important read; take a few moments to read through! The questions dealt with in this piece of academic art are hugely important, and they are important in very particular ways for anthropologists and others engaged in academic work that carries with it expectations of ‘fieldwork’ cut off from many of the relations of care (both giving and receiving) in which they are enmeshed in their everyday lives. So again: thanks to the authors. To all of you who share that ‘ouch’ feeling of this artwork touching a nerve: we’re in this together. We just have to find ways to make ourselves heard, and challenge the ways in which we are pushed to render our care realities, and the joys and challenges they bring with them, invisible to the academic gaze.”
PhD, Post-doctoral researcher, University of Jyväskylä
(shared with permission)
As a scholar in childhood, one of the things I struggle with is how after spending so much time with young children and their families, much of the research writing I produce is for a different audience– usually research journals. And let’s face it, most …
I wrote a piece recently about comics, and art, and method, and disrupting and questioning and hopefully growing the work that we do in the academy. Remember those little capsules that you put in water and they suddenly expand and become a huge sponge dinosaur? That’s how I think about troubling what “counts” as scholarship: the work is bursting out of the little capsule but we do not always know what magnificent beast will come from the synthesis and thought and creative energy in the end. But it is always delightful, and there is so much joy in it. And I am about joy.
This piece is called “Washing Knives” and you can read it here: https://www.academia.edu/44242075/Washing_Knives. Of course, it’s not really about washing knives at all, but I did write it with a sore finger all wrapped up in gauze from a kitchen injury, and that sore finger and my knife mishap got me thinking about where we find, and deny, and forget, and discover all the sharp edges in our lives and work. A dull knife– as any chef knows– is dangerous, but is it more or less dangerous to handle a sharp one with the carelessness that comes from being accustomed to the dull and limited? And what is an edge that should be sharper? What might it change? What happens when we forget that our everyday work is in fact a bit dangerous? When are we washing the proverbial knives? Methodologically, and as scholars in general, we need to get more proficient with these sharp edges, both because they are dangerous, but also because they–and we– are powerful.
Here’s what I wrote in the fancy shmancy abstract:
“This comics-based research (cbr) piece focuses on the methodological awakenings that can result from disruption, insertion, and unruly publics. An anthropologist of childhood focusing on gender and preschool, the author reflects on how as anthropologists we often forget the locations of potential transformative power in our work as we are caught up in the everyday cycle of publication and communication, and how we might awaken to diverse purposes through seeing our purposes differently, if only for a moment. The piece asks us to “try on” scholarship as guerrilla art, and to consider what would happen if our work was an untethered public gift rather than a marooned, transactional experience shaped by the contours of academic business-as-usual.”
Where is your sharpness?